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Bristol to benefit from new ‘SafePod’ enabling scientists to access secure data on site

23 August 2021

Bristol is one of the first universities to benefit from a ‘SafePod’ as part of a new national network of ‘secure data access’ pods set to launch this week. The small, prefabricated pods will enable scientists to access data for research purposes on site avoiding the need for them to travel to the handful of existing safe setting locations.

The security of data used for research is vital, as many datasets are based on the administrative records of millions of people across the UK. Strict controls are already in place for their research use, and the datasets are either de-identified or anonymised before they can be used. SafePods maintain the physical security needed for research use of these datasets and enable researchers to provide valuable insights about how our society and economy function, without compromising anyone’s privacy.

Funded by the Economic and Social Research Council [ESRC] and run by the Scottish Centre for Administrative Data Research as part of the Administrative Data Research UK (ADR UK) programme, researchers can book a SafePod through the new SafePod Network website. Priority access will be given for research that is deemed critical to society and the economy.

The new service means researchers can access and work on new linked datasets created by ADR UK projects, such as the Data First programme at the Ministry of Justice, and datasets held by the Office for National Statistics’ Secure Research Service, the UK Data Service and SAIL Databank.

Professor Chris Dibben, SafePod Network Director, said: “Until recently, researchers based in many parts of the UK could not access administrative datasets securely and easily. This probably meant important research for public benefit did not happen. Now, with the SafePods being installed across the UK, no researcher should be far from an access point – transforming the UK research landscape.”

Debra Hiom, Associate Director of Library Services at the University of Bristol, added: “We are delighted to be hosting one of the first SafePods at Bristol. Having access to virtual services is even more important in the current circumstances and we have a number of researchers who are eager to make use of the new facility.”

Pete Stokes, Director of the Integrated Data Programme at ONS added: “The SafePod Network will provide a secure, convenient, way for analysts to access a wide range of data, stored in the Office for National Statistics’ Secure Research Service and elsewhere, which can only increase the range and volume of valuable research undertaken, providing better evidence for decision-making and delivering significant public benefits.”

Other organisations set to receive a SafePod include the Universities of Bath, Central Lancashire, Exeter, Glasgow Caledonian, Liverpool, London School of Economics and Political Science, Manchester, Nottingham, Oxford, Ulster, York and The National Archives. A total of 25 SafePods are planned with all installations expected to be completed by 2022.

Further information

University of Bristol SafePod

Bristol’s SafePod is located in the Medical Library and is available 10am to 4pm on weekdays, excluding public holidays and University closure days. For further information about the University of Bristol SafePod visit the website or contact The SafePod Network can be contacted on +44(0)1334 463901 or

What is a SafePod?

A SafePod is a small standardised safe setting that provides secure access to sensitive data for research purposes. Data can be accessed remotely or locally from a SafePod, dependent on access conditions. SafePods have the following features:

  • Door access control system;
  • Separate secure storage for IT hardware;
  • CCTV system;
  • Automatic monitor information protection;
  • Height adjustable desk;
  • Air ventilation system;
  • Adjustable lighting;
  • Emergency alarm;
  • Fire alarm;
  • Locker storage for researcher possessions.

SafePods have been designed with accessibility in mind, including wheelchair access.

‘SafePod’ is a registered trademark of the University of St Andrews.

What is administrative data?

Administrative data is created when people interact with public services, which keep records to carry out their day-to-day work. It also includes sources such as the electoral register and censuses.

Although not originally created for research, administrative data has great potential to provide insights to help policymakers make better informed decisions. Giving trained researchers access to this data enables them to build a more comprehensive and useful picture of society.

The greatest benefits from this data occur when data from one government department or service is linked to others. For instance, if we link records about people’s family background, such as income and employment, to how well they do at school, government and civil society can use this information to take action to help disadvantaged children succeed.

About the SafePod Network

The SafePod Network (SPN) provides a major advance to the way that data can be securely accessed for research purposes across the UK.

The SPN is the first service to provide and manage a network of standardised safe settings (SafePods). All SafePods operate under the same policies and procedures and provide accredited researchers with access to their project datasets from Data Centres that join the SPN.

The SPN is funded directly by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) until March 2022; thereafter it is expected to be funded by ESRC as part of its Administrative Data Research UK (ADR UK) programme.

About ADR UK

ADR UK (Administrative Data Research UK) is a partnership transforming the way researchers access the UK’s wealth of public sector data, to enable better informed policy decisions that improve people’s lives.

By linking together data held by different parts of government, and by facilitating safe and secure access for accredited researchers to these newly joined-up data sets, ADR UK is creating a sustainable body of knowledge about how our society and economy function – tailored to give decision makers the answers they need to solve important policy questions.

ADR UK is made up of four national partnerships (ADR England, ADR Scotland, ADR Wales, and ADR NI) and the Office for National Statistics (ONS), which ensures data provided by UK government bodies is accessed by researchers in a safe and secure form with minimal risk to data holders or the public.

The partnership is coordinated by a UK-wide Strategic Hub, which also promotes the benefits of administrative data research to the public and the wider research community, engages with UK government to secure access to data, and manages a dedicated research budget.

ADR UK is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), part of UK Research and Innovation.

To find out more, visit or follow @ADR_UK on Twitter.

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