Freedom Festival 2020 – By Tide of Humber

This weekend is Freedom Festival. Last year we were having an amazing time running the largest ever Earth Arcade in a big tent in the centre of Hull, talking to hundreds, if not thousands, of people about the environment and the research of the Energy and Environment Institute. It seems such a long time ago now and it seems even longer before we’ll be able to run our Earth Arcade again.

Part of our Earth Arcade at Freedom Festival 2020

We love Freedom Festival and have run our virtual reality activities during the Festival in 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2019. Honestly, it doesn’t feel right when we don’t get to play. This year’s Freedom Festival is fully online and even though we don’t have an Earth Arcade or are able to place headsets on people, we still have been involved in some of the activities for the Festival.

On Saturday 9th September, watch out for a cameo by Chris Skinner as a “real scientist”, as part of The Reset Lab’s Crazy Ideas programme, 3-5pm BST.

However, our main involvement has been behind the scenes of By Rising Tide of Humber. This brand new 360 video experience has been created by the University of Hull (led by Stewart Mottram) and BetaJester Ltd, funded by XR Stories. In the experience you meet poet Andrew Marvell in streets of 17th Century Hull, witnessing the flooding that he described within his works. The video can be viewed below and you can read more about the project here.

The view of 17th Century Hull, created by BetaJester using our computer model.

Unusually for us, we were not involved in the creation of the 360 experience itself, instead we used our expertise in using computer models to simulate flooding to recreate the descriptions within Andrew Marvell’s poetry. The flooding you see in the experience has been created using the outputs of our model.

To be able to do this, we needed to recreate 17th Century Hull to use in our model. The most difficult part was actually creating the land the city sits on, with our data coming from the present day and many changes having occurred in nearly 400 years, including building forward into the Estuary. Another issue was that although the data we used had been processed to show land surfaces only, the footprints of buildings and roads were still present and we needed to filter these out. Using this data along with historic maps of the city, we created contour lines for the 17th Century and produced our land surface from this.

The surface data for modern Hull. You can clearly still see the footprints of buildings and roads but we needed a smooth surface. The blue lines show the position of the waterfront during the 17th Century, further inland than the present day waterfront. The red lines show the 17th Century fortifications, an imprint still seen in the modern city, around the docks and Old Town.

The next step was to create the city itself. We added building, walls, roads, drains, and moats using a historical map that had been ‘georeferenced’ by research assistant, Helen Manning. She used identifiable features, such as road junctions and buildings that still exist, to stretch the image over a modern map. Working with Briony McDonagh, we used the map and historical records to add the heights and depths of these features to the land surface we had created.

Finally, we needed a flood. For this we used data for the 2013 storm surge taken from our Humber model. As sea levels were a little lower in the 17th Century we adjusted the water levels down slightly to account for this. We combined all the data together to produce the model in the video below. We then passed all this on to Betajester Ltd and they did their usual VR magic!

Who is going to help Callum?

We have some exciting news! We have teamed up with the Environment Agency and sociologists at Lancaster University to create a brand new 360 experience. The new video will tell the story of Callum, a young boy whose house was flooded, using his own words, and seeing through his eyes.

Often the story of flood recovery is an untold one. Houses and streets underwater make good headlines but once the water has drained away, who is left to tell the story of those left behind to try and rebuild their lives? A recent survey of those impacted by flooding in Hull in 2007, conducted by the Energy and Environment Institute and commissioned by the Living with Water Partnership, highlighted the issues of flood recovery, finding that 90% of those affected suffered additional health and wellbeing impacts. A crucial way of improving this is to tell the stories of flood survivors.

Children and young people can be severely affected by flooding. They are seldom given the tools to know what to do in a flood or how to cope with being uprooted from their homes, schools, and friends for a long time. Researchers at Lancaster University developed creative workshops with flood-affected children to help them tell their stories.

In workshops run by sociologists at Lancaster University children created models showing the hard work of flood recovery.

One of those stories, Callum’s, is the basis of the new video. Working with developers Lampada Digital Solutions we will put you into Callum’s situation as he and his parents have to deal with flooding in their home. It will help you see the world through the eyes of a young person, helping you understand the unique difficulties children have to deal with, and help you sense the fears and loneliness they feel. Throughout the video we offer pauses for reflection and ask what would you do to help Callum in this situation.

The ability of 360 video to immerse you into a scene combined with a powerful true narrative we hope will spread Callum’s story far and wide – for example, our Inundation Street video has been viewed over 800,000 times in little over six months. We will also be using innovative technology to produce an interactive version to use with our Earth Arcade VR headsets.

Development of the Help Callum experience has started and is due to be completed in early September 2020. Keep an eye of the SeriousGeoGames and Lancaster Twitter accounts to keep up to date with the latest news.