On first glance it looked more like the Apple shop in Meadowhall than an Army recruitment centre.
The re-vamped Sheffield premises are an attempt to banish the days of nervous recruits being put off by a formal, sit-down chat and a dull leaflet.
In here, you can drive a tank, parachute out of a plane or storm a house full of insurgents – all in a virtual simulator, of course.
The Armed Forces Career Office on Townhead Street has undergone a dramatic makeover, with added gadgets and interactive gizmos to encourage potential new soldiers and staff to join up.
This is the first significant investment in recruitment offices since the 1950s, when national service was still in force and recruits simply had to complete a medical and state whether they preferred the Army, RAF or Royal Navy.
Private Jason Cartlidge, aged 25, from Dinnington, is confident that the new store upgrade will encourage more to think about a career in the Army.
He said: “It certainly would have made me more at ease when I first walked into the recruitment centre to join up.
“It’s fairly nerve-racking and this will put at ease many who are unsure about joining – there’s lots of fun things to get stuck into.
For Jason, who was in a ‘dead-end job with zero qualifications,’ joining the Army has been a huge success.
He said: “I couldn’t tell you what I’d be doing without the Army. Before, I was working in a factory.
“Thinking back, going to the factory day in, day out – it didn’t appeal to me at all.
“I’ve learnt a huge amount of respect, I didn’t respect what I had when I was a teenager but I’ve got a little family and got a house – and I’d never have done it without the Army.”
Jason struggled through school and, combined with his learning difficulties, he started causing trouble as a teenager.
“If I didn’t have the Army I would be struggling with a job now because I had zero qualifications,” Jason said.
“But joining the Army made me grow up fast.”
The encouragement and support of Jason’s family made him sign up and he’s never looked back.
He said: “I always wanted to join up but I was scared. I got the courage from my family who supported me.
“It’s by the far the best decision I’ve ever made – the places I’ve seen are incredible.”
Jason’s trips so far have taken him to the Falkland Islands in the South Atlantic, Canada and the USA – where he played football against LA Galaxy All-Star XI.
But it was his tour of Afghanistan in the notorious Helmand province which Jason described as one of his most rewarding so far.
He said: “When I first went there I was scared I didn’t know what to expect.
“It’s hard to describe – I was scared, but the locals were really welcoming and put you at ease somewhat.
“It was all about winning hearts and minds and training the Afghan police force.
“It was such a surreal experience, but such a rewarding one at the same time.”
Back in Sheffield, the new recruitment centre aims to put fun into the recruitment process – and the virtual reality headsets are sure to prove popular.
Prospective recruits can get a virtual experience of driving a tank, jumping out of a plane and storming a house of insurgents with fellow soldiers.
Lance Corporal Steve Cullen, aged 27, from Ecclesall, Sheffield said people wouldn’t regret signing up.
He said: “Join up give it a go, you never know what you could miss out on.
“The opportunities the Army has to offer are so good for fitness and cohesion with colleagues – and the prospects of going abroad while you earn are fantastic.”
Major General Chris Tickell, who is Director General of the Army’s recruiting and training division, said: “People are looking for an exciting high street experience.
“We want them to come in, play with the gadgets, take a look at the kit and get a real feel for what life in the Army could be like for them.
“The new careers centres now provide a powerful environment that help bring stories of local people who have joined to life, and show potential recruits first hand just how much they could achieve in the Regular Army and Army Reserve.”
The new offices will feature a new, interactive ‘role finder’ tool with information about more than 200 jobs.
Interactive screens and displays, showcasing equipment such as the power bags used in assessment centres, will also allow visitors to listen, learn and engage in aspects of the Army.
The front of each store will also stage images of a ‘local hero’ serving in the Regular Army or Army Reserve.