SafeSide interactive safety centre logo

March 2012

West Midlands Fire and Rescue Service are responsible for oversight of the SafeSide centre – a purpose-built learning centre designed to deliver hands-on safety training to audiences of all ages.

What is SafeSide?

SafeSide is an interactive safety centre –a purpose-built venue containing 16 different safety scenarios. The centre is built as a mock-up of a small town centre, and includes a canal, house, cinema, real bus, part of a train, and working pedestrian crossing. Visitors to the centre are given a tour of relevant scenarios and taught about various aspects of safety. For example, a group of schoolchildren might be taken to a pedestrian crossing to learn about road safety, or into a home to practice hazard awareness.

The centre primarily provides safety tours for groups of children from local schools between the ages of 8-14, but they also offer safety training and advice for parents of much younger children as well.

Junior Citizen programme logo

The Junior Citizen programme targets those in Year 5 at primary school. The children are brought into the centre and given tours by trained volunteers. The visitor guides have received training in each of the safety scenarios, and teach the children what the dangers are of each scenario and how to avoid them.

West Midlands Fire Service Special Educational Needs team runs a similar programme with visits once a month for children with special educational needs. The students learn the same safety messages, but the course is tailored to their particular needs.

Life Skills programme logo

Lifeskills targets slightly older children (Year 8) with safety and citizenship messages. It is similar to the Junior Citizen programme, but the messages are more relevant to older children. For instance, as well as road safety the students will also be taught about personal safety and internet safety.

The Lifeskills tours are delivered by a mix of Fire Service staff, paid presenters, and drama students from Birmingham City University –all of whom have been trained to give appropriate safety messages in each scenario.

SafeStart logo

SafeStart targets a different audience – parents. The aim of the programme is to communicate key safety messages to parents of children under two years old. SafeSide works closely with local Children’s Centres to recruit parents for the scheme - Children’s Centre staff recommend parents who they think could benefit from the training and book sessions for them at SafeSide.

The SafeStart tours are delivered by paid presenters and Fire Service staff.

The need

Over 200 children per year die of accidents in the England, and thousands more are admitted to hospital. Many of these accidents can be prevented, saving children’s lives as well as NHS money.

In the West Midlands the death rate of children due to accidents is slightly higher than the national average, and in Birmingham (where the centre is based) the number of children who are killed or seriously injured as a result of childhood accidents is disproportionately high.

The SafeSide centre was developed with West Midlands-specific accidents in mind. Rob Hattersley, who manages the centre, said “Right from the start we’ve tried to address real problems rather than what people think are the issues. Many people think that ‘stranger danger’ is the biggest problem, but being murdered by a stranger is, thankfully, relatively rare. So we’ve looked at our accident statistics and focused on what matters. For us, road safety is a huge issue, so the centre has two different road safety scenarios.”

The goal of the SafeSide team is not to make children risk-averse, or wrap them up in cotton wool, but to educate them about potential risks, and give them the responsibility for their own safety.

How was it developed?

SafeSide centre under construction

The SafeSide centre cost £2.3 million to construct, and took over 2 years to build. West Midlands Fire and Rescue Services were aware of other safety centres around the country, so when it came time to move their Headquarters out of the city centre, they realised that a new safety centre could be built at the same time. By combining the two buildings as one project, they saved a lot of money.

During the planning stages, staff from Birmingham visited other safety centres around the country to see what they had to offer.

“We wanted to cherry-pick the best bits,” says Rob. “Most had road safety scenarios, and we wanted to get the real things, so we asked commercial companies to contribute. That’s how we ended up with a real train, a real bus, and a working pedestrian crossing. We wanted to use the bits that worked from other safety centres but make ours more Birmingham-centric. That’s why we added our canal scenario, for instance – Birmingham has so many canals that water safety is a really important issue.”

How is it funded?

The initial capital required to build the centre was put forward by West Midlands Fire and Rescue Service. However, funding for individual projects and the running costs of the centre come from various partners. Funding for the LifeSkills and SafeStart programmes comes from the Birmingham Priority Neighbourhoods budget, with the aim of making Birmingham a safer and more equal city.

Some of the running costs are also provided by schools, although the contribution schools make is minimal. Rob emphasised the need to keep costs down for schools to encourage all of them to bring their students to the centre. Schools pay just £2.50 per head for students who attend the centre, with the rest of the money coming from SafeSide’s other funding.

Who else is involved with SafeSide?

The centre is run by the West Midlands Fire and Rescue Service, but a number of different partners have contributed to the programme either financially or by providing equipment, information or staff to help run sessions.

Children learn about the dangers of fire

West Midlands FRS has received a lot of help from commercial organisations – Midlands Co-op donated equipment and products to stock the SafeSide corner shop, which is used to teach teenagers about alcohol and tobacco licensing. First West Midlands donated a bus, and Chiltern Railways donated a train.

Of course not all partners donate equipment; Rob says that many of their partners have helped out by donating expertise. British Waterways, the British Red Cross, local Road Safety Partnerships, and many other safety organisations have helped West Midlands Fire and Rescue to establish the key safety messages to get across to visitors at the centre.

Rob says that they also have great links with the police and ambulance services, which he hopes to build on to get even more out of the centre. SafeSide is also supported by the drama department at nearby Birmingham City University. Students from BCU help out at SafeSide safety sessions, guiding visitors around the centre and acting out scenarios to emphasise the safety messages.

What are the challenges faced by the SafeSide team?

Training and recruitment of volunteers has proven quite difficult for staff at SafeSide. They run so many sessions in a week that it is crucial to have a good supply of willing volunteers to show visitors around the centre. However, there is a high turnover of volunteers. Many of the volunteers are students who return to University or go back home, or unemployed people who have to cancel their volunteering commitments when they find full-time work. However, it is not an insurmountable problem - recruitment is ongoing because of the high turnover, and although it is expensive to keep training new volunteers, the cost of this training can often be covered by project funding.


The evaluation of SafeSide’s projects is ongoing. So far over 10,000 children have visited the centre, and SafeSide staff collect feedback from students and teachers about how their visit went. Alongside collecting feedback, SafeSide staff are developing a more comprehensive evaluation. Rob Hattersley explains:

Inside the SafeSide safety centre

“Initially we used Quizdom response system to test the students before and after their visit to see how many of the safety messages they had learned. However, this detracted from the visit – students were bored with the quiz second-time around as they’d already done it. It also wasn’t a valid sample – the students were only asked 20 questions, which is not enough to get a good picture of their attitudes towards the safety messages. We want to carry out an evaluation that is more scientific, and won’t detract from the safety messages that the children learn at SafeSide.”

The new evaluation will involve giving an in-depth survey to sample groups of children before and after safety-centre visits. The selected groups will then receive a visit 6 months later at school where they will be asked to fill out the same survey. This will test how well they have retained the messages that they learned during their visit to SafeSide.

More information

For more information on the SafeSide interactive safety centre visit the SafeSide website or get in touch with Rob Hattersley at Safeside on 0121 380 6429.

You can also view a detailed SafeSide case study.

Updated June 2013