QUICK HISTORY LESSON
Since our beginnings which is now 7 years ago, I have always wanted to engage people in the wonders of the human body. I was fascinated by the body from an early age and went on to study it at university, from there the winds of life took me on to obtain a PGCE and earn my stripes in the classroom devising ways to engage and enrich learning in science. As an organisation we now have years of experience working with thousands of schools, colleges, universities, NHS Trusts, TV Productions companies, the Police and even the UK Government Home Office. It's incredible to think that we've hit over one million people interacting with our live medical training....
I studied the human body, its biology, anatomy, states of disease, pharmacology, physiology as well as neuroscience and cell biology and my experience back then was mixed. I had great lecturers who supported us, our lab sessions we're packed with pure science which I really enjoyed, however it lacked something, that something I wouldn't yet realise until I completed my PGCE and really delved into engagement (an area that I lecturer in today).
The human body is amazing, there’s nothing like getting up close and personal with a real one (we all know that). Unfortunately cadaveric dissection is reserved mainly for the training of medical students which is around 120,000 of the NHS workforce. There are a further 835,000 people working with doctors on the front line responsible for patience care. The vast majority of these conduct no dissection and have no interaction with a real human body or cadaveric specimens as part of their routine training. This is something I was determined to change.
In the UK the Anatomy Act 1832 was brought in to protect the remains of the deceased from grave robbery, this has evolved keeping pace with modern developments and is regulated by the Human Tissue Authority in the UK. To use, keep or display remains you need a specialist facility staffed by trained people, bodies have to be ethically sourced, prepared and cared for inline with stringent rules and regulations which I (and all of the team) fully support. This approach’s does however bring accessibility problems in that it is difficult for the majority of providers to maintain these facilities and receive enough donors to train students in the system.
Every week most of the nation tunes in to the BBC, ITV, NETFLIX and others to enjoy a good drama, we’re a nation of streamers and series bingers! There’s a common theme to most of these in that there has been a murder. We're fascinated by how the police and other services use cutting edge science to find criminals. We watch it on the TV, in fact we can't get enough if it. So what about if we could recreate this as an experience that could be done in person?
EDUCATION AND THE SCIENCE IS EVERYTHING
What we see on the TV is often fictional, skimmed over and made accessible for the general public, but it’s engaging, causes us to question our surroundings and above all keeps us in suspense. It's a great tool in engaging audiences including the general public as well as students in an ever advancing and often abstract scientific method.
Many students who flow into higher education in the biosciences, NHS courses and sports sciences etc do so with applications from the centre third of GCSE results, good A Levels and/or equivalent access courses. Anatomy is a complex and often abstract concept to grasp but is so important to the roles they will fill, so finding a way to make this accessible was crucial to the educational aspect of the show.
GETTING TO WORK
In a rather Chitty Chitty Bang Bang style fashion I went out to the garage and began building a live show, using things around that I could develop into a working mortuary that would later go on to feature on the BBC and work with some of the UK's best loved institutions. We sourced equipment from decommissioned hospitals and appointed a cutting edge special effects creator to help develop our life like semi-synthetic human body.
The idea was to create a live immersive show that was hands on, that could be made portable and sit outside the regulations of the HTA to make it easy, frictionless and simple to install at locations UK wide. This was core to the concept as this would mean any university, college, school, NHS hospital, police force or training facility could book an event experience with very little administrational or compliance issues and boost their current training programme. It had to offer a unique dynamic -practical hands on dissection of real organ specimens.
"One of the best educational experiences I have seen" -Sheffield Hallam University
We produced a life cast male with a hollowed abdominal and thoracic cavity in which we could place porcine organs. In the early days we based the experience on a lab based cadaveric dissection. I myself have done over a dozen real cadaveric dissections over the years thanks to our great relationship with the NHS and kind partners who help me keep the teams A&P tip top. This is a very scientific process that is based on acquiring knowledge based learning. We had to find away to fit this into a 4 hour block broken into 2 x 2 hour sessions to retain the audience attention. Understanding our purpose was key here. The A&P delivered as part of undergraduate programmes is cutting edge (excuse the pun). The question was... how much extra A&P do we need to deliver? Is our purpose to impart knowledge or to provide the opportunity for audiences to see, touch and feel; to dissect and explore blocks of organs and apply knowledge they've already acquired? These were the questions we faced.
"A totally amazing experience, so unique and engaging in every way" -Dr M Sharr
With extensive research we designed a suite of programmes that gave us the best of both worlds, as we attempted to answer these questions. We now have a live show that’s interactive, packed with recall knowledge and offers the chance to synthesise, analyse and evaluate knowledge strands in an applied context at the same time as being scientifically accurate, practically hands on and retaining audience engagement.
"Incredible & compelling" -BBC
So far we have welcomed over 60,000 people through the doors. Thats a huge achievement. That number encompasses medical students, healthcare professions as well those with wider professional and personal interests in the human body as well as the general public and those inquisitive about their ailments. Its clear that our contribution to learning is valued by our audiences. I regularly talk to our audiences on the ground at the live shows and what I hear time and time again is the value that the event adds to their learning journey, students and professionals telling me that what they've been learning on their courses now makes much more sense seeing it in real life; being able to hold a brain and see the relationship between the Dura Mater and cranial bones. Able to open the larynx and touch the vocal cords or see the pancreas nestled in-between the duodenum. All of these moments they are unable to experience anywhere else. I have trained staff working in healthcare, often leaders in their field complimenting the learning style, many of whom go on to book events at their university to better drive student engagement. Nottingham Trent University & London Metropolitan University being examples.
As a team we are often criticised for being sensationalist, for being inaccurate and for being over priced. As a private commercial entity we receive £0 direct government funding. We are a completely private organisation which means we have to cover all of our costs and be able to reinvest back into the company to innovate, grow and adapt with the modern times.
So… Tacking these criticisms head on...
The Post Mortem Live is sensationalist
At the heart of what we do we are a live immersive show, a Hollywood blockbuster, a place where people can come along and loose themselves in their fasciation with how the human body works; feeding their thirst for knowledge, science and solving crimes. Like any nationally touring live show we travel around to bring the show to all four corners of the UK. We work really hard to publish the event details in the press and on social media. The space on your news feed is precious, we advertise in a way that is designed to grab the attention of busy modern people in the 21st century. What we do works very well. We create live experiences that are designed to trigger curiosity, after all thats what science is all about. Science, the human body and all of its wonders is not something that has to be done in a lab, or confined to the white corridors of a Russel group university. Science is all of ours, it makes aeroplanes fly and frying pans non-stick. We all have a body and we should celebrate it! We are clear on our website that we use special effects and porcine organs, no animal is raised for or harmed for our show, it is instead by-products of the food chain. Most of what we use would be flown to china and used in animal feed or converted to other food stuffs, using it here reduces our global carbon footprint and helps educate the population which we think is a positive.
The Post Mortem Live is innacurate
We are not. This is simple to answer. Over the years we have built up a strong team of presenters from a wide pool of disciplines. We employ TV personalities, medical doctors, anatomy graduates, post graduate medical students as well as PhD students who all make up our plethora of presenters. They are lead by myself who started the vision, a graduate in human biology, and anatomy fanatic, holder of qualified teacher status and over 12 years of extensive audience engagement and show creation experience. You're in safe hands. Our science is accurate, we do however add a touch of wow and sprinkle of magic to keep you on the edge of you seats to make sure you get full value from your ticket. Thats is why we have 4.5 stars on Trustpilot and people come back year in year out to experience our live events!
As seen on BBC Dragons' Den
The Post Mortem Live is overpriced
You get what you pay for in todays world and we all have our own perceptions of value. In an ideal world we'd love to be funded somehow and work with our audiences for free. We try our best to keep costs down and always pass savings on where possible. Here's some behind the scenes workings of our cost breakdowns.
Average ticket price for 2022-23 is £51.00
20% of your ticket price is VAT and goes directly to the government.
For this we offer a 4 hour immersive dissection event with all of the scientific tools at your hand at a fully developed copyrighted and IP protected live show. That is less than half of a West End show ticket on a weeknight and less than a concert ticket. All of our events are intimate and have fewer than 200 people in attendance. A typical theatre in London will hold almost 2000 and a concert in excess of 15,000. At the event you get access to two of our clinical team that start on an annual wage comparative of a junior doctor -we want you to have the best experience and work with experts, I value my team. We also need a crew of 4 technicians to install operate and derig the show as well as tour bus drivers to keep the show moving from location to location. When on tour our crew work late into the night and are working away from their friends and family for months at a time, they live together on our tour bus with little to no privacy, eating healthy an exercising can be challenging when you'e away from any normal routine. They do it for the love and passion of sharing knowledge.
We invest thousands of pounds into our equipment, our show infrastructure is owned by us and requires ongoing maintenance to keep the experience first class. This includes our silicon anatomy carvers which wear out over time and take months to produce to life like accuracy.
Every show has new clinical and industry grade consumables, to minimise our impact on the environment we wash and reuse plastics where possible. This also helps pass on cost savings.
Our specimens are ethically sourced from free range British grown pigs, we pay a fair price to farmers and preparing them such that they are suitable for dissection which takes a lot of time and care. They are chilled, packed and dispatched on the road for each live show and when finished with are disposed of by specialist disposal as per our DEFRA operating licence, the remains go on to be used as biofuel at a power plant in Stoke-on-Trent. At the time of writing this the price of pork products has dramatically increased which affects price.
Fuel costs are up, meaning the cost of us moving our show from location to location us up, this has to come from budget savings elsewhere or from increases in ticket sales.
We then have to cover our marketing costs. The cost of advertising on social media is quite expensive, we have a small team back of house who work to notify all university staff, NHS staff as well as others whom may be interested in attending of when, where and how to book tickets. We are preparing content, wring blogs and sourcing interesting articles and images for our social media accounts. Our back of house team are venue sourcing, scrutinising contracts and launching events as well as maintaining the websites. Our operations team work to service vehicles, maintain equipment and liaise with suppliers to ensure stock arrives on time and is sent on events. We have a small team who manage our merchandise and online shop dispatching orders (which at present is affected by the global supply chain issues).
After this are legal costs, rent, insurance as well as accountancy fees for payroll services, HR and other administrational ‘hidden’ costs.
On top of this we have taken on extensive COVID debt to survive the pandemic. These debts have to be repaid by surplus operating income through until 2025.
The question of being overpriced I believe is subjective and bears more on the value you place on your own learning. Many people would happily spend £51.00 in the pub or at a nightclub, on a party or a new dress or pair of trainers, an anatomy textbook or trip to the cinema, the answer to this question is a personal one for you; how much value do you see in the incredible workings of the human body up close and personal with two leading expert anatomists -at a show local to you?
"They're going to need Iron Stomach's -The Daily Mail
GUEST FEEDBACK & THE FUTURE
We listen and we act. We take audience feedback really seriously, each year we reflect on all of our reviews and tweak and change our show format to ensure we move in the direction of travel that our audience want. At the moment the true crime vibes are really strong in guest feedback. There’s a wide gap between the role of the police and forensics team, the crime scene investigators, the post mortem and pathologist, the toxicology and lab team as well as the case detectives. This is often misrepresented in the media. Our events offer the best of all worlds, an engaging guest experience packing a scientifically accurate punch. We have to move forwards and engage our audiences and we will adapt our show offering in line with guest feedback well into the future!
So wherever you are, whatever your background and whatever your reason for interest. Allow curiosity to take over, come along with an open mind, come with us on a journey inside the human body like never before.