University of Exeter: New “SafePod” to help level up access to data for University of Exeter researchers

Previously, academics often have to travel long distances to be able to analyse information held by government departments or the NHS, which cannot be removed from secure locations. This data helps policymakers make better informed decisions, and giving trained researchers access to this data enables them to build a more comprehensive and useful picture of society.

The University of Exeter is now part of SafePod Network, a new investment from the Economic and Social Research Council to provide secure facilities and services for researchers to remotely access datasets through secure online connections.

The SafePod is a small, prefabricated structure that is designed to replicate a traditional safe setting and includes security features such as a door control access system, CCTV camera, and secure storage areas for IT hardware and equipment.

Dr Chris Playford, coordinator of the University of Exeter’s SafePod, said: “The SafePod Network enables researchers to access administrative records by providing a secure location in which to do so without the need to travel long distances to secure data centres, which is particularly relevant in the South West of England. This will be beneficial for researchers and promote research using administrative records more widely.”

James Anthony-Edwards, University of Exeter Librarian, said: “The SafePod will be a great addition to our research facilities, making it easier for our researchers and others in the south-west to get access to the sensitive data they need to solve society’s most challenging problems”.

Professor Neil Gow, University of Exeter Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research and Impact, said: “Local access to controlled data is critical in enabling us to develop research with major public benefit, and I’m delighted that our new SafePod facility is enabling this at Exeter.”

A wealth of government datasets, as well as study and survey datasets, will be available for secure access from SafePods. This will include new linked datasets created by Administrative Data Research UK (ADR UK) projects, such as the ground-breaking Data First programme at the Ministry of Justice, and the majority of datasets held by the Office for National Statistics’ Secure Research Service, the UK Data Service and SAIL Databank.

The security of data used for research is vital, as many of the datasets in question 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.

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.”

Professor Matthew Woollard, Director, UK Data Service, said: “Controlled data we provide access to via Secure Lab will now be more accessible to accredited researchers across the UK. What better way to celebrate the UK Data Service Secure Lab’s 10th anniversary year than to extend its reach across the UK to enable more research that could benefit society.”

Pete Stokes, Director of the Integrated Data Programme at ONS said: “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.”

The University of Exeter’s SafePod is located in Haighton Library on St Luke’s campus in Exeter, and is available for bookings on weekdays, excluding public holidays and University closure days. Once formally launched, the Exeter SafePod can be booked through the SPN website at