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Ground-breaking collaboration to place Liverpool at the heart of digital world heritage

St George’s Hall and the Virtual Engineering Centre pilot projects aim to create a digital heritage eco-system and economy in the City Region

The Trust of Liverpool’s iconic St George’s Hall and the Virtual Engineering Centre (VEC) have announced the launch of a unique strategic initiative designed to establish the Liverpool City Region as a leader in digital heritage.

Supported by funding from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) LCR4 HOLISTIC Project, the St George’s Hall Trust and the VEC will pioneer a new approach to preserving, promoting and progressing cultural heritage through technologies such as AI, Blockchain and the Metaverse.

Digital heritage is the use of digital technology to improve the understanding and preservation of cultural or natural heritage. The partnership will connect the city region’s heritage assets with local SME tech providers, manufacturers and startups. The VEC’s digital transformation expertise will develop a digital heritage ecosystem to revolutionise Liverpool’s heritage economy and create new supply chains that will make Liverpool a world leader in digital heritage.

The partnership will launch on the 14th June 2022 with the first UK Digital Heritage Symposium, bringing together heritage leaders, assets, academics, SMEs and technologists to discuss and showcase the potential application of digital tools in heritage.

Three pilot schemes will get underway this year.

Following the Digital Heritage Symposium, the partners will be working together with stakeholders in the region to develop a Digital Heritage Strategy for the city region. The strategy will focus on the themes of heritage preservation, the promotion of its value, lessons to new generations, and the progression of history as a driver for inclusion, education and enterprise.

A Digital Heritage Foundry located at St George’s Hall, will be a first-of-its-kind hub to fast-track R&D in the heritage sector and grow a dynamic new supply chain with the help of the ERDF-funded LCR Holistic project. The Foundry, which replicates an established model of collaboration from Silicon
Valley, will offer access to immersive, sensor, robotic, and simulation technologies and support from VEC’s digital engineers.

Digital Heritage Blocks is a proof-of-concept heritage blockchain platform being developed by the VEC and St George’s Hall Trust for the UK’s heritage sector. Heritage Blocks will be an open-access architecture, co-created with interested SMEs, galleries, museums and charities. The team’s ambitions are to create an international standard for the digitisation of heritage assets, enabling the creation of new value and supply chains through technologies including NFTs (Non-fungible tokens).

Finally, the partners will be working together to support the Director of Heritage for Liverpool City Council’s development of a Digital Heritage Strategy for the city region. The strategy will focus on the themes of heritage preservation, the promotion of its value, lessons to new generations, and the progression of history as a driver of inclusion, education and enterprise.

Part of the University of Liverpool, the Virtual Engineering Centre (VEC) is the UK’s longest-established centre for industrial digital innovation.

The VEC and St George’s Hall Trust have a history of collaboration, having already completed a pilot project to create a life-like digital copy of the Hall’s historic and beautifully preserved Minton tile floor. The VEC engineers captured a clear and concise 360-degree digital scan of the 30,000 handcrafted Minton tiles. This simulation technology can be used to showcase the tiles remotely, potentially offering many more people the ability to enjoy the historic tiles which are currently on display just once a year.

The project is a powerful demonstration of the potential for Digital Heritage in the Liverpool City Region, as a way to help museums and galleries innovate in a post-COVID world.

Andrew Borland, Head of Commercialisation for the VEC, said: “Heritage organisations in the city region have already been successful in using technology like virtual and augmented reality to create engaging visitor experiences. But there remains massive untapped potential to realise the possibilities of emerging tech and the capabilities of entrepreneurial SMEs and manufacturing businesses to enhance our understanding and celebration of the city’s heritage and create much-needed new revenue streams for our cultural institutions.

“The Liverpool City Region’s unique convergence of science, technology and and world-renowned heritage makes us the ideal place to grow a nationally and internationally significant Digital Heritage eco-system and supply chain.”

Alan Smith, Liverpool’s Head of Heritage Preservation and Development, said: “Liverpool is one of the most beautiful and culturally rich cities in Europe, and our collection of over 2,500 Grade I, II and II* buildings, monuments, and green spaces makes us one of the historically richest cities in the world.

“Our collaboration with VEC has the potential for Liverpool City Region to lead the way in bringing heritage, digital and enterprising businesses together to create a new Digital Heritage economy so that our illustrious heritage plays a key role in defining Liverpool’s future.”

Professor Elizabeth Maitland, the St George’s Hall Trustes leading on the digital heritage initiative emphasised the transformative potential of applying digital technologies to the city’s heritage assets:

“Liverpool’s listed heritage buildings and monuments are spread throughout the city region’s boroughs and hold the potential to be re-imagined as places for today – be that as study hubs, providing high-speed internet access for children in some of the poorest boroughs in the country, or to spaces that inspire pride in place and creativity. By applying the transformative potential of digital technologies to our heritage assets, through initiatives like the Digital Heritage Foundry, we can also create opportunities for a new generation of entrepreneurs to thrive.”

St George’s Hall is a Grade I listed building opened in 1854 and sits at the heart of Liverpool City Region’s cultural heritage. Following a £23m restoration project, the Hall was reopened in 2007 and has become the focal point for cultural, community, civic, corporate and performing arts in the city.

The Virtual Engineering Centre (VEC) is the UK’s leading centre for digital engineering. The VEC has been driving and facilitating industrial digital transformation and regional regeneration for over a decade. In recent years the VEC has led projects which have delivered over 300 R&D collaboration projects with industry, brought 57 new products to market and created 125 new jobs.

The LCR Holistic project is a European Regional Development Agency funded initiative led by the VEC to support the creation of new innovative digital supply chains in the Liverpool city region.