What are we doing? | August 2023

Feature image: Jungle Landscape, by Alex McKenna – made using Tilt Brush.

In July, LBO finished its second residency, working with Blueberry Academy in York on a project that introduced immersive technologies to two groups of the Academy’s trainees. Blueberry provides training that supports young people to develop education and independence skills and at the start of our partnership in February we identified how VR might help with this, particularly in reducing anxiety and promoting wellbeing.

Every Thursday, the LBO team worked with Blueberry staff across morning and afternoon sessions of the trainees’ Independent Living Skills module. We started with pen and paper, recording ideas and impressions of how new technologies might help develop independence and confidence. We then introduced binaural sound technology and the Oculus Quest headset to the trainees, developing skills through exploring experiences such as First Contact and Beat Sabre, before moving on to discover space-making possibilities through activities in Tilt Brush and Spatial. Members of each group created their own worlds, drawing or importing images that allowed us to work together to see how immersive making can provide safe yet playful spaces that help build confidence in journeying outside of the physical location of Blueberry itself. These were all uploaded to a gallery space in LBO’s suite of rooms in Spatial, giving an interactive experience of the whole residency.

At the end of the residency, we took the technology outside, travelling to a local shopping centre on a bus carrying a 360 degree camera and other recording equipment. Travelling and busy social spaces can often be challenging for the trainees, and we wanted to see how our experiments in making over the previous months had helped developed confidence in this kind of activity.

The residency was a huge success, by turns creative, playful and emotional, always generative and driven by the young people at the centre of the activities, as research partners and mentors. A highlight came in the final week, when we were able to present the trainees with copies of the report that LBO team member Dey Ricketts had produced, reviewing research into young neurodivergent adults’ use of immersive technologie. Stressing that the copies were the first to be handed out – to anyone anywhere in the world – felt like a fitting conclusion to the work we had undertaken together.

You can learn more about our partnership with Blueberry by listening to the BMJ Medical Humanities podcast ‘Virtual Reality and Disability: Supportive Learning Through VR’, which features an interview with Blueberry’s Dave Tabron and LBO’s Stuart Murray.