We've created a unique Arts/Sciences/Third Sector Partnership

Seven years ago the School of Computing Sciences began to work with the Heritage Economic and Regeneration Trust (HEART) on the tentative development of virtualisations of historic environments to engage the public more effectively in difficult to access historic sites. The collaboration was joined by the School of History and, together, the partnership developed a Knowledge Catalyst project to use virtual modelling on line as a platform to articulate formerly dispersed data on a single site (the C13th Great Hospital) to a wide audience. This was followed by a second project centred on the only medieval friary to survive the Reformation intact, St Andrew's Hall.

These successful pilots led the partnership to bid for £200,000 of Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) funding from the Technology Strategy Board to create a highly complex information platform, again utilising virtual modelling, to articulate the networks and connections between a range of historic sites across Norwich. The resulting product, named HistOracle, has transformed a huge amount of previously obscure and inaccessible material, held in fragmented repositories into a single, accessible, relational database capable of being interrogated at a range of levels.

Firstly, a very simple, multiple choice question format version has been installed in the Forum – this building is a natural congregation point for local people and visitors containing, as it does, the Tourist Information Centre, the most successful public library in the UK, public exhibition and presentation facilities and a variety of catering and retail offers. The large format, touch screen delivery device has proven to be enormously popular since its public unveiling early in 2013. Additional to this, the partnership has produced a web based interrogation model which enables users to search in much more depth about the sites as well as their historic connections. This can be accessed by users either through their own internet search devices or via another terminal in the Forum. It is intended that further on-site access will be extended to other venues featured in HistOracle in due course.

Finally, during the course of all of this work, the two faculties at the UEA and HEART have collaborated to develop a vast range of virtual modelling applications including models of historic building exteriors/interiors, regressions of existing buildings in earlier forms or now lost buildings and whole urban environments in former epochs. Most recently, the partnership, with funding secured by HEART from the EU, has developed a series of virtual humans (avatars) to bring life to a number of historic events in the City. These have been used in a variety of educational applications and posted on HEART's web sites.

Overall this unique collaboration of a charitable company working with university specialists from the sciences as well as the arts and humanities has created an engaging portal to draw local people and visitors to discover much more about heritage locations and the stories surrounding them. This has proven to be a very significant resource creating benefit economically, socially, culturally and educationally.