The Guardian has developed a new virtual reality (VR) experience that lets audiences explore London’s Victorian sewers. The project is the first in a series of six films the outlet will produce for Daydream View, Google's headset for mobile VR content, over the next 18 months.

Underworld, created by the Guardian’s in-house VR team and The Mill, allows viewers to take their own journey from one of London’s lost waterways, the old River Fleet, through to blood sewers under Smithfield Market and then on to the floodgates of the River Thames.

Francesca Panetta, executive editor, virtual reality, at the Guardian, explained that the publisher wanted to continue experimenting with interactive storytelling after the success of its 6x9 VR project that let viewers experience solitary confinement.

"We are looking to do a range of virtual reality projects at the Guardian – everything from hard news to softer pieces, and this experience really represents a feature within VR," she told

"The topic of Underworld particularly suits virtual reality because it's all about the place – being in the sewers, navigating around and trying to find your way."

Within quite a short amount of time, you can give a very powerful experience as well as imparting a lot of informationFrancesca Panetta, the Guardian

Armed with a remote control that acts as a torch light, and the option to follow their own pathway at a fork in the tunnels, viewers are in charge of what they see and experience while being guided by urban explorer and geographer Bradley Garrett.

The Guardian wanted to ensure the virtual experience, which uses computer-generated imagery (CGI), remained informative, so viewers can also hear from historian Richard Barnett, who explains how the capital's cholera crisis was ended after the Great Stink in 1858.

"Within quite a short amount of time, you can give a very powerful experience as well as imparting a lot of information," Panetta explained.

"We've been looking at different ways of innovating in storytelling for years. When I first saw [VR] years ago, it was obvious that this was going to be a really useful tool for journalism, giving us the opportunity to place our readers in the location of the story, which is completely unique to our industry."

Alongside the content for Daydream View, the Guardian is also producing a series of six 360-degree videos, which will be published on social media platforms as each of the upcoming VR experiences is launched.

  • Francesca Panetta will be speaking at newsrewired on 8 February about collaboration in the newsroom and the Guardian's approach to special projects. Find out more here.

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