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Increasing awareness of serious crimes through drama and film making

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The Faculty of Arts and Creative Industries has a sustained six-year collaboration with Northumbria Police’s Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC), affording drama and media students the opportunity to produce films that increase awareness of complex category serious crime.

These films have proved invaluable as training resources for the police and a vast number of stakeholders from counselling services and law, to healthcare, secondary, tertiary and higher education.

Published: 7 August 2019


''Education is key to prevention, and these films do a fantastic job at showcasing the warning signs and highlighting the deception, intimidation and violence involved. The students have produced some brilliant films for raising awareness and highlighting the help and support available.”

Kim McGuinness, Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner

CATE 2019 winner logo

Collaborative Award for Teaching Excellence

The University of Sunderland’s Crime awareness student film projects, in collaboration with Northumbria Police and its Sexual Assault Referral Centre won The Collaborative Award for Teaching Excellence (CATE) which recognises and rewards collaborative work that has had a demonstrable impact on teaching and learning. Introduced in 2016, the scheme highlights the key role of teamwork in higher education.

Performing Arts main image

Drama and film making are used as powerful tools in affording viewers an insight into how they might potentially move from being passive to active bystanders should they witness/experience such behaviours in real life.

Dame Vera Baird
Police Crime Commissioner

"The University has consistently responded to our briefs by producing fantastic films on difficult issues. The University has not shirked from these issues. What you have done for the Police is transmit messages in a way that we cannot. These films will be used by Northumbria Police to share these messages far and wide"

Sharing the message

We developed the annual award’s ceremony in order to officially promote the films. The films are screened before an audience of invited guests, including delegates from Northumbria Police and its SARC.

Students winning an award

University Vice-Chancellor Sir David Bell and Northumbria Police Assistant Chief Constable Rachel Bacon with cast and crew of Talk to me

There have been speeches from key industry figures including ITV’s News Correspondent Alastair Stewart OBE, Ruth Durham, Director of Policy Performance and Scrutiny at the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner for Northumbria Police and Assistant Chief Constable Rachel Bacon; who praised the students’ professionalism and creative efforts and promoted the importance of the films.

There is also a competitive element to the ceremony where SARC selects a film that most successfully meets their brief. Although only one group secures this accolade, all films are used for training and education purposes.

We also work to ensure that the event is disseminated by the press on a local and national scale.

SARC work to distribute the films amongst a wide client base in schools, colleges and sixth form, and showcase the work at the UK Association of Forensic Nurses & Paramedics (UKAFN) conference.

Drama and Media students

Drama and media students' short films celebrate success at an awards event

The films are also shared with SARC Managers across the UK, amongst help centres, police training courses and schools, sixth forms and colleges. They are also distributed to wider agencies and clients (Changing Lives, Sunderland Counsellors, Slater & Gordon, Association of Chief of Police Officers, Healthcare Professionals (e.g. GPs, GUM services, University Wellbeing Departments, Accident & Emergency Departments), and Voluntary Organisations), synergistically providing dynamic, reciprocal drivers of crime planning and education.

Michelle Sheridan
Sexual Assault Referral Centre Manager

"We do a lot of proactive engagement with partners and schools to help educate young people, parents, teachers and carers about issues […] The films the students have produced are a great resource to help with this engagement, and will hopefully lead to more people coming forward if they see something that doesn’t seem right"

Positive impact on the employability of graduates

During the production of films, students have raised societal awareness of a diverse array of serious crime, as well as gaining core transferable skills. The impact of this module has led to consequent developments across the faculty, for example, films, performances and opportunities that have been used as educational tools in a range of contexts outside of the university.

Experiential learning in the projects has afforded opportunities for students to experience and develop professional skills for employment. The project also promotes the opportunity for learning in a social context. The project has a demonstrable positive impact on the employability of graduates.

Alastair Stewart

Alastair Stewart praises students’ professionalism and creative efforts at an awards event

Sir David Bell
Vice Chancellor of the University of Sunderland

"For our students, having the opportunity to work on a live client brief with the real potential to impact upon the community is, of course, excellent experience. But more important than that, it achieves what is at our University’s core – a commitment to make a positive impact on society"

Feedback from various organisations and students' reactions

Rachel Bacon

"An asset in raising awareness"

"These video projects certainly shine a much-needed spotlight on important issues and will be an asset in raising awareness. These videos will help build confidence and trust and encourage people to speak out and report a crime to the police."

Assistant Chief Constable Rachel Bacon
The Association of Chief Police Officers

"Very important messages that play a key part in training initiatives"

"We need to do all we can to keep building on this, encouraging people to spot the signs and to report any concerns to the police, and that’s where these films come in. Through their raw and often graphic content are some very important messages that play a key part in training initiatives."

The Association of Chief Police Officers
Audience watching film

"We use this footage whilst training"

"We use the film in our multi-agency training and for different events/conferences to highlight the risk around people who are targeted for exploitation."

Laura McIntyre, area manager for Women Services, North East and Yorkshire

"We use this footage whilst training, police, probation, social services and many voluntary sectors across all our working areas. Having such footage embedded in our training to raise awareness to frontline staff has been extremely powerful."

Debra Cowey, Service Manager for Changing Lives


"They portrayed so well the internal turmoil the clients feel"

"This work has great benefits to us too as we can use the films in our training, and awareness-raising work."

Alan Brice, Clinical Lead for Sunderland Counselling Service

"We will use all of the videos for counselling training - as they portrayed so well the internal turmoil the clients feel."

Kathleen Barker, Sunderland Counselling Service

Male rape

"What has been captured in the clips is exactly what the victim feels"

"I’m doing a piece of work with the Crown Prosecution regarding victims and will use the films. The basis of the work is that the service doesn’t always know how to interact with victims and I think what has been captured in the clips is exactly what the victim feels."

Cheryl Pinner, Business Development Executive from law firm Slater & Gordon

Award winning film

"It was such a powerful way to dramatise a number of abusive behaviours"

"This performance portrayed brilliantly the emotions victims are dealing with. The students did a wonderful job, and were able to get some powerful messages across far more effectively than any other training I have been on thus far. The students had done their research well and this was evidenced in the accuracy of the drama. It was such a powerful way to dramatise a number of abusive behaviours."

Kelly Henderson, Business Manager for Domestic Abuse at Gentoo

james Vardy 2

"Raising awareness around these stigmatised issues is important to developing our humanity"

"The knowledge that the films could have some serious impact has made it all worth it. It’s impossible to ignore the developing social awareness mental health has seen in recent years and I think raising awareness around these stigmatised issues is important to developing our humanity and our understanding of one another. To be able to get people thinking and talking about how an ordeal such as this can affect people is the only way we can remove the stigma."

James Vardy - final year Film student, and director of the film 'Talk to Me', about male rape
BA (Hons) Film Production



"Without this fantastic opportunity, my showreel wouldn’t be half as strong"

"The film has helped me progress into a professional industry and it is on my showreel for agents and casting directors to view. Without this fantastic opportunity, my showreel wouldn’t be half as strong, and my experience as an actor wouldn’t be half as broad."

Ross Scott - Bridge Theatre Training Company trainee
BA (Hons) Performing Arts


Glen Harris

"I think anyone that is serious about going into freelance filmmaking would gain a lot from this process"

"Whilst the typical university modules seemed to teach us theoretical and practical creative techniques to implement within a short film, producing a film for Northumbria Police with specific aims and objectives was perhaps the first time I got a taste for what it’s like to work on a client’s brief. Now we had to use our creativity to make something in line with the client’s vision, which was an interesting challenge for me as the film’s producer. It taught me valuable lessons in time/budget management, communication and collaborating with people I had never worked with before. It definitely gave us a more ‘real-world’ experience whilst also being in the ‘safety-net’ of the University environment. It helped to lay the foundation of the way in which I now approach my freelance work, and being able to state that we produced an award-winning film is always good to have on the CV. I certainly think anyone that is serious about going into freelance filmmaking would gain a lot from this process, with the added bonus of knowing the work serves a good cause."

Glen Harris - producer of the film 'Behind Closed Doors', about sexual exploitation; a videographer and editor in London
BA (Hons) Screen Performance