StoryTrails at Blackpool Central Library
StoryTrails, the UK’s largest immersive storytelling experience, invites Blackpool residents and visitors to explore untold stories of the town through ground-breaking multimedia technologies, from an augmented reality trail revealing the history of Blackpool’s LGBTQ+ communities to an immersive map transforming the town’s iconic buildings, such as Blackpool Tower and the Regents Cinema, and a trip back to Blackpool’s 1950s heyday through the power of virtual reality.
StoryTrails, part of UNBOXED: Creativity in the UK, begins in Blackpool with two days of free events on 16 and17 July, as part of a UK-wide tour to 15 towns and cities. Centred around Blackpool Library and on the streets of Blackpool itself, it features digital experiences that allow people to experience the town in a completely new way through the magic of augmented reality, virtual reality and immersive cinema.
An augmented reality trail, specific to Blackpool and accessed through mobile devices, invites visitors to explore the town’s LGBTQ+ history. From the 1930s and the notorious Colonel Barker’s under-the-pier ‘freak show’ to the dark days of the 1980s and 1990s. It features characters such as drag queen, Divine, and owner of legendary Blackpool nightclub Funny Girls, Basil Newby MBE, who was honoured in 2014 for services to business and Blackpool’s LGBTQ+ community. The trail is voiced by Funny Girls’ longest standing compere and uses cine film, video home movies and photography from the BBC, British Film Institute and local archives to present past and present in a completely new way.
Time travel continues inside the library across 16 and 17 July when visitors are invited to enter digitally created worlds using a virtual reality (VR) headset. Among 7 VR stories are that of one-time Blackpool resident, Mike Hatjoullis, a second-generation Greek-Cypriot immigrant whose parents arrived in the UK in the 1930s. The story focuses on Blackpool in its 1950s heyday when Mike’s father ran a well-known seafront restaurant, Tomlinson’s Cafe. Having studied at the Royal College of Art alongside the likes of David Hockney and Ridley Scott, Mike became an influential textile designer and master printmaker and his contemporary large-scale lino-cut depictions of Blackpool are animated within the VR experience, created by ShroomStudio.
Visitors can also expect to find themselves in the shoes of a rebellious teenager as she discovers her mother’s punk past; take part in one of the many South Asian daytime raves that took place across the UK in the 1980s and 1990s; and hear what earlier generations thought life would be like today. All the stories featured on the VR headsets are available at every stop on the StoryTrails UK tour.
And, inside the library, an immersive virtual map of the town has been created using local stories and 3D scans of Blackpool’s iconic buildings and places, such as Blackpool Tower, the famous seafront, Stanley Park and the resurrected Regent Cinema. The map is viewed on a cycloramic cinema screen and the 15-minute experience plays on a loop throughout the day. An expanded version of the map is also available on iPads inside the library.
Blackpool-based creative talent Joseph Doubtfire, Kezi Gardom, Lara Kob and Leo Mercer were among 50 emerging creatives around the UK selected to take part in the development of StoryTrails and benefit from expert training and mentoring opportunities, each contributing to the Blackpool StoryTrails experience.
Leo Mercer, said: “It’s taken months of work to get to this point and we can’t believe we finally get to share it with everyone. It’s truly been a project by Blackpool, for Blackpool, created in Blackpool. We’ve unearthed incredible stories of powerful local characters that deserve to be told. We’ve worked closely with BFI and BBC archives to help tell those stories and we’re using new technologies like AR to bring them to life in a way that makes them accessible to all. If you don’t have a smart phone you can borrow one on the day – come along to the library on the 16 and17 July and you’ll be able to give it all a go, for free.”
Historian and television presenter David Olusoga, familiar to viewers of the BBC’s A House Through Time, narrates a further AR experience that invites visitors to turn a dial on a virtual giant radio and travel back in time. From Beatlemania and the flares and haircuts of the swinging sixties, to dancing to the end of the millennium in crop-tops and trainers, audiences will experience a potted history of the UK through the decades.
This innovative project is led by StoryFutures Academy, the National Centre for Immersive Storytelling. It was developed by teams of leading technologists and creatives, brought together for UNBOXED: Creativity in the UK, a UK-wide celebration of creativity taking place in 2022, including immersive animation pioneers, ISO Design and Nexus Studios, and the company behind Pokémon GO, Niantic. It is brought to life in The Reading Agency’s national network of libraries and by event-making specialists ProduceUK.
Professor James Bennett, Director of StoryFutures and StoryTrails, said: “This is about getting people excited about where they live – helping them connect with stories of their town from the past and present through a new lens. New technologies like AR and VR can help build these connections and reignite people’s passion for the past. These technologies are for everyone – we want to find ways to engage people from all generations and spark a genuine celebration in each of our incredible locations.”
Martin Green CBE, Chief Creative Officer UNBOXED: Creativity in the UK, said: “StoryTrails is one of ten ground-breaking UNBOXED projects taking place in 2022 that demonstrate the power of creative collaboration across science, technology and the arts to create extraordinary and never-seen-before public experiences. StoryTrails uses cutting edge technology to offer people the opportunity to hear about the places they live - the stories of individuals and communities - in a way that has not been done before.”
StoryTrails’ 15-stop UK tour runs from 1 July to 18 September 2022 and culminates in a new film presented by David Olusoga that will screen in UK cinemas and BBC iPlayer. The StoryTrails app, augmented reality story trails and immersive maps will be available throughout 2022. The Reading Agency’s annual Summer Reading Challenge, for children aged 4 to 11, takes a StoryTrails theme.
UNBOXED: Creativity in the UK is funded and supported by the four governments of the UK and is commissioned and delivered in partnership with Belfast City Council, Creative Wales and EventScotland.
StoryTrails Blackpool live events take place on 16 and 17 July2022
Blackpool Central Library, Queen Street, Blackpool FY1 1PX
Library opening hours: Saturday 10am -6pm, Sunday 11am-5pm
The StoryTrails app will launch on iTunes and Google Play stores to coincide with the event.
The app and immersive trail will be available online throughout 2022.
Facebook and Instagram @StoryTrailsProject. Twitter @StoryFuturesA