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In March 2020 Innovate UK launched a £20m competition looking for business-led innovation in response to global disruption caused by COVID-19. UK businesses were invited to submit project proposals of up to £50k to develop new strategies in wake of the global pandemic.

As winners of the previous Innovate Audiences of the Future fund, Round Midnight, a Birmingham based theatre company were invited to apply and in response proposed the creation of LINK_UP:Remote PSHE Learning.

In September 2018, in partnership with BAFTA award winning production company BDH, Round Midnight created VIRTUAL_DECISIONS; an early intervention virtual reality program for young people that explores gang culture, knife crime and anti-social behaviour.

By wearing a virtual reality headset, each participant is placed in a realistic scenario where they are faced with multiple dilemmas in which they must make a choice. Each choice results in various outcomes, showing that every action has a consequence.

Following the immersive 8 minute VR film, a drama workshop then explores the issues raised in more depth. Through discussions and drama exercises the young people are able to reflect on their own personal journey within the VR and compare it to that of others, making it a user led – and user shared experience.

Since it’s launch in April 2019 Round Midnight & expert facilitators have delivered the VIRTUAL_DECISIONS program to over 1000 young people in the West Midlands and Greater Manchester. The program has also been supported and endorsed by:
-David Jamieson, the West Midlands Police Crime Commissioner
-West Midlands Police Violence Reduction Unit and Probation Service
-The Greater Manchester Magistrates Association

Due to their recent success with the Business-led innovation in response to COVID-19 grant from Innovate UK, Round Midnight will be able to continue the important work they do with young people – promoting #KnowledgeThroughExperience.

With this grant Round Midnight will be collaborating with experts to research health and wellbeing and what that means for young people, particularly during and in the aftermath of COVID-19. The findings will aid in the development of a new digital platform; LINK_UP [working title].

Due to launch in November 2020, LINK_UP will be a platform to “bring people together, to learn
together” by:

– delivering digitised workshops to secondary schools

– using live experienced facilitators as avatars
– Utilising the VIRTUAL_DECISIONS film and it’s themes
– combining interactive VR drama with Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE) topics

Sami Cornick, Development Manager of Round Midnight said, “Since 1992, Round Midnight have specialised in teaching difficult subject areas through Theatre in Education (TIE) performances. We have combined our knowledge of transferable creative methodologies with modern-day technology to develop a unique, cutting edge experience for young people. It is through this experience that young people can explore the world around them in a simulated and safe environment, where they can achieve a greater understanding of themselves and their decisions, in addition to the world around them”.

John Durrant, Director of BDH Immersive added, “Round Midnight and BDH Immersive are developing a pioneering digital platform with LINK_UP. Audiences will be able to interact with live, animated avatars and interactive virtual
reality content. Whether it’s used in the classrooms or in the comfort of young people’s own homes, audiences are going to love the immersive experience.”

Dr Burnett-Heyes said: “LINK_UP aims to explore innovative ways of using immersive and interactive technology to
engage young people to discuss important issues around mental wellbeing, which is likely to have being impacted by COVID-19 and lockdown. Adolescence is a fundamentally important, developmentally sensitive period for social and emotional wellbeing and it is vital we support young people at this time”.

The LINK_UP digital platform will be designed and created by Round Midnight and BDH Immersive, with research supported by Professor Peter Langdon at University of Warwick and Dr Stephanie Burnett-Heyes lecturer and expert on adolescent brain development, mood, decision-making and social interaction.

As winners of the previous Innovate Audiences of the Future fund, Round Midnight, a theatre company based at Bruntwood SciTech’s Innovation Birmingham campus, were invited to apply and in response proposed the creation of LINK_UP:Remote PSHE Learning.