Residents invited to see Sheffield differently as free, ground-breaking UK-wide series of storytelling events launch This summer, StoryTrails, the UK’s largest immersive storytelling experience, invites residents of Sheffield to explore untold and local stories about the city through ground-breaking multimedia technologies.
Stories include that of environmental pioneer Ethel Haythornthwaite, one of the originators of the Peak District National Park, in a trail narrated by BBC Radio Sheffield’s Paulette Edwards. StoryTrails, part of UNBOXED: Creativity in the UK, comes to Sheffield with a free two-day live event taking place on 27 and 28 July as part of a tour of 15 locations around the UK this summer. Centred around Sheffield Library and on the streets of Sheffield itself, it features digital experiences that allow people to experience the city in a completely new way through the magic of augmented (AR), virtual reality (VR) and immersive cinema.
An augmented reality trail, specific to Sheffield and accessed through mobile devices, invites visitors to learn how Sheffield, an industrial city known for its steel and smog, became the greenest city in the UK. We meet Ethel Haythornthwaite and find out how this extraordinary green loving pioneer stomped the hillsides collecting litter. She presented a ‘cabinet of shame’ to the rich and the powerful of Sheffield. She persuaded them to part with cash and land- to save the city from being built on leading to the formation of Sheffield’s green belt and the Peak District National Park.
A second trail introduces Grace Horne who followed her dream of becoming a cutler when she turned up at maestro cutler Stan Shaw’s Sheffield workshop, located in a former public toilet. The story follows Grace as she becomes his apprentice and shines a light on the vanishing craft of cutlery-making.
Both AR trails use cine film and video home movie footage, and photography from the BBC and British Film Institute, as well as local archive materials to present a window into the past. Visitors can borrow devices from the library and follow a guided augmented reality trail which run on the hour throughout the live events.
They can also download the StoryTrails app on their smartphone and follow the story trail route from outside the libraries. Both trails can also be experienced via the mobile app outside of the two live events, with the app available to download until the end of the year.
There will also be a physical installation unique to the city and viewed on a cycloramic cinema screen setup inside the library. Immersive virtual maps of the city have been created using 3D scans of the local buildings, people, objects and areas, telling stories of people and place. This 15-minute film will play on a loop throughout the day. An expanded version of the map can also be viewed on iPads inside the library.
In Sheffield, the map was developed by local spatial StoryMapper, Sile Sibanda from the stories of local people, and features iconic places and local favourites such as Manor Lodge, Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet and Meersbrook Park.
Sile, Gemma Thorpe and Imaan Samson were three of just 50 emerging creatives around the UK to be selected to take part in the development of StoryTrails and benefit from expert training and mentoring opportunities from StoryFutures Academy, the National Centre for Immersive Storytelling, the team behind StoryTrails. StoryFutures Academy is run by Royal Holloway, University of London and the National Film and Television School (NFTS).
Gemma 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 Sheffield, for Sheffield, created in Sheffield. 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 smartphone you can borrow one on the day – come along to the library on the 27-28 July and you’ll be able to give it all a go, for free.”
Time travel continues inside the libraries across the two live event days, when visitors enter digitally created worlds using a virtual reality (VR) headset. They can 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. Historian and television presenter David Olusoga, familiar to viewers of the BBC’s A House in 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 towns and citiesfrom 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 Sheffield live events take place 27-28 July 2022 Central Library, Surrey Street, Sheffield City Centre, Sheffield S1 1XZ Library opening hours: 9am to 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 story-trails.com Facebook and Instagram @StoryTrailsProject. Twitter @StoryFuturesA