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Safe as houses

Sarah Scally joins pupils on an outing to a centre which alerts them to dangers in everyday life

Arriving at the Streetwise Safety Centre in Bournemouth, the group of Year 5 pupils from St Mary's Primary School in Bridport, Dorset, is ushered through a side door and into a classroom. Here they receive a briefing from staff at the centre before being taken along a corridor in groups of five or six by a volunteer guide.

When everyone is ready, the door opens and a collective intake of breath can be heard as the children see the scene in front of them. The warehouse has been transformed into a life-sized village and the children catch glimpses of, among other things, a full size two-storey house, a high street and a park.

The Streetwise Safety Centre is Dorset's award-winning interactive education centre. All of the scenarios have been built as in real life, using real bricks, mortar and other materials. The centre is a charity run as a partnership between the emergency services and businesses. It was co-founded by Liverpool Victoria, a financial services company, in January 1999 and since then more than 80,000 people have visited it.

With my group, we enter a full-size living room and Roy, our guide, asks:

"What's wrong with the television?" This gets us thinking about the vase of water and flowers on top of the TV. "What would happen if the fire gets hot?" he asks as we look at a mirror hung over an electric fire. He gets the children to play detective, spotting dangers and suggesting ways to prevent them.

Next door in the kitchen, we quickly spot problems, with a chip pan resting on the front of a stove, its handle stuck out, and a kettle positioned on a draining board while plugged in. Next, Roy has an exercise up his sleeve for us, and as the kitchen fills with simulated smoke we evacuate the house and make a 999 call from the phone box outside. Roy talks to the children about what to say to the emergency services and picks two to go into the phone box to make the call. Tandy and Alfie do very well, explaining where they are and remembering to give directions: "The house next to the park."

It's all very realistic, as Laura comments afterwards: "The house was good, it looked like a real house and was the proper size."

There are nine scenarios including the house and its garden, a high street, a park, a dark alley, a railway line (complete with front end of a real Virgin train) an electrical substation, a farmyard (with tractor), a heath, a beach and a building site. All of them have the sights and sounds you would expect.

On the beach we talk about sun safety. "What's going to happen to him?" Roy asks, pointing to a picture of a man asleep in a deck chair with no hat or suntan cream. "You can already see he's going pink from the sun," he says, highlighting the man's arms and tummy. Children's inflatable toys lying on the beach introduce us to water safety as he talks about how the children should be aware of strong currents if they go swimming.

Another favourite in the centre is the high street because there are several cars, a crashed motorbike, a bicycle lying on its side and a bus to explore before we even get onto the subject of the shops and retail theft.

We talk about stranger danger and wearing bike helmets, before boarding the Wilts and Dorset bus to watch a video about safety on buses.

After two hours, everyone has learnt a lot, including the adults, and as Roy sums it up: "One day you may be able to keep someone safe because of something you learnt at Streetwise."

lFree 999 Family Fun Day at Streetwise: Sunday July 16

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