StoryTrails in Blackpool

Residents invited to see Blackpool differently as free, ground-breaking UK-wide series of storytelling events launch


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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 and 17 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 available at every stop on the StoryTrails UK tour, 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.

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.