The Sowenna Project

Working in partnership with Cornwall Partnership Foundation Trust, The Invictus Trust, and Triangular Pixels, Falmouth University are co-designing and developing a VR environment with young people who have mental health problems for deployment at the new Sowenna Unit - an NHS unit run by Cornwall NHS Foundation Trust. The unit provides inpatient treatment for young people aged between 13 and 18.

Girl wearing a VR headset in front of blue background
Invictus Trust logo
Invictus Trust logo
VerseOne Group Ltd logo
VerseOne Group Ltd logo

Project details

Project lead Anna Mankee-Williams
Centre alignment

Centre for Blended Realities

Centre for Arts & Health

Start date 2019
End date Ongoing

The goals of the project and the partnership are to build three virtual reality (VR) environments for introduction to the unit and run a concurrent research project to evaluate and determine their effect on patient health and care.

VR is not just being used for gaming. Already studies have shown that VR can be beneficial in helping to treat a whole-host of mental health conditions, including easing phobias, treating post-traumatic stress disorder, helping to lessen paranoia in psychotic disorders and reducing social anxiety.

Ahead of the NHS Five Year Forward View, the new 14 bed Sowenna unit means soon children and adolescents will have access to specialist mental health beds in Cornwall. This initiative delivers on NHS England's commitment to reduce out of area placements for children and young people by increasing bed numbers nationally by 10%.

With young British adolescents having been deemed "extreme internet users," using technological advances will provide a unique opportunity to engage young people in with their treatment and potentially revolutionise the way in which young people can manage their mental health.

Young people in Sowenna will be offered a choice of guided mindfulness exercises with a member of staff or the use of the VR sensory environment as part of their treatment. They will be able to touch, feel, walk around or even lie down during their five minute long experience, which will be supervised by a clinician at all times.

The work to develop the VR project is being undertaken by Cornwall Partnership NHS Foundation Trust (CFT) who will be running Sowenna, and Falmouth University who will supply the technical environments and build one of the VR environments. Triangular Pixels of Bude have been appointed build specialists for two VR environments, and Young People Cornwall, who have been instrumental from the start of the Sowenna build, will be co-designing the VR sensory environments and providing the user experience group.

Virtual Reality (VR) projects which have a direct impact on patient care are a growing area of innovation within the healthcare sector and the launch of the Sowenna Unit provides a unique opportunity to be the first project to relieve anxiety within young person inpatients in a controlled and safe environment. Sensory rooms have long been used as a method of controlling anxiety but VR environments have the benefits of complete immersion, relatively short periods of clinical supervision and multiple use.

Project team

Anna Mankee-Williams staff image
Anna Mankee-Williams staff image

Anna Mankee-Williams - Project lead

Anna is a Senior Research Fellow for Innovation and Technology in Health and Care. She has 22 years' experience in the health sector (RGN, RM, RHV,) Specialist Community Practitioner/Practice Educator, Public Health children's lead and 11 years' experience in Local Government. Anna has been with Falmouth University and the South West Centre of Excellence Satellite Applications Catapult for since 2016. Her research focuses on Design Thinking approaches that address challenges presented within the health and care eco-system.


The Sowenna Project is in partnership with Cornwall Partnership NHS Foundation Trust (CFT), Falmouth University, Triangular Pixels, and Young People Cornwal.



Funders for The Sowenna Project include The Invictus Trust, VerseOne Group Ltd, and Carew Pole Trust.

Invictus Trust logo
Invictus Trust logo

Invictus Trust

The Invictus Trust is a small charity in Cornwall, run by the Cowburn family whose aim is to raise a...

Invictus Trust
VerseOne Group Ltd logo
VerseOne Group Ltd logo

VerseOne Group Ltd

VerseOne provides market leading digital transformation solutions specifically for the NHS, Soc...

VerseOne Group Ltd

Outcomes & outputs

The project will develop three different VR sensory environment that young people in the Sowenna Unit can choose to use as part of their treatment. The VR sensory environments will be used in a controlled area to reduce anxiety and stress.

Patients will be asked to fill in a short questionnaire before about how they are feeling and then again afterwards. The work undertaken will be supported by a research study to determine whether this new method of mindfulness has had a significant improvement in the mental wellbeing of the young person.

Impact & recognition

Virtual Reality (VR) projects that have the potential to have a direct impact on patient care, education and training of staff are a growing area of innovation within the healthcare sector.

The Sowenna VR project is developing an initial set of VR sensory environments, for use by young people in the new Child and Adolescent Mental Health unit (The Sowenna Unit) to reduce anxiety and stress. The VR environments are in the final stages of development with young people and will be launched, alongside the clinical research project in June 2020.

Project media