Amazing ‘virtual reality’ experience coming to Blackpool this weekend

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 such as Virtual Reality (VR) and interactive Augmented Reality (AR).

What is happening and where?

The event is taking place on Saturday (July 16) from 10am to 4pm, and on Sunday (July 17) from 11am to 5pm.

Blackpool Library will play host to many of the activities involved in the StoryTrail event

There are three different strands to the event, which will be centered around Blackpool Library on Queen Street and on the streets of the town itself.

There will be story trails around selected Blackpool sites with actors helping to bring amazing, unknown history to life; there will also be a virtual reality experience inside Blackpool Library; and an immersive cinema experience, also in the library.

Not only will it reveal amazing, unknown history about Blackpool and offer great stories about local people, but the stunning technology will allow visitors to the library to have lots of fun.

To get involved, drop into Blackpool Library between those times, collect a special virtual reality (VR) head set and then enjoy the astounding technology which will allow visitors to experience time travel by entering digitally created worlds.

The StoryTrail event will use technology to show Blackpool in a different light

Who is organizing this and is it happening anywhere else apart from Blackpool?

This innovative project is led by StoryFutures Academy, the National Center 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.

StoryTrails, part of UNBOXED: Creativity in the UK, is part of a UK-wide tour to 15 towns and cities.

Television presenter David Olusoga, familiar to viewers of the BBC’s A House Through Time, narrates a further Augmented Reality experience

Blackpool is the first site in England to launch it, and each one is unique to the community it is set in.

What sort of buildings and stories will be included in the history trail?

The project will tell incredible stories about iconic buildings, using an immersive map, such as Blackpool Tower and the Regents Cinema, and take people on a time travel experience back to Blackpool’s 1950s heyday.

The stunning augmented reality trail will also reveal the history of Blackpool’s LGBTQ+ communities.

It features characters such as drag queen, Divine, and owner of legendary Blackpool nightclub Funny Girls, Basil Newby MBE, who was honored 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.

Among seven virtual reality stories available at every stop on the StoryTrails UK tour, are those 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 seaside 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.

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.

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.

What they have to say

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 Saturday and Sunday and you’ll be able to give it all a go, for free.”

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.”

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