A woman’s view from the frontline: An interview with Sophie Bimson

I had the pleasure recently of meeting with Sophie Bimson the ‘Crime Prevention and Personal Safety Advisor’ at University College London (UCL). I was really interested to find out more about Sophie’s unique role and what it’s like to be a woman working in HE Security in 2020. Over a coffee and a lovely tour of UCL (their buildings are stunning), Sophie shared with me how her role is giving the team more time to interact with students, and plan for prevention ahead of disruptions rather that react later. The work Sophie is doing, and the interaction her role creates between teams, fits perfectly with the working practices ProtectED advocates, through a holistic approach to student safety and wellbeing.

Explain your new Role as it is very different from the general University Security Role?

I would say my role is entirely multi-faceted. No two days are the same for me which I absolutely love. My role as Crime Prevention and Personal Safety Advisor can span multiple functions every day. One day I could be gathering intelligence on controversial speakers on an upcoming protest or event, the next I could be delivering presentations on crime and personal safety to new students. I have an ever-increasing case load of students who, having been victims of crime, seek information and advice about how to stay safe and avoid becoming a repeat victim. In many ways my role is very specialist and niche, and increasingly I can see the value it has for students who have been victim of crime who need additional advice and support to regain confidence in the immediate aftermath of a traumatic incident.

What parts of your career so far have you drawn on, for your role?

Having been a Police Officer and Trainee Detective in Thames Valley Police for 6 ½ years has served me very well in this role. I have always taken a victim-centred approach to my work, I am committed to providing the best possible service for our students and staff which I have projected onto this role. Understanding the investigative approach to crime helps me to identify and discuss options available to students and staff and give an honest and realistic prospect of each outcome. Having worked as a Hate Crime Victims Advocate gave me a fantastic foundation to develop methods to reach out to less heard communities where there may be barriers to reporting. Some of the techniques used to enhance engagement are being successfully deployed here at UCL, for example providing drop-in and by appointment bookable 1-1 sessions to give advice and support to students and implementing a Student Safety Champion programme.

What advantages do you think your role gives to the security and wellbeing of the Students at UCL?

I think my role highlights the need to take a holistic approach to student safety and wellbeing, it can’t just sit with Student Support and Wellbeing as a team, it needs to be the priority for every UCL department. One of my core functions is to act as a conduit bridging the gap between departments to ensure student safety and security is a cross-departmental consideration. Every day I ensure that, with consent, information about specific incidents and crime trends alike are shared so that a joined-up approach can be taken to providing important aftercare for our students when they have been a victim of crime. Without my role there would not be capacity to take the time to speak to students individually and put bespoke plans in place to enhance their safety on and off campus.

Would you advise other universities to look at their team layout, and introduce a role similar to yours?

Absolutely. The safety and security of students in higher education is paramount and as Security we hold that responsibility in our hands. A role like this has meant time is dedicated to assessing crime trends as they emerge and ensure robust action is taken to protect our students and proactively prevent the escalation of these trends. This role has allowed for greater engagement with students which we hope over time will reduce the existing barriers to reporting under-reported crime such as harassment, domestic abuse and hate crime.

What advice would you give other women starting out in the Security industry?

I think the lack of visible diversity, particularly at the senior management levels, can be off putting for women starting out in this industry. That said, without bringing in talented women that will never change, so I’d advise getting stuck in, take all the training opportunities available, find a mentor who supports your ambitions and bolsters your talent and strive to challenge the current aesthetic of the security sector.

We talk so much about the Security sector dealing with so much more than the standard day to day security tasks within the HEI sector. Wellbeing is at the very top of everyone’s agenda. What advice do you have for working collectively towards sharing good practice?

I think keeping an open mind and not being precious or anxious about sharing innovative practices is key. There is always scope for improvement and I try my best to keep my ear to the ground when it comes to implementing new practices. I believe it is better to test an idea than to experience the same problems time and time again, but better still to share successful practices between partners. I try to keep an open mind and seek advice about new practices, whilst being open to sharing good practice we have identified with other HE institutions. I think that reciprocity, mutual respect and support across the sector is key to progress.

How do you think ProtectED is helping change the HEI sector for the good?

As you know, we pushed hard to become a founding member at ProtectED because we believe that this scheme will instil a culture of continuous improvement across the HE security sector. ProtectED provides a framework to assess the safety, security and wellbeing measures implemented by HE institutions, identifying areas that are strong and those requiring improvement. As an institution we strive for excellence and I see this as an important mechanism driving us towards this goal. It is a fantastic initiative and I hope many more institutions across the sector will join us in seeking accreditation.

What are the biggest Challenges you have found in your role?

I think the biggest challenge in my role so far has been effectively communicating important safety and security messages with our students and staff. Based on emerging crime trends I disseminate messages on social media (twitter and Instagram on @uclsecurity), work with our central communications team to put key messages out on our web pages, hold presentations during enrolment week and put posters up to reinforce important issues. I understand it’s a dry topic and not necessarily engaging so I have tried to find new solutions. I am currently launching a Student Safety Champion programme to empower students studying in our Crime Science Department to engage with their peers to address crime and personal safety on campus and beyond. I believe that harnessing information about how students want to be engaged with will assist us as a team to effectively disseminate key messages within our UCL community in the future.

I really appreciate Sophie speaking to me and sharing her insights. Creating the role 'Crime Prevention and Personal Safety Advisor’ is obviously working for UCL, but I think the experience and enthusiasm that Sophie brings have made it the success it is. Sophie will be speaking at our ProtectED Conversations event on 30th April at UCL, where we will be looking at ‘Resilience through a student-centred approach - How universities can adapt to an increasingly market-oriented HE’. If you would like a Free ticket, just keep an eye out next week on social media for the link, we look forward to seeing you there.

Lisa Ravenscroft – Communications Manager for ProtectED. You can contact me on: t: +44 m: +44 (0)7889 933034 or at l.ravenscroft@Protect-ED.org.

Twitter: @ProtectED_HEI www.Protect-ED.org

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