Project Vae was officially founded in 2020, but the story begins long before this.
The idea first came to our founder, Ben Malone, around 4 years prior to our official registration as a non-profit community interest company. He spent many years struggling with his own mental health until he found a new love for the outdoors.
He then realised that travelling to these beautiful locations had a profoundly positive effect on his own mental health. This is where he started to think about all those that could not visit these types of places.
NON-PROFIT SINCE 2020
The story begins in 2016 when Ben was involved in a start-up business that was using huge inflatable 360° projection domes. This is what led Ben to be truly interested in immersive technologies and paved the way for him to purchase his first 360° camera. His goal was to create content that could be showcased on the domes.
He started to fall in love with creating 360° content and got involved with a community of fellow creators through the Instagram platform. This new group of friends visited many beautiful locations together, forming a close bond and it allowed Ben to continue to improve his content creation skillset.
MENTAL HEALTH MATTERS
For many years Ben had battled with anxiety and depression without truly opening up to anyone about it. Like many others, he put on an act to his family and friends, he preferred to deal with his problems alone.
However, finding the outdoors changed everything. Prior to this, he had no interest in the outdoors. Granted, he had enjoyed many trips to Asia, even living there for a couple of years, but he never truly appreciated it.
It was only when he started to create content that he truly found the outdoors. Together with his new community of creators, he fell in love with the feeling of being in nature.
THE IDEA WAS BORN
The exact moment came during a hike up Snowdon in Wales with his friends. That moment of realisation, acknowledging just how much visiting these locations had positively effected his mental health.
He looked around the vast landscape, peering down over one of the stunning lakes that sit at the base of the mountain. What about the people that cant come to places like this? He asked himself. His mind began to wander to all of the people that were sitting, dreaming of visiting somewhere like this. The people that have physical, mental or even financial barriers that stop them from being able to come to such wonderful places.
He looked down at the 360° camera in his hand and the lightbulb switched on.
VR VIDEO EXPERIENCES
He had a very specific style of video in mind, the concept was to create a virtual adventure experience, featuring a tour guide to show the viewer around. As he believed that people connect with people and that having a companion to experience the location with, would add a new layer of depth to the experience.
He was also convinced that including 360° drone footage so that the viewer could have a “flight like” experience and see the location from a very unique perspective, would be a winning combination.
Around the same time that Ben felt confident enough to produce his first VR video experience, Loros Hospice decided to host a competition.
The competition was to produce the best virtual reality experience for someone that is terminally ill. The timing could not have been any better and he knew exactly where he wanted to film it, Snowdon!
Unfortunately, after two failed attempts due to bad weather he had to scrap the Snowdon video. However, it just so happened that he was planning a trip in a campervan with two of his friends over Christmas. The 2000 mile round trip to Lake Eibsee in Germany featured many beautiful locations so this gave him another chance to produce a video that he could enter into the competition.
After spending the entirety of Christmas and New Year locked away in his office editing the Germany video in time for the deadline, it was completed and handed in.
Winning the “Best of outdoor” category with the first VR video experience he had ever made, was just the confidence boost he needed. It gave credibility to the style of video he thought would be beneficial for people and acted as the lift-off point for his Project Vae aspirations.
Now that Ben had proved the Project Vae method could work to himself. He needed to prove it to others. The next stage was to provide evidence that the Project Vae method does have beneficial effects on mental health & wellbeing.
In the summer of 2021, Project Vae conducted its first research study in collaboration with Katharine House Hospice, The National Lottery Community Fund, Keele Univercity & The Midlands Partnership NHS Foundation trust.
The results were fantastic and showed significant improvements in various mental health & wellbeing factors. Please click below to see more on this study:
BBC MIDLANDS TODAY:
EXPRESS & STAR:
IN YOUR AREA:
HEALTH TECH WORLD:
KEELE BREAKING THE MOULD AWARDS
In October of 2022, Project Vae was awarded the Health and Wellbeing award at the Keele Breaking The Mould Awards.
All of the team at Project Vae were absolutely thrilled with receiving such recognition for all of our hard work. We would like to say a huge thank you to Keele University and everyone that has helped us to get Project Vae to where it is today!