My lightbulb moment: Founder Emma Kay reveals the inspiration behind her women’s safety app
Emma Kay, 32, co-founded WalkSafe, a free personal safety app for women, in 2020, with her brother-in-law Richard Kay, 32. She lives in Richmond in London with her husband Anthony and their daughter Arianne, one.
When I was growing up, my dad was a policeman in the Met and he saw some horrors. He often told us stories and it gave me a healthy sense of reality as a girl.
The importance of staying alert was drilled into me. I could never walk back from school without friends and I had to let my parents know when I was on my way home if I went out. They reminded me to never leave my drink or bag unattended at parties, too.
Emma Kay, 32, (pictured) who lives in London, co-founded personal safety app WalkSafe in December 2020
Yet I still experienced harassment. I remember, at 14, walking back to a friend’s house with her and being chased by a gang of boys. It was terrifying. We had to run and hide in someone’s garden. I dread to think what could have happened.
As I got older, it was more about the unwanted touching — I’ve been at parties and felt a stranger’s hand under my skirt. It frustrated me that the onus is very much on women to keep ourselves safe.
When we were dating, I’d often ask my now-husband to book me an Uber if I was coming home alone, so he could track my journey and share that responsibility. However, I think it can still be hard for men to understand exactly how much we have to think about all this.
Safer routes: Get the free app at walk safe.io
Last summer, my husband, his brother and I got talking about personal safety. When I mentioned just a few of my own experiences they were shocked. A few days later, my brother-in-law Richard rang me up and said: ‘We’ve got to do something about this.’
We decided to build an app, with an interactive map to help women plan the safest route home, and avoid areas where there’s been recent crime. This was our lightbulb moment. We spent six months sourcing funding, gathering data, developing and testing it.
In December 2020, we launched WalkSafe, which works nationwide. It’s linked to local police data, but you can also report crimes, or anything else you notice in your area (such as a road where streetlamps are out) to help other users. It also lets you tap a discreet button on your phone screen to alert loved ones if you feel unsafe.
Initially, we had 5,000 downloads. But, after the death of Sarah Everard, who went missing in Clapham in March, we saw a spike in demand, and the number of users rocketed to half a million. It’s bittersweet as we wish this app didn’t have to exist. But as long as there’s a need, we’ll strive to make women feel as safe as possible.