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Museum staff take leading role in virtual reality installation


Staff and volunteers at Thackray Medical Museum in Leeds are set to play leading roles in a new virtual reality artwork created for the museum.

Artist Irene Brown is working with the museum to create a set of virtual reality viewers which visitors will be able to look through and see impressions of what the museum building looked like in the past, when it served as a workhouse and a hospital.

Museum staff and volunteers will appear in some of the scenes dressed in historic costumes, portraying characters from the museum’s past.


Lauren Ryall-Stockton, Museum Curator, explained: “Visitors to the museum often ask us about the building itself and Irene’s work will help people to really experience the history of the museum in a whole new way.”


Thackray Medical Museum explores the world of medicine and is housed in the former Leeds Union Workhouse. The purpose-built workhouse opened in 1861 and served as a workhouse for the city’s poor until 1925 when it was renamed as St James’s Hospital.


Artist Irene Brown, who has spent months researching the history of the building, said: “I’ve used open source technology to allow visitors to see the spaces where they’re standing, but as they might have appeared during the 19th and early 20th centuries.

It will reveal hidden ghosts from the past such as nurses who worked in the hospital and inmates who lived in the workhouse.”


Visitors will be able to look through specially constructed viewers, made by Irene, and see views of the museum when it was a workhouse or a hospital, complete with some of the people who would have lived or worked there.


It will be almost as though people can look into the past, and the past will be looking back,” said Irene.


As part of the project, Irene Brown will be running a series of free public workshops during August which people can attend to learn more about the technology she has used in her work and how to use it. Full details can be found on the Thackray Medical Museum website,

The commission is part of the Meeting Point project, managed by Hexham-based Arts&Heritage, which has paired artists with nine museums in the North East and Yorkshire, to create new pieces of work inspired by the museums and their collections.

Funded by Arts Council England’s Museum Resilience Fund, Meeting Point presents artworks in unexpected places and supports small and medium scale museums to commission artists, who will create a piece of work in response to the venue.


The nine museums and artists taking part in Meeting Point are:

Morpeth Chantry Bagpipe Museum, Northumberland, working with Ziad Jabero and the Baghdaddies

Dales Countryside Museum, Yorkshire, working with David Murphy

Durham Castle, working with Jo Coupe

Head Of Steam, Darlington, working with Cath Campbell

Kirkleatham Museum, Redcar, working with Grennan and Sperandio

Pannett Art Gallery, Whitby, working with Pippa Hale

The Workhouse Museum, Ripon, working with Catherine Bertola

Shandy Hall, Yorkshire, working with Anne Vibeke Mou

Thackray Medical Museum, Leeds, working with Irene Brown


More details can be found at


Thackray Medical Museum’s new virtual reality viewers will be available in the museum from 15 September 2016.


Artist Irene Brown with one of the people who will feature in the new installation