What is the emerging field of virtual reality (VR) and what are the opportunities for North West in developing an expertise in the area?
What are the challenges for organisations in recruiting and retaining talent, product and service development, client sales and delivery?
What are the barriers and opportunities for people wanting to work in the creative digital sector
What support can public and third sector organisations provide in the development of the creative digital sector?
How do I know that I even have the potential to work in the creative digital sector and VR specifically?
These were the primary questions driving a University of Manchester research project led by Dr Jessica Symons, founder of Visioning Lab. She focused on Cheshire East as a site for exploration. Each question worked at a different scale.
- North West England has a high proportion of UK organisations active in the virtual reality (VR) space and so there is an opportunity to situate the region as a leader in VR. How could this be realised?
- Cheshire East is a peri-urban region with a high number of creative-digital SMEs and several world-leading companies working in creative-digital spaces. How can this area specialism be capitalised upon and what are the challenges?
- Cheshire East has many attractive rural residential areas and decent transport infrastructure into several major cities, however some areas are not as well connected . How can people in more isolated areas be connected to creative digital opportunities?
- Creative Digital is a rapidly growing sector that requires specific skillsets. How can people find out if they have talent or potential to work in this sector?
In 2018, Jessica was based in the Institute for Cultural Practices at the University of Manchester and Cheshire East Council. She decided to explore these questions using an HTC Vive (virtual reality) kit as an engagement method visiting community events and festivals over a 6 month period (Jan-Jun 2018).
This is what happened
In Summer 2018, Jessica put together a £1.2m project proposal with partners National Trust, McCann, University of Manchester, Limina Immersive, MBD and others for the Innovake UK Audiences of the Future call.
In July 2018, Limina Immersive published their study of the Immersive Experiences sector in North West England, commissioned as part of this project.
In June 2018, a report on the project findings were presented to WEAVE, Cheshire’s creative digital network. It identified unique challenges in supporting the development of the creative digital sector focusing particularly on the rural areas.
In Spring 2018, a series of VR Playdays were provided in libraries across Cheshire.
The VR Playdays were for people to explore the potential of VR, identify competencies and discuss challenges in creative digital sector.
The events were community-facing, informal and dropin providing the opportunity to have a play using Google Tiltbrush, a 3D freeform drawing tool and explore other VR content. They included a VR Playday drop in at University of Manchester; at Artspace in Macclesfield ; at the Convergence Symposium at Macclesfield Town Hall; at public libraries across Cheshire East – Nantwich, Sandbach, Congleton, Holmes Chapel, Bollington, Knutsford; at YMCA in Crewe ; with librarians for International Women’s Day at Crewe Library; with teenagers at Congleton High School. People seemed to adapt to the VR kit like ducks to water – they were teaching each other within minutes of using it for the first time.
Other events included Q&A with Simon Lumb, Senior Product Manager, VR/AR/Interactive at the BBC R&D and with Adam Marc Williams from Rhythm Digital at Poynton Library; sketching Barnaby Parade in VR with parade artists Jacki Clark and John Hartshorn who created a pulsating tree for the ‘Roots/Routes’ festival theme; supporting Jacki Clarke’s En Nour exhibition at Macclesfield’s Print Mill.