StoryTrails in Wolverhampton

Actress Frances Barber narrates story of textiles in Wolverhampton as ground-breaking UK-wide immersive storytelling experience arrives in the city


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Wulfrunian and Olivier award-nominated actress Frances Barber narrates an augmented reality trail through the city that explores Wolverhampton’s role in the textile industry and fashion glamour, from Courthaulds Textile Works to department story Beatties and the city centre of the 1960s. The stories featured on the trail are among hundreds told through ground-breaking multimedia technologies as part of the UK’s largest immersive storytelling experience, StoryTrails, this summer.

StoryTrails, part of UNBOXED: Creativity in the UK, features digital experiences that invite residents to experience Wolverhampton in a completely new way through augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) and an immersive map of the city. On 6 and 7 August, activity is centred around Wolverhampton Library and on the streets of Wolverhampton itself. The city is one of 15 UK-wide locations that StoryTrails is visiting this summer, from Bristol to Dundee.

The augmented reality trail through Wolverhampton, accessed through mobile devices, takes people to the factory floor of Courtaulds Textiles Works, a major employer from 1926 to 1970 whose factory chimneys dominated the city’s skyline, to the glamour of the pink powder room at Beatties department store that was part of the Wolverhampton shopping experience from 1877 until its closure in 2019; as well as offering a taste of window-shopping in the 1960s featuring risqué dresses and hotpants.

The trail was created using film from BBC, British Film Institute and local archives to present a window into the past. Visitors can borrow devices from the library and follow guided augmented reality trails across the two-day event as well as follow the route independently by downloading the StoryTrails app onto their own devices.

Inside the library, the immersive map of Wolverhampton reveals ten stories of local people and familiar landmarks, such as ‘The Man on the Horse’ statue - depicting Prince Albert and unveiled by Queen Victoria herself - and Major’s Fish and Chip Shop - a culinary institution established in 1975. The map was created by Grace Gelder who used 3D scanning of people and buildings to create it. The 15-minute film plays on a loop throughout the day and a further 20 stories can be viewed on iPads in the library.

Grace and Sian Macfarlane, who created the trail, are two of 50 local and emerging creatives around the UK 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).