No-bystander training for a safer city: Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh

Theme: Access and inclusion
Brooke Cagle Uhvrvdr7pg Unsplash

There is growing research evidence to suggest that bystander intervention can be an effective way of stopping sexual assault before it happens, as bystanders play a crucial role in discouraging or intervening when a potential incident may occur.

In 2019, ACU member Heriot-Watt University (HWU) was successful in applying for an ACU Gender Grant, providing funding to support the delivery of ‘no-bystander’ training to staff and students in Edinburgh.

HWU is a founding member of the Fearless Edinburgh Partnership, a multiagency working group that aims to address gender-based violence in the higher education sector. The partnership brings together the capital’s universities with Police Scotland, the NHS and Edinburgh Rape Crisis Centre to share resources to deliver joint training, development and good practise for handling sexual harassment and assault on campus.

The ACU grant contributed to a larger HWU funding package which supported over 50 staff and students from across HWU to take part in ‘no-bystander’ training. The workshops focused on key areas including raising awareness of gender-based violence, understanding a victim-led approach to disclosing incidents and how to step in and intervene safely.

The sessions themselves were largely interactive with the majority of the learning and development based on discussion, group work and scenarios, delivering vital awareness-raising and also equipping attendees with the tools to use in their everyday interactions.

Graham Goulden of Cultivating Minds UK, an experienced leadership and violence prevention trainer, provided professional expertise in developing and running the sessions. He has worked globally to support a no-bystander approach specifically focusing on gender-based violence and has worked with universities across Scotland.

Commenting on the training programme, Sharan Virdee, Equality and Diversity Partner at Heriot-Watt University, said:

The purpose was to raise consciousness of a ‘no-bystander’ approach to tackling gender-based violence where our students, alongside our staff and participants from local tertiary education settings, were in a dedicated space to be open, honest and build capacity. We saw an immediate increase in capacity and confidence for participants in terms of understanding gender-based violence in all its forms and accepting that we can all have a responsibility to act to end gender-based violence.

The project has provided a strong foundation for future work and activities tackling gender-based violence at HWU. Through the initiative, not only was training developed and successfully rolled out but much-needed conversations around behaviour and social norms took place, and a banner of #StandUpStepIn was created under which future activities will be taken forward. Feedback from participants has also indicated a strong desire to remain engaged and encourage others to take part in future events.

While the initial target audience was the student community, the mixture of staff and students involved helped to build trust and understanding across the University community. As work in this area continues to gain momentum, it was agreed to seek further shared spaces to build on the positive outcomes of the sessions.


More information

For more than 30 years, the ACU has worked to address gender issues – such as championing women in leadership and combating sexual violence on campus – in partnership with our member universities.

Our annual ACU Gender Grants help our members to meet the costs of organising projects promoting gender equity and equality in their institutions. The grants can be used for a diverse range of projects, workshops, and events in areas such as supporting women in leadership, science and research; mainstreaming gender equity into the curriculum and developing anti-sexual harassment initiatives.

Now entering its fourth year, we’re pleased to announce applications for ACU Gender Grants are now open! The closing date for applications is 20 September 2020. Visit this page for details on how to apply and to find out more.

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Theme: Access and inclusion