A New Crime Scene Simulation Space at UWE Frenchay Campus

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Paul Bowdler: Technical Team Leader – FACS

Crime scene training provision is expanding quickly at UWE. Not only are undergraduate and post-graduate Forensic Science programmes continuing to be highly popular with prospective students, but there is now a large multi-intake Policing cohort now adding to the need for state-of-the-art simulation facilities on Frenchay Campus. This new space will provide our students with excellent crime scene provision, in accordance with our accreditation from the Chartered Society of Forensic Sciences. This blog will follow the involvement of the Forensic, Analytical, and Chemical Sciences (FACS) technical team in developing and setting up this space in anticipation of use for our students.

Firstly, a disclaimer of sorts. The creation of this new space has been a huge undertaking for the faculty – from identifying a need, creating a business case, management of the building works, IT provision, and setting up the space. This blog is not intended to follow all of these undertakings – but needless to say, the university should be very proud of all the staff members who have worked closely together on this project – with Technical/IT, Academic, Administrative, and Estates teams all involved. A great deal of thanks should be given to Marcus Olivant specifically as the individual who has overseen much of this process, which has been quite a significant undertaking!

The Planning stages:

So, where do my team and I first get involved? As a technical team with existing expertise in providing crime scene simulation, we have been lucky enough to have been involved throughout the planning and implementation processes of this project. Myself and my colleague Sarah Almond were first involved in the Autumn of 2021 at an initial meeting of stakeholders including academic staff and Avon & Somerset Police representatives. This meeting led to the agreement of a layout for the space and, in particular, what crime scenes we should be replicating in the 5F space. From this meeting, there was an agreement to create the following:

  • An apartment, comprising of a kitchen-diner, lounge, double bedroom and bathroom.
  • A bed-sit, incorporating bed, living space and kitchenette.
  • Single bedroom linked to bed-sit, providing maximum flexibility of the space.
  • Commercial space, which eventually became a post-office / shop space.
  • Large multi-use space, for setting up on various crime scene scenarios.

Alongside a large flexible teaching space, prep. room, store room and AV control room, the finalised layout for the 5F space can be seen in the schematic below:

5F floorplan showing the layout of the various rooms
5F floorplan

Following on from the initial meetings, my team were asked to provide their insight into a number of aspects of the planning stages of the project, including:

1. It was absolutely essential that there was provision to create blood patterns within the new facility – in response to this, Marcus Olivant asked myself and Sarah Almond to test a range of flooring and wall covering options for their ability to be cleaned after the application of both real and fake blood stains over various amounts of time. Our findings fed back into choice of floor coverings throughout, as well as specialist wall covering of the entire bathroom space.

2. I was also asked to liaise with AV specialist colleagues to provide my opinion on our sound and video recording capabilities for this space.

3. Marcus worked closely with my team in designing a prep. room which was fit-for-purpose in servicing facility.

Kitting out the space:

With the 5F building works reaching their conclusion in the new year, it was time to start ordering the furniture and related items for the simulation spaces. This job fell largely on Sarah Almond, with help from the rest of the team. Sarah was able to provide insight as someone hugely experienced in crime scene simulation provision, as well as provide a high level of experience in purchasing large, difficult and unusual items at UWE, which is no mean feat – some of Sarah’s more unusual requisitions include car windscreens, replica skulls, theatrical fake bloods and large amounts of underwear, to name a few! Before we commenced with the purchasing of furniture, we mapped out the spaces with furniture as shown in the example below

Virtual furniture plan
Virtual furniture plan

Sarah had many of the largest items delivered to Frenchay Campus, though Sarah, Marcus and I did make a trip to a well-known Scandinavian furniture store in order to purchase the majority of the smaller items and soft furnishings.

Flat-Pack Warriors:

So, who puts all of this furniture together you might ask?! The answer is quite a large effort from a number of technicians including the FACS, central and psychology technical teams, with help from other HAS technical and academic staff. The expected time-frame available for this was shortened at late notice, which resulted in a week-long flat-pack party, made all the more awkward by the lift to the fifth floor being out of action (a huge thanks to our colleagues in logistics for navigating a myriad of stairs with the bulk of this items!). However, as a wider technical team used to pulling together for the greater good (we only have to look at the last two difficult years of covid working for evidence of this) we achieved this successfully as a team, within deadline. All in all, I think we can be pretty pleased with the results

Apartment double bedroom
Apartment double bedroom
Apartment bathroom
Apartment bathroom
Bedsit
Bedsit
Single bedroom
Single bedroom
Post office
Post office

So, what next?

We now have an exciting new simulation facility for our students to benefit from and enjoy. A total investment of nearly 1.5 million pounds (ex. VAT) will have a huge positive impact on learning and teaching at UWE. Policing students have already started using the new facility, with support from the DSS technical team. Forensic science students will start to use the new facility in the next academic year. In order for the new space to become really successful there are quite a few jobs yet to be completed. The re-location of current crime scene materials from 1K area to 5F store and prep. rooms and the subsequent set-up of the prep. room will be a large undertaking which will require both FACS and DSS technical team involvement. Perhaps the largest piece of work will be in creating a more “true-to-life” suite of crime scenes; bedrooms complete with wardrobes packed full of clothing, bedside drawers full of…erm…whatever people keep in their bedside drawers, a stocked kitchen, bathroom and post-office… the list could go on! This will take time, additional purchases and donations from colleagues, and more than a little creativity from the technical teams involved. No doubt in time we will be showing off this new space on UWE webpages, but also widening participation visits (I have some work experience students in there this summer) and future open days, so watch this space!

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