Exploring the potential of Virtual Reality

lani2What 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?

billy2What 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 collaborative research project focused on Cheshire East as a site for exploration. Each question worked at a different scale.

  1. 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?
  2. 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?
  3. 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?
  4. 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, we worked with the Institute for Cultural Practices at the University of Manchester and Cheshire East Council 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

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.

In January: we hosted a VR Playday drop in at University of Manchester

In February: we took a VR kit to Artspace in Macclesfield to draw in 3D with Google Tilt Brush; we went to the Convergence Symposium at Macclesfield Town Hall to give participants the chance to draw a perfect cube in VR and we spent half term in public libraries across Cheshire East – Nantwich, Sandbach, Congleton, Holmes Chapel, Bollington, Knutsford. We had a fantastic reception across the region with Cheshire residents of all ages curious, interested in this new technology and very willing to ‘have a go’ of VR.

In March: we went to YMCA in Crewe drawing and exploring Virtual Reality with residents; sketched with librarians in Google Tilt brush for International Women’s Day at Crewe Library and played VR 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.

In April: we explored different VR content and informal 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

In May: we returned to Artspace in Macclesfield to sketch Barnaby Parade in VR with parade artists Jacki Clark and John Hartshorn who created a pulsating tree for the ‘Roots/Routes’ festival theme

In June: we returned to Barnaby Festival with our VR kit to support Jacki’s En Nour exhibition at Macclesfield’s Print Mill

In July: we provided WEAVE, the Creative and Digital sector’s board of representatives with a report of our research findings

Now we are developing a new research project which builds on our findings to explore how the Immersive Experiences sector is growing and developing in other parts of the North West, in Europe and in the USA. Watch this space.