Warning Zone is a Leicester-based charity, delivering life skills training to children to allow them to identify and deal with real world and online risks. It teaches year 6 students at its custom equipped headquarters by taking them through a series of themed ‘zones’, each dealing with a different risk – road safety, railways, deep water, fire in the home etc. And working with most primary schools across Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland, it was almost at capacity all year round.
Wanting to extend its service to high school students from year 7 upwards, it had to head out on the road and deliver sessions in schools. The project would be called Roadcrew.
To bring the Warning Zone vibe to the Roadcrew sessions, the charity needed to make projection screens a central part of the presentation style with online safety the target area for this new initiative.
Craig Lewis, Programme Development Co-ordinator at Warning Zone, said: “We knew we’d be presenting in school halls and auditoriums to entire year groups of up to 300 students, so we needed something that would be highly visible yet still unexpected. We would have limited time to set up and break down to fit around the timetable, and we may face environments where controlling the ambient light would be a challenge.”
The team decided to use rear projection to keep a clean appearance for the audience and ensure it could control the space containing the equipment for health and safety. With limited floor space in some halls, this leant itself to short throw projection. Also all equipment needed to fit into an average-size hatchback car and be robust to cope with whatever environment it encountered.
A single large portable screen would be cumbersome when stored and take a long time to set up, which would cause problems with timetabling. So, the team selected two 3m wide 16:9 folding screens running side by side as a backdrop and span the presentation graphics across both. This rig is capable of filling a school stage and provides presence in an auditorium.
The screen arrangement would need two identical powerful projectors to handle the varying light conditions and cover the screens. Craig said: “We consulted Simon Mitchell at AAAV Systems Ltd, a local AV installations expert who’d worked on some of the physical installations at Warning Zone in the past. He spoke highly of Optoma products after using them in other installations where value and reliability were critical, and advised that Optoma’s technical support and aftercare were exceptional.”
After testing a few options, the team chose the short throw, 5-000-lumen EH515ST projectors which can project a 100” image from just over a metre from the screen. Equipped with two HDMI inputs, MHL compatibility, DisplayPort and multiple analogue and audio connections, these high brightness Full HD projectors also have four corner geometric correction and an impressive lens shift, which make set up simple, even on uneven walls or when projector placement is awkward.
The team chose two 3m wide 16:9 Draper Ultimate Folding screens with Grey Cineflex rear projection surfaces. Craig commented: “These are easy and quick to set up and the surface offers excellent contrast in average light conditions with a reasonable viewing cone.”
The two EH515ST projectors are connected via HDMI to a Dell triple view docking station and fed by a Dell Inspiron running Powerpoint 2016. Powershow plugin allows the team to span a single 32:9 ratio presentation across both screens as if they were one – something Powerpoint alone isn’t capable of doing with two discrete external display devices. The setup is rounded off by a portable 150W PA system.
As a charity with limited budgets, Warning Zone needed to find resourceful ways to meet the challenges and keep the development in-house as much as possible. Craig explained: “We were offered a substantial education discount by Draper on the screens and charity discounts from Dell on the laptop and docking station. Optoma offered excellent advice and support for free, which gave us the best product we could get for the budget available, and the PA system was donated by a staff member. I handled all the graphics, sound and content development using free software and resources where possible.”
Roadcrew is an excellent platform to develop new content for minimal outlay that’s flexible enough to handle almost any session.
Craig said: “It’s simple to pack and transport whereas a single screen of those dimensions (requiring edge blending) wouldn’t be. The portability of the equipment allows us to turn up at a school with two people, unload the equipment and have the rig constructed and ready to go in just over 30 minutes. Following the hour long session to the students, this can be packed away again into the cases in just 30 minutes.”
The equipment allows the charity to be flexible in how it uses it and to take full control of all aspects without needing to hire additional resources. Craig commented: “We’re not tied to a particular location and can work in a wide range of environments.
“The EH515STs have been superb. They’re consistent, roadworthy, simple to set up and use, and offer a level of performance that seems incredible given the price point. I’m aware we’re barely scratching the surface of their feature set too, so we have plenty of scope to try more exciting ways of using them in the future.
“The equipment has behaved perfectly and overcome all the challenges we identified during planning. The projectors and screens have coped admirably with all of the lighting conditions we’ve faced so far. The main issue we face now is uneven surfaces on old stages, but the four corner correction of the EH515STs makes that a minor concern. They’ll each generate a 3m wide image at just 2.6m back from the projection surface, so space hasn’t been a problem yet.
“The reaction of the students upon walking into the hall and seeing the entire surface lit up is precisely as planned. It captures their interest and gives us a great starting point for our sessions. We’re happy knowing that everything just works and that we can get on with the business of educating without worrying about whether or not the equipment will perform.”
Roadcrew’s current show is called Crowd Control and offers an hour long look at the sharp end of online safety threats, with effective advice about how to secure online identity, identify and manage potentially risky situations. If any schools across Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland are interested in booking a session, please contact the Warning Zone team by phone or email.
Warning Zone is a Life-Skills Centre and children safeguarding charity that delivers life-saving messages to children and young people across Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland.
There are many ways you can help Warning Zone. Every donation is greatly appreciated and contributes towards the charity’s valuable work. To find out more on donating, fundraising or volunteering, visit: www.warningzone.org.uk
Twitter: @Warning_Zone | @WZRoadcrew
30 Frog Island
Off Northbridge Place
Tel: 0116 262 9739