STUDENTS have been putting out fires and operating machinery without having to leave the classroom - thanks virtual reality sessions giving them an insight into the glass industry.

The hour-long sessions for St Helens students were part of an educational project from Glass Futures which is delivering a £54m pioneering glass research and development facility next to Tesco in St Helens aimed at helping decarbonise glass and foundation industries.

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With support from Glass Futures Process Engineer Grace Babalola and IT Manager Macauley Tudor more than 100 students donned the VR headsets to virtually step inside a glass plant to undertake a range of tasks designed to give them a genuine, hands-on insight into the exciting work involved in the glass industry and help enlighten the next generation of STEM specialists.

So realistic is the immersive experience from company Virtual Reality Machine Training that the students had to virtually put on the appropriate PPE equipment, wash and dry their hands before being let loose in the virtual glass plant.

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Once inside the student recruits were exposed to the roles and responsibilities of a glass plant operator including a simulation on swabbing that prevents hot glass sticking to moulds and using tongs to grab a bottle from the conveyor belt and checking its weight on scales.

In one scenario the teenagers even had to use hoses and extinguishers to put out a fire at the virtual glass plant.

And in other sessions, led by Grace, students learned about the history of the glass industry and important role St Helens has and continues to play.

Grace said: “The feedback from students and teachers has been amazing and by using engaging activities, explaining Glass Futures’ work to create a greener future, and using the VR sessions the students have been inspired, informed, and excited by a sector not everyone will have fully understood.

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“While I’m not suggesting every one of the students who took part will now embark on a career in the glass industry, they certainly have had their eyes opened.

“Using VR was great as they got a real experience of the industry and roles involved without having to set foot in a factory or plant and it was exciting as well as educational for them.”

Students also learned about the environmental impact of glass manufacturing and how Glass Futures is tackling this.

In collaboration with the global glass industry the non-for-profit organisation is delivering the world’s first openly accessible, commercially available, multi-disciplinary glass melting facility, The Global Centre of Excellence in St Helens to demonstrate solutions leading to sustainable energy usage in the glass-making process.

The 165,000 sq. ft state-of-the-art facility will be capable of producing up to 30 tonnes of glass per day in a purposefully designed research and development furnace.

Cowley International College, Sutton Academy, St Cuthbert’s Catholic High School, De La Salle School, Mill Green School and Outwood Academy in Haydock were the six schools involved and each project finished with a trip to the World of Glass Museum to solidify what the students have been learning and watch and interact with a live glass blowing demonstration.

Delighted school officials include Richard Weaver, an associate assistant principal, and Head of Design Technology at Outwood Academy.

He said: “The program has been brilliant, the students learned so much about glass but more importantly so much about their heritage and local area. It has given these students experiences they wouldn't get elsewhere.”

The school sessions were delivered as part of St Helens Chamber’s Together to Zero project funded by the UK Government through the UK Community Renewal Fund.

This has seen local businesses receive funding and skills training to become greener as part of Liverpool City Region’s commitment to become Net Zero carbon by 2040 as well as raising aspirations for young people to pursue exciting sustainable career opportunities in the local region.