IT was an innovation that put Dorset among the leaders when it came to educating children to stay safe.

The TV star Nick Berry opened Streetwise – now called SafeWise – 20 years ago this month.

In one warehouse at West Howe, it offered a realistic replica street with working pelican crossing, a fully-furnished house, a section of railway line, a patch of heathland, a miniature beach, shops and a dark alley.

All these scenes were mocked up to give young people the chance to learn about the everyday dangers in the world.

And for anyone who thought it was about mollycoddling youngsters, the statistics were striking. Thirty-one per cent of boys and 22 per cent of girls could expect to be involved in an accident.

In 1996, more than £1.2billion was spent in England and Wales treating people injured in accidents, figures from the time of the opening showed.

At the time of Streetwise’s opening, former EastEnders star Nick Berry was just about Britain’s most famous copper, thanks to the series Heartbeat. He had left that show and was making another police drama, Harbour Lights, at Dorset’s West Bay.

“I think it’s very impressive and I can’t wait to have a proper look around,” he said of the new facility, which he opened alongside Home Office minister Kate Hoey, Dorset chief constable Dirk Aldous and the chairman of the project’s trustees, Christopher Pope.

Until a short time before its opening, Steetwise had been called the Dorset Interactive Safety Education Centre.

It had been created in a 10,000sqft disused warehouse near Turbary Common, with around 150 private companies supporting the £50,000 project. Major local employer LV= was a key supporter and the first commercial sponsor.

At the time, there was only one other such centre – Hazard Alley at Milton Keynes. The Bournemouth facility aimed to teach basic safety techniques to 15,000 children a year. Pupils from Longfleet Combined School were guinea pigs for the programmes.

More safety scenarios would be added to the centre as it went along. In 2002, backing from Barclays enabled training about financial risks, while trading standards departments offered information to help children have an “informed shopping experience”. Safeway, which already had a store there displaying hazardous substances, added a scenario which showed the effect of shoplifting on individuals and the community.

Meanwhile, Wilts & Dorset donated a full-size, but cut-in-half, bus to the street scene.

That same year, a group in Houston, Texas, looked at Streetwise as the model for a possible facility there.

The safety scenarios have changed over the years, and the centre adapted to emerging threats such as the myriad online risks.

In 2014, a replica pub was added as a way to educate teenagers about staying safe on a night out. It was funded by £40,500 from the Talbot Village Trust and £9,000 from pub chain JD Wetherspoon.

Fundraiser Diana Newbury said: “There are no lectures involved and it is not ‘finger-wagging’ in a classroom which can cause some people to switch off. It is interactive learning.”

Renamed SafeWise in recent years, the centre has a sister venue in Weymouth, with one planned for Swindon in 2020.

Its mission remains largely the same as always – “to provide realistic and immersive learning experiences to equip visitors with the skills, knowledge and confidence to live active, fulfilling and safer lives in stronger communities”.