The Friends of Chain Bridge Forge museum in Spalding are celebrating after becoming Innovation winners in the East Midlands Heritage Awards.
The honour celebrates the museum’s partnership with the University of Lincoln to create a virtual blacksmith, which enables people to pop on an HTC Vive virtual reality headset and fashion metal as if they were in real life forge.
Virtual reality blacksmiths can put coals on the fire, using it to heat metal before shaping it on the anvil. Finished designs can then be sent to a 3D printer.
Winning the award is a real feather in the cap for the Friends, who opened the forge in 2012, as they beat off competition from long established museums elsewhere in the county along with those in Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire, and Leicestershire.
Friends chairman Geoff Taylor said the university was given £30,000 by the Heritage Lottery Fund and the museum has worked alongside lecturer Dr John Murray and students to develop the system, which has already proved its worth in local schools where hundreds of youngsters have made a coat hook with the blacksmith.
Geoff says schools no longer teach blacksmithing through a mixture of a lack of skills and health and safety issues.
“A blacksmith’s shop is a hot, dirty and very unpleasant place, in some cases,” says Geoff. “Not ours, Chain Bridge Forge is a lovely place.”
The virtual reality system overcomes all safety concerns and is a way to introduce a new audience to the art.
Geoff says: “This may encourage young people to give the real thing a go or to become the engineers of the future.”
He says the system is constantly evolving and improving. Demonstrations are given at the museum, in High Street, and events like the model engineering show.
The museum building dates back to the 1700s but offers a glimpse of the future within its walls.
An upstairs room has been remodelled to create an Innovation Area, thanks to funding from Section 106 money.
The museum provides a 3D modelling, design, scanning and printing services.
In September, we featured a story about the forge creating a prosthetic arm and adapting a bike for Moulton Chapel lad Aidan Crowshaw.
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