Church in south Shropshire steps into the future with augmented reality

A south Shropshire church is 'making visitors eyes come out on stalks' with some stunning new high technology.

SOUTH COPYRIGHT SHROPSHIRE STAR JAMIE RICKETTS 11/10/2021 - Peter Neild from Ludlow has helped create the concept of an AR (Augmented Reality) app for phones for St Lawrence's Church in Ludlow - the first time anywhere in the UK that such an app has been created for churches. Designed by team Areca based in Evensham. People can use the app to walk around the church and bring it to life..
SOUTH COPYRIGHT SHROPSHIRE STAR JAMIE RICKETTS 11/10/2021 - Peter Neild from Ludlow has helped create the concept of an AR (Augmented Reality) app for phones for St Lawrence's Church in Ludlow - the first time anywhere in the UK that such an app has been created for churches. Designed by team Areca based in Evensham. People can use the app to walk around the church and bring it to life..

St Laurence's Church, in Ludlow, is believed to be the first church in the UK to be using augmented reality as part of the visitor experience.

The idea is that when a mobile device is held at a particular part of the church, the device recognises it and shows it coming to vivid life.

"It has now been tested on 1,000 visitors," said Peter Nield, who handles finance and operations at the 900 year-old parish church.

"No matter whether they are aged six or 90 everybody goes 'wow' and some have their eyes on stalks when they see the displays on their screens."

One particularly stunning display shows the priceless Golden Window at the church shattering into thousands of pieces before the shards reassemble into the figure of Sir Roger Mortimer.

Sir Roger, a key figure in the early history of the town, then talks about his life.

St Laurence, the patron saint of school children, poor people, cooks and comedians, can also be made to appear on the screen as an avatar, to welcome people to the 16,000 cubic foot building.

And visitors can even experience augmented reality at home when they point their phones or tablets, with the relevant app downloaded, at some pages of the church guide books.

The trial of the new technology was started after Mr Nield noticed augmented reality at work in Evesham during a visit there in 2018. Warriors from the battle of Evesham were made to come to life from posters on lampposts.

He contacted the company, Areca Design, and they agreed to be involved. The costs of the technology for the £10,000 trial were covered by using various pots of money, including donations.

But it is set to be only the start of what augmented reality can bring to the church and the town.

Church leaders are working up a £2.4 million bid for lottery funding to help secure the building for future generations.

The Great East Window, the only stained glass window in the UK to tell the life story of a saint, will need to be renovated in the next few years. A major part of the Lottery bid will be for that purpose.

But Mr Nield said they could be looking at applying for £300,000 to take augmented reality to the next level at the Grade one listed church. It is seen as an important part of the future of the building as more visitors will mean more for its coffers.

St Laurence's is recognised as one of 15 five star churches in the country, attracting 70-85,000 people through its doors every year. It's open all 365 days of the year at a cost of £1,000 a day, and that is on top of planned maintenance costs.

One possibility is for an augmented reality display of the window while it is being renovated. And it could even have a role in the church being more dementia friendly.

"The technology allows us to bring the international heritage of the church and the key dates in the history of the town together," said Mr Nield.

"By using augmented reality we can bring things to life without being intrusive or covering up the heritage."

The app, called St Laurence, is available on Google Play and the Apple store. As well as augmented reality it has information about the church and the capability to make donations.

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