Safeguarding & Governance Report

3. Charity Commission Inquiry: Safeguarding and Governance Review

Since 2017, we have worked together, both as a community and as a charity, to put in place the necessary governance and safeguarding reforms recommended in the Lewis Silkin Report and to fully cooperate with the Charity Commission’s inquiry which concluded in November 2020.  We set out here a summary and timeline of the main organisational changes and reforms undertaken in this period and you can read the Charity Commission’s findings here.

3.1 Key leadership and personnel changes:

  • Sogyal Rinpoche retired as Spiritual Director of Rigpa Fellowship and all other Rigpa entities with effect from 11 August 2017. He passed away, two years later, from cancer, on 28 August 2019.

  • Following the publication of the Lewis Silkin Report, in September 2018, Rigpa’s three main international leaders had stepped down from all positions of governance within Rigpa and any associated legal entities. In the UK, over a period of two years, the leadership was refreshed.
  • Two former Trustees of Rigpa UK were disqualified from acting as Trustees in a charity in England and Wales and were found to be responsible for misconduct and/or mismanagement in the administration of the charity by the Charity Commission. Patrick Gaffney was disqualified for a period of eight years with effect from April 2019 and Susan Burrows received a permanent ban in September 2019.

  • Two new Trustees were appointed to Rigpa Fellowship in July 2019.

  • Any teacher invited to teach at Rigpa UK, since September 2018, is required to sign and abide by the Rigpa shared Code of Conduct and, by extension, since 2019, our safeguarding policies and framework.

3.2 Code of Conduct and Shared Values and Guidelines

In June 2018, Rigpa UK adopted the Code of Conduct and Shared Values & Guidelines of the Rigpa Community (community meaning the worldwide network of 13 separate legal organisations plus Rigpa UK).

All our instructors, staff and core volunteers have signed up to the Code of Conduct which is publicly displayed on our website and in our National Centre in London.  Students have also individually been advised of the Code of Conduct and that instructors and teachers (however engaged) must abide by it.

The Code of Conduct emphasizes the primacy of lawful and ethical behaviour, and makes it clear that abuse, harassment and/or bullying of any kind will not be tolerated.

This international Code of Conduct is now supported and underpinned by our safeguarding policies and framework in order to comply with UK regulatory law.

3.3 Safeguarding Framework

In 2019 Rigpa UK became members of Thirtyone:eight a Christian safeguarding charity who provide safeguarding training and a safeguarding advice helpline. In April 2019 Thirtyone:eight trained almost 50 core volunteers and staff at the Rigpa London Centre. This training highlighted the safeguarding risks that religious organisations, in particular, are vulnerable to and how these risks should be objectively and realistically assessed and safeguarded against.

Following that training a Safeguarding Group was created to collaborate on safeguarding practice, policy, procedure and training within the organization. A dedicated Safeguarding Lead and Deputy were appointed by the Group and Trustees and, in September 2019, the Safeguarding Lead and Deputy received further specialist training from Thirtyone:eight as Designated Safeguarding Leads.

The Safeguarding Team, in collaboration with the Safeguarding Group, have now developed and implemented robust and comprehensive safeguarding policies, procedures and guidelines for adult and child safeguarding.

Rigpa UK has also set up a dedicated safeguarding email address which has been shared with our student community and is publicly available on the UK website – [email protected].  Our staff and volunteers have been trained to use the new safeguarding policies and procedures and they also have access to a dedicated internal support telephone number for safeguarding concerns or questions.  

We are committed to offering ongoing training and support around safeguarding for our volunteers and staff and will regularly review and update our policies as legislation and/or changes in circumstances require and are now embedding safeguarding risk assessments in every aspect of work.

We understand that for safeguarding to be effective in our organisation we need to actively monitor and review our policies, procedures and will regularly review cases to ensure that lessons learnt are built into the way we shape and develop our policies.

3.4 Grievance Procedure

Rigpa UK adopted a new and shared Grievance Procedure in October 2018, as a consistent, simple and clear process to deal with grievances or complaints throughout the network of all Rigpa organisations worldwide.

The procedure also includes mandatory reporting of serious allegations, suspicions or disclosure of abuse to the relevant authorities in line with Rigpa UK’s safeguarding policies.

Rigpa UK and all Rigpa entities worldwide set up Grievance Councils in their individual countries to manage this process according to each jurisdiction. In addition, an Independent Grievance Council was created, with two independent external councillors being appointed who can be contacted by e-mail in the first instance at [email protected] and who will then respond by telephone where a number is provided to them.

3.5 Supporting reporters of abuse

Rigpa UK is committed to supporting reporters of abuse. If information comes to light that involves alleged abuse or any other safeguarding concern in the UK, the Trustees will investigate and take appropriate action in accordance with Rigpa UK’s safeguarding policies and procedures, which may include reporting matters to the Charity Commission (in accordance with the Reporting Serious Incidents procedure), the police and/or other relevant authorities.

There is no room for abuse of any kind in the Rigpa community and we are committed to providing support to the eight complainants and others who have come forward or are yet to come forward. We are also committed to completing the restorative process initiative which was, unfortunately, delayed due to Covid-19 restrictions but has now resumed as of August 2020.

3.6 Supporting Rigpa UK students and members

The Rigpa UK community has undergone a serious period of reflection and change in response to the letter of the eight complainants and the findings of the Lewis Silkin Report. As part of this process Rigpa UK held regular safe space meetings in their UK centres throughout 2017 and 2018 to support, listen and share concerns about the findings of the Lewis Silkin Report openly and honestly with the Rigpa UK community.

In December 2018 the trustees led a two day workshop with Rigpa UK students at the London centre. Those who attended collaborated together to help shape the future vision of a reformed Rigpa UK to be able to hold, reflect and respect the diversity of views within the community. Open workshops with students were also held internationally.

The Trustees confirm that all teaching materials are safe and undergo a rigorous editing and checking process before being shared. The Trustees have issued clear Operational Guidelines to its core volunteers and staff which highlight the charity’s responsibility and commitment to make safeguarding paramount within the organisation which means this policy applies to all teachings that are shared with students and all teachers and instructors.

3.7 Governance review and management

Rigpa UK has completed the first stage of its Governance Review which involved reviewing its core policies and creating and implementing an effective safeguarding framework with accompanying policies, procedures and guidelines. 

  • Financial Safeguarding

We reviewed our fundraising and financial policies and procedures and adopted new comprehensive financial controls and procedures.

  • Reporting and Managing Serious Incidents to the Regulatory Authority

The Trustees now have a clear protocol in place to report serious incidents to the Charity Commission and the relevant authorities, including the police in accordance with their legal duties.

  •  Staff & Volunteer Induction and Management

We now have clear and comprehensive policies in place that will be shared with all volunteers and staff on induction.

  • Ensuring we continue to meet the public benefit

Throughout this period (from July 2017 to date) Rigpa UK students continued to connect through practice and study programmes offered throughout the UK and which, during Covid-19 lockdown, have continued to be offered online to existing students.