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Students in West Northants trial Virtual Reality to support independent travel to and from school

20 July 2023

A student wearing a Virtual Reality headset

Students in West Northamptonshire have taken part in a trial which uses Virtual Reality technology to support them to travel independently to and from school.

The trial, funded by West Northamptonshire Council (WNC) in partnership with VR Therapies, a local social enterprise dedicated to improving wellbeing and independence through immersive technology, and Café Track, which supports individuals with autism into employment, saw students at Billing Brook School in Northampton use the technology as part of a pilot scheme to improve memory and increase confidence when travelling alone.

The project consists of seven phases, with each weekly session lasting for 60 minutes and focussing on a different objective. Objectives in the sessions include discovering current barriers and challenges when using transport, supporting students to identify potential triggers when travelling alone, and increasing practical knowledge and skills which will help with both independent travel and life in general.

The trial aims to improve students’ memory and will build up to a session where they will be able to practise their real-life journey to school and be tested on activities such as remembering to lock their front door, navigating their way to the bus stop and feeling confident catching a bus.

I am delighted that we have been able to launch this pilot project and see how this technology can assist our Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) students with life skills for the future.

We have seen students who to begin with, were very anxious, but within a few minutes of being in this virtual reality world they were more relaxed and visibly concentrating on what they were doing. 

There are lots of people working with us on this project, and that’s exactly what we’re trying to do with our SEND provision – co-produce and cooperate with a variety of people and organisations to provide the best possible service for our children and young people.
Cllr Fiona Baker, Cabinet Member for Children, Families and Education at West Northamptonshire Council
Track and VR Therapies are two local social enterprises which are working with the Council to make Northampton the best it can be for our children and young people. 

We are extremely pleased to be involved in this pilot study and have seen first-hand the benefits of using this technology in young people.

One of the areas this project looks at is travel, transitioning and getting to and from school by looking at these things from a different perspective and using interactive games to improve memory – a skill which is beneficial in many different situations and areas of life. I look forward to seeing this technology used in future initiatives and am excited for all the possibilities it brings.
Thomas Cliffe, founder of Track NN
Virtual reality is a fun and effective way to approach a very stressful time for these students. 

While the students are busy having fun and playing games, they are also working on their skills for independence and developing coping strategies which will help them to thrive in many different areas.

VR Therapies is designed to bring these experiences to the community and see the incredible impact they have - from Autism to Alzheimer's, virtual reality is changing many lives here in Northamptonshire.
Rebecca Gill, CEO and Founder of VR Therapies
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