Ulster has signed up to Leisurewatch, a scheme which provides specialist training to staff on how to recognise inappropriate behaviour and a reporting system linked directly to specially trained officers in the PSNI.
The University’s leisure facilities are regularly used by students but also by special needs groups and children during summer camps.
According to the national charity TDI (The Derwent Initiative), which runs Leisurewatch, sexually predatory individuals can use public sites such as sports facilities and shopping centres to target children and vulnerable adults.
PSNI Chief Superintendent Andy McQuiggan and Head of Leisurewatch, Sue Kennedy, attended the launch event at the Jordanstown campus this week.
University of Ulster Vice-Chancellor Richard Barnett, said: “Community engagement has been identified by the Ulster Sports Academy as a key area for development as we strive to increase participation in sport and physical activity in the wider communities.
“Through strategic partnerships with statutory agencies, private sector organisations and volunteer agencies the Sports Academy has become embedded in the heart of the community and is seen as a warm and welcoming environment where young people, from all backgrounds, can be inspired to achieve their potential.
“This scheme further compliments the University’s Child Protection Policy and procedures which promotes best practice in child protection under the direction of the University’s Child Protection Officer, Mrs Irene Aston, Director of Corporate Planning and Governance.”
Dr Nigel Dobson, Head of Sport and Recreation Services, added: "We are delighted to be a part of the Leisurewatch scheme and to be the first university in the UK to join the scheme.
“Sports Development and Services staff have always had a clear commitment to the safety of children and vulnerable people in our sports centres across the University and this scheme underlines our determination to provide a safe and enjoyable environment for everyone who comes through our doors.”
Speaking at the event, PSNI Chief Superintendent Andy McQuiggan, said: “By increasing staff awareness of public protection issues through training, Leisurewatch can contribute to maintaining the safety of vulnerable people and children.
“Through a formal referral procedure, suspicious behaviour can be reported to the district’s Public Protection Unit, which is comprised of a team of specially trained police officers. Public Protection Units exist in each of the eight police districts across Northern Ireland and they share intelligence to allow for early intervention and identification of links between cases, victims and offenders.”
Sports facilities across the University will display Leisurewatch signs to say that the scheme is in operation and to act as a deterrent. The majority of Sports Development and Services staff have already been trained by Leisurewatch to help them identify, assess and manage sex offender risk.
A site audit was conducted at each University sports centre examining physical, design and security issues that may enable potential offenders to operate more easily within our sporting facilities.
There are 250 Leisurewatch membership sites across the UK – 87 of these are in Northern Ireland.
Founded in 1992, TDI is an independent UK charity which works to improve public protection by finding creative and practical multi-agency solutions to the problems of sexual offending. The charity offers research, consultancy, training and a number of trademarked public protection schemes. For more information visit the website www.tdi.org.uk .