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Innovative project to change visitor experience at historic Greenwich church 

13 St-Alfege Crypt from-South St Alfege Church Heart of Greenwich Place and People Project, which was awarded just over £1.8m from The National Lottery Heritage Fund in December 2017, aims to reinforce the church's position as a heritage asset. 

A key part of the project is the university's use of state-of-the art 3D scanning technology, which will allow visitors to explore St Alfege Church, and its hidden spaces, virtually.

Simon Withers, who teaches architecture at the university and is leading the 3D scanning project at the church, said: "Using 3D scans, we've been able to capture the exact size, shape and feature of the building, including its grounds, crypt, basilica and tower. It's very exciting. Visitors to the church and its website will now be able to 'tour' this fascinating building and view aspects of it previously inaccessible.

"It has been a wonderful project to work on and it's not often you get the opportunity to record a Nicholas Hawksmoor church. It has often been overlooked as a heritage site and it's great to be able to use digital three-dimensional representation to show just how amazing this building is."

The church was built on the site where St Alfege, Archbishop of Canterbury, was killed by the Danes in 1012 AD. When the roof collapsed in the 1700s, it was redesigned by the architect Sir Nicholas Hawksmoor.

Rebecca Parrant, Heritage Engagement and Interpretation Manager at the St Alfege Church, said: "Although the church is a place of worship, it is also a building with a rich thousand-year history. It's fantastic to be able to create a more engaging space that is at the forefront of technology, and the University of Greenwich has been leading this innovation.

"Anyone who wants to will now be able to explore this historic church in its entirety, whether they are local to Greenwich, or living on the other side of the world."

As well as developing the 3D modelling project, students have also been involved in helping to develop signage and creating a short film. Next year, university volunteers will also help create an educational outreach programme for the church's younger visitors. At the end of the four-year project, more than 100 students and members of staff from the university will have been involved.

"This has been a really important collaboration between the university and the church. We have had students who, although live locally or study nearby, have never visited the site. They have been really engaged and have enjoyed learning about the church's history," added Parrant.

Withers' latest project follows on from the 3D modelling of the Painted Hall, at the Old Navel College, which was designed by Sir Christopher Wren and Nicholas Hawksmoor.

Talking about how the 3D scanning works, Withers explained: "It's a laser that spins horizontally and vertically, operating in a sphere and collecting data on everything it hits. It collects a million points of data per second and builds an accurate model, meaning that you can display buildings in a way that has never been done before.

"We have been able to see the crypt and its relationship to the central part of the St Alfege Church – the nave. It's just so spatially rich and dramatic. It has a very filmic effect and when you are looking at it on phone, for example, it's like you're holding in your hand the whole church – it has an element of magic."

The 3D scans of St Alfege Church will be shown in an exhibition – Captivating the Attention of Strangers – in April 2020.  

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Rebecca Parrant, 27/09/2019
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