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Paul Brittain with drone 540CF

The sky’s the limit for Norfolk churches project

2016: A Sheringham man’s website which enables visitors to look round Norfolk businesses and churches from their computer, is becoming increasingly popular, and the use of a drone for the high level shots has enabled the project to take off! Tony Rothe reports.

Google introduced Google Tours into the UK early in 2013 whereby people can tour businesses and places of interest on their computer, and North Norfolk photographer Paul Brittain signed up as a Google Trusted Photographer, enabling him to capture the images necessary for such tours. He has set up a website,  www.norfolkvirtualtours.co.uk, which is becoming increasingly popular among businesses, especially in North Norfolk.
Paul’s interest in historic church buildings led him to start including these as a labour of love, and this enabled him to develop his techniques and try out new ideas. He has now featured many, mainly North Norfolk, churches as virtual tours, and he is working on a project with the Diocese of Norwich to link his tours with their interactive map of Norfolk’s churches so that visitors looking for a church on their website will be able to take a tour round it as well!
Paul has already published about 130 churches of all denominations, and is adding to his portfolio at the rate of about 3 a month, with 7 published in April alone.  The potential is much higher – even up to 30 or 40 per month, which would mean extending beyond North Norfolk. He sees each church as effectively a work of art, which represents 2 – 3 hours photographing and another 4 – 6 hours processing and publishing.  This represents a considerable investment of his time on this project, as all equipment, travel costs and media storage fees need to be covered. 
However, as technology develops, Paul feels that his churches project could develop in many exciting ways. He says:
Aylsham church 314 AR“Aylsham church, pictured right, have asked to link up with me to create a menu system overlaying the tour – a kind of contents page with dynamic information panels.  With this in place Rev Beane can turn his church into a virtual interactive museum tour.  Directing the viewer to different parts of the church he can place information panels with YouTube videos, history information, sermons of the week, music links, latest photos or whatever to really make the church really show off its talents online.
"They also use Twitter and other social media quite a lot and I am sure this has a positive impact on its place in the community.  Visitor numbers rising to the church will then drive visitor footfall to the pubs, tea rooms, shops in the area.  The church would be seen to be contributing to the prosperity of its town.

"As I understand it there is an important need to drive footfall to churches, to welcome people in, and keep them engaged and perhaps reverse the decline in attendance.  No one method is the panacea but having this kind of interactive experience can’t be detrimental.  With Wifi Spire in the pipeline and QR codes or links a person can enter a church, point their phone at a link and have themselves be transported to their virtual tour location where a voice describes what they are looking at with perhaps a YouTube video showing something related.  This would be massively fun for all concerned.
"It is possible to even link up churches into some kind of parish guided tour.  A visitor on a bike or walker can scan a code and be linked to their next church with some details of what they may find there.  Their mobile phone can then help them walk or cycle to it.  It is all about joining up the dots in technology. Having a strategy on virtual tours and how to promote, evangelise and enhance them would, I believe, be lucrative for the church in community engagement and I hope I have the opportunity to assist in the future.”
Paul is happy to discuss with anyone how a virtual tour can benefit their church or business, and can be contacted at info@norfolkgoogle360tours.co.uk or on 01263 634010 or 07808 732636.
Visit www.norfolkvirtualtours.co.uk

Follow Paul on Twitter  @Norfolk_360 .

TonyRothe150Do you have a news story or forthcoming event relating to Christians or a church in North Norfolk?  

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