Lancaster University Students’ Union

Lancaster University Students’ Union

Lancaster University Students’ Union is a charity whose vision is to help everyone have successful learning experiences by being a force for positive change, supporting wellbeing and offering opportunities for a fulfilling student life.

Every student automatically becomes a member of the Students’ Union, and the Union is there to support every aspect of student life. This includes representing the student voice within the University and beyond, being part of its 250+ clubs and societies, representing the university in sport, getting involved in college activities or taking up volunteering opportunities on campus, in schools or in the community.

Above all, the Union aims to make sure individuals feel that they belong to and get all the support they need while they’re at Lancaster University.  They provide an advice service to help with all aspects of student life – including your course, exams, disciplinaries, budgeting, health & wellbeing, relationships and more.

The Athena Programme | Lancaster University Students’ Union

The Challenge

In the wake of a number of serious incidents involving charities, the Charity Commission issued a National Safeguarding alert advising all charities to review their own safeguarding compliance. They also issued guidance widening the definitions of safeguarding with a greater emphasis on the duty of care.

In response to this alert, the Student Union’s board of trustees and the senior management team recognised the need for a review and commissioned The Athena Programme, (an independent external provider), to undertake a review of its policy and practices related to safeguarding within the Students’ Union.

They required external assistance to help identify risks and threats, make recommendations for improvements and help create an action plan to promote a change for a safer culture.


Following the review, Athena was commissioned to write new Safeguarding Policy and Procedures for the Students’ Union that are up to date with legislation and best practice. Since their implementation they now appear as good practice on the Students’ Union website and can be accessed by students, staff and relatives alike.

Policy and Governance
The new Policy and procedures detail a Governance arrangement around roles and expectations, a robust safeguarding structure with centralised reporting and recording system. A safeguarding email pathway has been created that links directly to the Designated Safeguarding Officer with new safeguarding recording template forms that require completion.

A training programme is being implemented following the review and Athena was commissioned to plan, design and deliver bespoke safeguarding training courses and support staff. All staff, volunteers, student leaders, Designated Safeguarding Officers and deputies and Trustees are now receiving safeguarding training to the correct level. They are now confident and competed to respond to students who need early help or to safeguarding incidents and concerns. As with all Students’ Union’s members and student leaders are transient so it is recognised that this work will need to be an on-going priority and developed.

Culture changes
Safeguarding has now been inserted as a ‘standing agenda item’ on all team meetings including Board meetings to encourage transparency and raise safeguarding as a priority within activity.

Safeguarding responsibilities is being included in job roles and specifications and commitment to safeguarding is included on all future job advertisements alongside any requirement for DBS checks.

The main thrust of this ground breaking Safeguarding development at the Students’ Union is that they wanted safeguarding to be about caring for everyone not just about harm thresholds. They were keen to ensure anyone who needed help or were flagged up as a concern got the help either under a ‘duty of care’ or as a safeguarding concern.

Claire Geddes, Chief Executive Officer, commented:

“Safeguarding is work in progress and we still have much to do, but our work with Athena has given us the competencies and confidence to get to grips with safeguarding and create solid framework. We’ve developed a much clearer and definitive approach to the culture we believe most of our student members would want and expect from their Students’ Union and that has only been with the help of Sarah and her team.”

The Athena Solution

Athena recommended a strategic overview review of policies and procedural documentation, site visits, face to face interviews with key post holders and three focus groups.

The findings of the review would be detailed in a report identifying areas for development, make recommendations for improvements and advise on an action plan with priority areas and suggested timeframes for completion.

The report would indicate priority areas for action by the use a R (red), A (amber), G (green) (RAG) rating.

The areas agreed for the review were:

  • Policy and Procedures
  • Governance / Reporting pathways and practice
  • Training compliance

The Outcome

The Review
Prior to the site visits, we spent time reviewing and researching the Student Union’s safeguarding policy and library of closely aligned policies and documents, i.e. whistle blowing policy, Complaints Policy, Code of Practice.

Athena identified an existing ‘Safety Framework’ between the LUSU and the University that promoted the highest possible standards in safe practice by the University and demonstrated a positive commitment to the safety and wellbeing of all individuals coming into contact with the University.

However, it found that the safeguarding policies were out of date and did not connect to relevant supportive policies and documents. Athena recommended that new Students’ Union Safeguarding policies and procedures be developed in line with current legislation and guidance and cross referenced with relevant related internal policies.

Athena used a safeguarding review checklist as a framework for both the site visit and discussions that reflected the requirements for safeguarding as laid out in legislation, statutory guidance and best practice. Interviews were held with a number of individuals across the Union, (one-to -one and in groups), over several days in order to get a balanced view from across the organisation’s staffing structure. Telephone interviews were arranged where key individuals were not readily available.

We identified that the safeguarding governance did not provide the Students’ Union with a robust reporting mechanism at senior management level, with clarity around the expectations of key individuals. No formalised regular monitoring of safeguarding incidents could be seen, both at Designated Safeguarding Officer level and within the Board structure. Athena recommended that a new governance structure is arranged within Students’ Union which details clear lines of responsibility which include a review and audit function by the Designated Safeguarding Officer.

A review of safeguarding training identified gaps in training delivery and training recording. Athena recommended a training strategy to ensure all staff and volunteers received training to the correct level, (role dependent), including induction training. The Students’ Union was advised to create an electronic training spreadsheet to systematically record the individuals attending, the level of training and the date of delivery. Due to the number and diversity of volunteers, this is actually being delivered through the development of an online set of modules for volunteers, including testing and additional information about culture, behaviours and equality and inclusion.

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