Belfast based C60 Architects have been appointed to help Mencap in the development of Virtual reality (VR) tools that replicate a real environment (or create an imaginary setting), and simulate the user’s physical presence in this environment. Through the project Mencap wants to explore how VR technology can be used to support the facilitation of Day Opportunities by replicating the environment, activity and processes involved. Individuals involved will be able to experience a particular scenario before taking part in it.

In its first stage the project aims to cover 5 scenes, but eventually it is hoped this can be expanded to provide a wide library of scenarios. Typical situations to be captured will include day to day activities like catching a bus, being in a work environment, accessing services or activities like buying a coffee.

Jan Tregelles, Mencap CEO trying out VR

This VR 360° experience of such everyday activities could be used to support someone who is very anxious of trying something new like taking the bus.  This experience could be viewed numerous times in the lead up to carrying out the activity to reduce uncertainty of an unfamiliar activity / environment.

It can also incorporate video footage or different tasks being carried out, to give the service user an idea of the work that is entailed in various jobs, to help them make an informed choice at vocational profiling stage, in advance of exploring these through work experience placements.

The use of VR technology has the potential to become a key to unlocking someone’s inherent uncertainty with change, by making it a routine before they even step outside. The same principle can be used to help someone anxious about moving to a new location by creating the opportunity to explore a new location through a virtual reality interface.

The project is an evolution leading from Architectural projects that C60 Architects are already working on with Mencap and the specialist housing provider Golden Lane Housing. C60 Director Roger Perrott said, “We use VR in all our projects to help our clients visualise how a scheme will look and experience the spaces prior to construction. It has fundamentally changed how we work, with the design process becoming a more immersive experience. As Architects we design space; this applies equally to the virtual world just as much as the real world, so VR design is a natural evolution from traditional Architectural design.”

“When we saw first-hand how the design process with C60 Architects allowed us to experience a space or environment, we realised that there was huge potential to use the technology in other aspects of our work. The project in collaboration with C60 is an exciting evolution which uses skills and expertise from the construction sector to help address challenges faced by the people we care for.”

Barry McMenamin – Regional Operations Manager, Mencap

Anticipated benefits of the project include:

  • Reduce anxiety and fear surrounding visiting or trying something new and unfamiliar.
  • Use of commonly available tools like laptops or tablets to gain direct access to VR experiences
  • The cost effective process allows bespoke scenarios to be created for specific clients
  • The initial VR scenarios can be added to over time, creating a library style resource
  • Mencap will continue to be at the forefront of tackling the challenges presented by learning disability