As the first summer season of the Virtual Reality experience at Bawdsey Radar comes to an end, the team share visitors’ reactions to climbing – and falling from – the virtual tower:
‘How tall were the radar towers and what was it like to climb them?’ – a question that we get asked many times at Bawdsey Radar Museum. The last tower came down in 2001 so how could we realise the heritage experience of what life was like at Bawdsey during WWII?
Just before Covid arrived the museum had been discussing with BT at Adastral Park what joint activity could be undertaken to recognise the link between the sites from 80 years ago. BT were keen to involve their apprentices and so a team of youngsters were asked to consider how to help visualise the towers that had been built in 1938.
The team quickly concluded that innovation using Virtual Reality and an Oculus Quest VR headset was the way forward. Several workshops were held and the BT team were charged with producing not just the software and hardware solution but also many other aspects – project management, a detailed instruction set, a promotional video and general publicity amongst others.
The Bawdsey Museum team were able to give guidance and encouragement to ensure that the project focussed on the key aspects that many of our visitors were interested in. The team were able to mentor the apprentices and the two groups worked co-operatively together.
The project went live at the Suffolk Show earlier this year and there were constant queues of people of all ages from 4 upwards wanting to use the headset and appreciate the experience. Since the launch the number of people using the headset on the days that it was available has been significant. There is no doubt that the publicity surrounding the VR experience has encouraged visitors to come to the museum. Here are some typical quotes:
“Absolutely brilliant. Never done anything like this before and we booked our visit because of this virtual reality climb”
“I learned about the past of the radio towers and also the extreme heights”
“Learnt about how women during the war were made to climb the towers”
A number of our visitors have experienced climbing similar lattice steel towers in real life and the feedback from them is that the experience is extremely realistic. To add to the experience, not only can people climb but there is also a pair of Spitfires which fly past and loop the loop.
The whole exercise has been a great success both for the museum and for the team of BT apprentices who all have commented how much they have learned and how much they have appreciated being involved in an ‘end to end’ project especially as they can see the fruits of their labours put to such good use and enjoyed by people of all ages. One of the apprentices said:
“The Bawdsey radar project provided me with an excellent opportunity to progress my skills in VR application development whilst having great fun collaborating with an innovative and exciting local organisation like the Bawdsey Radar Museum.”
The sustainability of the project means that the headsets can be taken to schools and outreach events to widen the story of radar. Find out more on the Bawdsey Radar website.