The UK's first experiential safety centre was opened in Milton Keynes in 1994 and there are now a number around the country. Most are members of the Safety Centre Alliance which Safeside helped to found in 2009.
With the sale of its old Headquarters building in Birmingham City Centre and relocation to the Eastside regeneration zone, West Midlands Fire Service seized the opportunity to open its own experiential safety education centre as part of the new complex, close to Milllenium Point and the proposed HS2 terminal. We opened to our first visitors for some trial visits in November 2008 and were fully open from January 2009. The slideshow illustrates some stages of the exciting build process in 2008.
Safeside at Eastside has approximately 9,500 visitors each year with plans to increase this to 20,000 by 2017. This increase will be partly as a result of opening to the general public on school holidays and weekends, funding from Nationwide Building Society for a parenting scheme, and a programme for young adults.
Visit numbers climbed steeply for the first two years. With the onset of 'austerity', schools are finding it harder to fund visits. Visit numbers have levelled off and declined slightly since 2011. We are working actively with partners to find ways to support schools in what feedback consistently shows is a highly valued and successful educational visit. An early example of this is shown in the funding by Nationwide Building Society of our Safestart scheme for the parents and carers of the under fives. This allows anyone with responsibility for children in the early years free entry and subsidised travel. By adjusting our business model we are confident that we can significantly increase the number of visitors and our impact on Making West Midlands Safer.
The programmes are based around a full size indoor street scene with house, shops, canal, bus and train to provide an immersive and interactive learning experience which cannot be replicated in the classroom. The centre cost WMFS £2.3 million to build and has also had significant investment in scenarios from other partners such as the Co-op, Nationwide, Network Rail and National Express.
We continually evaluate what we do to ensure that it remains relevant and up to date. Recent improvements include a new bus stop with live electronic sign, thanks to Centro. Network Rail have installed a pedestrian crossing on our train scenario to highlight a key safety issue. National Express have rebranded and updated the bus, Midlands Co-op have restocked our shop, and Nationwide have installed a completely new branch scenario allowing us to cover financial safety and citizenship for the first time. Our scenario development plans for 2014 include a West Midlands Ambulance scene on our street, a garden safety area, and further updates to our train.
Safeside at Handsworth
At Handsworth Fire Station, a fire safety experience was upgraded in 2012/13 to include home safety scenarios, and the centre joined the Safeside family. The upgrades allow a wider range of schools and youth programmes to be developed that include the fire station itself as well as the Safeside at Handsworth facilities.
We will continue to review and develop all our programme content targeting MoneyLIVE (our finance tour) and JSI:Safeside (our public access at weekends and school holidays programme) during 2014. At Handsworth, the new Fire Crew programme will be our primary focus.