27TH JANUARY, 2020

5 Ways Charities Are Using R&D Advances In Virtual Reality

Once the stuff of science fiction and ‘80s adventure movies, virtual reality (VR) has now reached into our living rooms, our industries and our workplaces. It’s also added a whole new dimension (quite literally) to the charity sector, benefiting thousands of people across the world.

But what actually is VR?

In this context, VR is where computers and technology are used to place the user in a virtual world. They can see and hear what’s around them, and have control over what they’re doing in a way that would be impossible or highly impractical in real life.

Take for example the two big pieces of gaming technology we’ve seen of late - the PlayStation VR and Oculus Rift. Both of them offer the user an immersive, 4D, fully interactive experience simply by wearing a headset. Users can then explore the world generated for them by the computer. It’s certainly very innovative, and improvements in VR technology and what it can be used for are evolving all the time.

VR and charities

Although when we think of VR we tend to think of gaming, its uses are actually rather more diverse than that. The charity sector, whilst not so obvious, has been harnessing the power of VR for some time now. Next we’ll look at five ways in which the sector is benefitting.

1. Fundraising

Obviously this is a key function of a charity; if it can’t fundraise it can’t achieve its aims. Essentially, the third sector is an incredibly crowded market. We’ve all seen various charity adverts and felt we’d like to donate but with many direct debits already set up, how are we supposed to choose?

Charities recognise they are all jostling for position, and that simply tugging at our heart strings isn’t always enough; people need to ‘experience’ it themselves.

Some charities are now using VR to get their voices heard in a different way. For example, Dogs Trust recently succeeded in grabbing peoples’ attention at London’s Ideal Home Show using VR. It allowed people to experience the impressive facilities used to benefit animals in Dogs Trust rehoming centres. The aim of course is to get people to sponsor a dog, and this served to be a powerful way of demonstrating how abandoned dogs in the charity’s care already benefit from donations and sponsorship.

2. A way to educate

Nothing helps a person learn like doing something for themselves. Sitting in a classroom or a laboratory and simply listening and watching doesn’t suit everyone; it’s easy for minds to wonder and for instructions to be forgotten.

However, VR is proving to be a useful educational tool. It’s highly mobile so can be used in a range of different settings, and it’s immersive so students feel they are actually ‘doing’ something themselves. Skills learnt more likely to be remembered, plus of course it’s a safe way of making mistakes without the worry of serious consequences. The RNLI’s Beach Builder Challenge is an example of this. It allows children to create their own virtual ‘beach’ whilst also learning how to spot danger and what to do in an emergency.

3. Raising awareness

Many charities raise awareness around illnesses and conditions which are often little understood or rarely heard of. But how can you effectively explain what life is like for someone with a disability? How can you help someone to ‘walk a mile in their shoes’? The answer lies in VR.

As virtual reality is so immersive, it can be used to show people exactly what somebody else experiences. For example, the National Autistic Society recently set themselves up in shopping centre in Bromley, south London, armed with a VR headset. Interested passers by then wore the headset and headphones to experience what shopping in a large centre feels like to someone with autism. A dizzying mix of sounds were played to give the user a feeling of stress and confusion, with many then wanting to learn more about the condition and give a donation.

4. Saying thank you

VR is a fantastic way to show supporters how their money was spent, and to tell them their stories of success. It’s also a good opportunity to thank them for their support, and to encourage people in making further donations in the future.

Cancer Research UK for example recently designed a virtual flower garden based on those at the RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show. It was to celebrate the fact that more than 100,000 people had left a donation to the charity in their will. Showing a huge, interactive carpet of thousands of beautiful flowers, it was a very moving tribute and a great way to celebrate the contribution the charity has made to cancer treatment progress.

5. Helping to deal with emotionally sensitive situations

Many charities deal with times in our lives which are highly stressful or emotional; bereavement or terminal illness for example. VR is now being used to help new beneficiaries become familiar with surroundings before they arrive somewhere, and to allay some of their worries.

The Royal Trinity Hospice for example put together its virtual hospice tour as a way of showing new beneficiaries and their families around their facilities. The hospice has also previously used VR to take patients on ‘bucket list’ tours of different countries and tourist hotspots like Disneyland and on safari. Indeed, VR has been proven to assist in managing the stress, anxiety and pain of those living with certain conditions, or who are receiving end of life care.

Is your organisation looking to embrace new technology?

Perhaps you’re creating a new product, process or service, or looking to improve one that already exists?

Did you know that if you’re a UK-based company that’s attempting to solve a particular scientific or technological challenge, you may be entitled to R&D Tax Credits towards the cost? It’s a government incentive designed to encourage businesses to innovate and grow. Offered as a relief against a company’s Corporation Tax in respect of research and development (R&D) activities, the amount you receive could well run into the thousands.

R&D Tax Credits are open to any company of any size in any sector. It doesn’t even matter whether the company is making a profit or not, or if the R&D project ultimately failed.


See our R&D Tax Credits page for more information, plus our Tax Cloud portal for businesses to see what you could be owed. Or of course you can call us on 0207 118 6045 for advice
Barrie Dowsett, ACMA, GCMA
Author Barrie Dowsett, ACMA, GCMA CEO, Tax Cloud
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