Action for Children is taking digital technology to the streets with a virtual reality campaign highlighting the crisis facing recruitment of foster carers.
The Spare Room launched today in Manchester’s Lowry Centre with a VR pop-up booth in which viewers will be able to experience the difference foster care can make to young and potentially vulnerable children. The video tells the story of Sophie, an 11-year-old foster child, who is based on a real-life placement with an Action for Children foster family.
It forms part of Action for Children’s wider campaign, #myspareroom, that will run throughout September, and which will be supported on social media channels as well as with adverts in national newspapers.
The development of the VR film, which was created with agency, McCann, took more than three months and cost around £9,000 to produce, the charity said.
The Spare Room is the charity’s first VR campaign and marks a shift in its approach to campaigning. Jo Cullen, marketing manager at Action for Children, says: "Like most organisations we are looking at how we can use digital to support our marketing and communications, but we did not set out to do a VR piece. It just seemed the right choice to achieve our objectives as we went further into the process. If this approach is successful I think it will open the door to other ways we can work with new technology.
"We were very keen to try experiential activities and spoke to agencies about how we could go about it. Most of the newer technologies were out of budget but VR seemed a way of achieving our objectives, testing the format and trying something new."
The charity is using the campaign to highlight the lack of foster carers: 7,000 more foster families are needed across the UK, according to analysis by the Fostering Network. However, applications to be foster carers fell by a third in England alone last year.
Cullen believes that the lack of interest in fostering, and in fostering teens in particular, is down to fear of the unknown as well as a shift towards a less altruistic society in general.
Cullen said the purpose of the film was to change people’s attitudes to fostering and to use that to create interesting content.
"Also in the longer term when we engage face to face we have an experiential hook that can help people to engage with us and the subject matter," she says. "As audiences are looking for more than just a leaflet these days, we want to try to present fostering in different and unique way that is more engaging. So key performance indicators for the campaign will be enquiries that the campaign generates into real interest in fostering.
"A longer-term KPI is how we can improve our ability to engage with people at face-to-face events as we take the kit on the road. We also want to measure if by experiencing this they would change their minds on considering fostering as a potential career."
No further VR is planned until the results of this campaign are assessed but Cullen believes the application could be of interest in other areas of its work.
"I can see so many applications for this technology," she said. "What we need to know first is if investing in this content will support achievement of our KPIs and support the recruitment of foster carers. If it delivers we will look at ways of utilising the learning for other areas of our work. Fostering is a complex ask, it will be really interesting to see if this campaign delivers."
After today’s launch in Manchester, the VR booth will go on tour throughout the UK with an appearance at Greenbelt Festival before moving on to London Olympia, Wigan, Oldham, Hyde and Ashton-under-Lyne.