Virtual technology for churches

Modern technology for opening, interpreting and using churches is getting easier and cheaper to use… 

Guest blogger Chris Jones from LeicesterPhotoDesign writes:

There are three things I have a passion for, photography, technology and churches. This may seem an odd mixture but bringing them together results in opening our churches to a wider audience.

Photography has always been an interest, and since 2008 a profession, I also have been visiting my local churches and completing photography of the interiors and exteriors for my own project on Leicestershire & Rutland churches and others across the UK. In 2012 I was approached by Google to launch their Google Business Views project with 360° imagery of ‘business interiors’ using their streetview technology – basically bringing their streetview views inside.

In August 2012 I completed the first church in the UK at St Mary de Castro in Leicester giving them a Google 360° virtual tour for their spire appeal. From there I have spoken at various conferences on this new technology and its place in helping churches gain a wider audience. Since then I have completed many churches with the 360° tours and recently we created a tour for St Wulfram’s in Grantham.

We were approached by St Wulfram’s to highlight their spire appeal and to create a 360° tour of the church for embedding on their website. Because this is Google’s streetview technology we can extend it from the street and ‘walk’ to the church as below, you can also make it full screen by clicking the ‘view larger map’ for a better effect. It also appears in Google Maps, Google search results and enables anyone from around the world to get a real insight into the church.

It also is easily embedded into websites and you can start the tour wherever you want to. We also advise adding some ‘life’ to 360° church tours, so at St Wulfram’s we organised the Cafe to be open and people (all faces are blurred for privacy) to be in the virtual tour to ensure that the church was not empty.

The photography took most of the day and over 2,000 images were taken to create the tour and it was on-line within a few days, as to cost I charge less than our commercial rates for churches as I have a real interest in them. There are also new enhancements being developed which I am really excited about. Moving around large virtual tours is a pleasure but can be tiresome clicking through all the arrows, what we wanted was a method to ‘jump’ to specific parts of the tour and have pop-ups and embedded information within the tours. This has now been accomplished and we are testing some new technology which allows this. You can see St Wulphram’s with and without this new feature here. At the moment it only works on desktops and laptops but smartphones and tablets will be supported shortly.

Technology is always moving on but at this moment we have some great tools to enable anyone from around the world to look around our heritage and churches like never before. I am sometimes questioned that “surely having such a tour means people would not bother to visit as they can now view it on-line”. I disagree, so many people look for for information on-line and many of our churches are locked or not easily accessible. This allows anyone to have a real insight into their local church or places they may want to visit. Perhaps more importantly your church is accessible to the worldwide public like never before. Google recently did a tour of Ankor Wat, now I know I am probably never going to physically get there, but at least now I can get better experience of this famous landmark.


From the church’s point of view: Don Sission from Silkstone All Saints has previously written about Google InsideView in his church. 

NCT Grants: we have given grants to both Leicester St Mary de Castro and Grantham St Wulfram. Find out more about our grants on our website.





Discovering Silkstone using Google InsideView…

Recently Google introduced a new ‘product’… the ability to take StreetView INSIDE a building, allowing you to explore interiors as if you were there. In this article, Don Sisson from All Saints Silkstone, tells us all about the process of getting their church onto InsideView…

Silkstone All Saints

Originally Sarah Crossland, from the National Churches Trust, introduced us to the Churches Tourism Association. At their 2012 Convention there was a presentation by Chris Jones entitled ‘Open your Church to the world with Google Inside View ‘… and so it began.

We made contact with a Sheffield photographer Mike Bellwood, one of the network of 24 Google trained professional photographers who have agreed to reduced and standard pricing on a national scale for churches.

It turned out that he knew the church from previous wedding photography and  was able to picture our requirements without a site visit. He pointed out that we would need to have photographs from the road to the church door for a smooth integration with Google Street View. He asked if there was any area of the church that did not need to be included and anything specific we would like on our virtual tour. Security of our churches is important so we were also asked to tell him what should be omitted or blurred in this respect.

The InsideView was funded by ‘Silkstone Reflects on the Church Heritage’, a joint project between Silkstone PCC and Heritage Silkstone, and funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. Therefore, we decided that we wanted to include the new Bramah Gallery provided as a learning resource by the project. We also emphasised two other aspects of the project, the Wentworth Monument and the church windows.

The photography was completed in a morning, and within a week the tour had been uploaded to Google and we were up and running. 

Included in the package was a QR code that we can use on our publicity so that anyone with a smart phone or tablet can go straight on the tour. Similarly included is a set of photographs which again can be used in any way we wish, These photographs are also on the Google+Local  page from which the tour can again be accessed.

Finally the tour can be seen on Google maps either through the street view feature or by dropping the ‘pegman’ onto the map-all places that have Google inside show up with an orange marker.

Why not Google  All Saints and St James Church Silkstone to see the above in action.

If you want a quick tour of the church try here.

Many thanks to Don for that first hand view of just how simple it is to use this new technology. Search  All Saints Silkstone to have a look for yourself just how easy it is to find and how amazingly crisp the view is.

%d bloggers like this: