Virtual Journey

Using ground-breaking technology, three of Lancashire’s best and brightest creatives are to spearhead a virtual storytelling experience as part of a UK-wide project

Creative talents Joseph Doubtfire, Leo Mercer and Kezi Gardom have been recruited to work on StoryTrails, a unique, immersive storytelling experience coming to Blackpool, as part of a nationwide project.

The three are among 50 of the best and brightest creatives across the country working on just 15 StoryTrails locations, which will allow people to experience their town through the magic of augmented (AR) and virtual reality (VR). Joseph, Leo and Kezi will use this new technology to enable people to travel back in time, experiencing untold local histories from Blackpool.

In what is the UK’s largest immersive storytelling project, these stories will be brought to life in the places where they happened, reanimating public spaces, creating a free, entertaining, family-friendly experience.

Joseph has worked as an artist in Blackpool for over half a decade and has been recruited to make an augmented reality story trail around the town.

“I love how the town constantly surprises me,” he says. “I’m so grateful to every member of the community who has shared their stories, photographs and memories, without which this trail wouldn’t have been possible.

“Leo and I have been developing the AR trail for Blackpool. Entitled The Queercoaster, our trail looks at the LGBTQ+ history of Blackpool and charts a rollercoaster journey to acceptance. Narrated by Funny Girls’ fabulous compére DJ Zoe, the trail reveals the twists and turns behind Blackpool becoming the gay capital of the North.”

Working alongside Joseph is Leo a writer and creative producer, who has founded his own music company, leo&hyde, and recently produced a Gogglebox-inspired adaptation of The Marriage of Figaro, which won rave reviews.

Leo loves Blackpool for its optimism: “There’s a sense that the golden days are ahead, not behind. I don’t think I realised how much archive there is hidden away not only in film and photography, but also in people’s memories – it’s been magical finding some of the hidden history of Blackpool, and I have no doubt that people will love the footage, pictures and stories we’ve found.”

Kezi, who will be making an interactive immersive map of Blackpool, has previously worked on Tamworth AR Explorer, bringing Tamworth Castle to life through technology, as well as helping ReACT Youth Theatre during her MA at Goldsmiths.

“Blackpool has always been about bringing extraordinary experiences to everybody.

“The map is populated with personal landmarks that hold special meaning to residents. In searching for stories that look beyond what the tourists see, I have been able to meet some remarkable people. Listen to their stories while you explore their landmarks in 3D virtual reality!”

Telling their stories through state-of-the-art, immersive technologies in new and surprising ways, the creative practitioners working across the UK will have unprecedented access to archive material from the BFI, national and regional film archives across the UK as well as the BBC. Full training in immersive technologies, such as AR and 3D scanning, has been provided and they will be supported throughout their journey by experienced producers.

Outside Blackpool’s Central Library, participants will enter the virtual story portal to begin the StoryTrails experience, guided by a free mobile AR app and local performers. Using stunning AR experiences that remix the BFI and BBC archive, local people will experience history where it actually happened. Inside, participants will be immersed in a virtual map of their town that will be made up of 3D models and audio stories captured on location.

Professor James Bennett, director of StoryFutures and StoryTrails, said: “StoryTrails is a massively ambitious project as we travel across the UK to discover unknown, surprising and intriguing stories from local communities. We’re excited to work with local creative talent like Joseph, Leo and Kezi to uncover and bring these hidden histories to life.”

TV presenter and historian, Professor David Olusoga, executive producer said: “StoryTrails will set the public’s imagination alight with experiences that use the poetry of history to inspire a new vision of our future.”



Tedd Walmsley

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