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Stories of musical prodigy and Vietnamese community featured in ground-breaking UK-wide immersive storytelling experience as it comes to London

The stories of the first black person to secure a UK number one, musician Winifred Atwell, and the Vietnamese community in Catford are told in a completely new way through augmented reality trails around Lewisham and Lambeth this September as part of StoryTrails, the UK’s largest immersive storytelling experience.

StoryTrails, part of UNBOXED: Creativity in the UK, features digital experiences that invite residents to experience Lambeth and Lewisham like they have never seen before through augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) and an immersive map of the boroughs. The experiences are centered around Brixton Library on 10 and 11 September and Catford Library on 17 and 18 September and on the streets of both London boroughs and are among 15 UK locations to host StoryTrails this summer.

Born in Lambeth, pianist Winifred Atwell could play Chopin at the age of 6 but despite her talent as a black artist she was not accepted into the world of classical music. She overcame numerous obstacles to become the first black performer with a number one UK hit. In Lewisham, audiences discover how the Vietnamese community made the borough their home after the Vietnam War that ended in 1975, introducing new food and traditions while assisting the much-loved, Catford Cat, an over-sized 3D sign installed on the local shopping center in 1974, to discover one of London’s most diverse boroughs.

The stories are narrated by actor and theater producer Anna Nguyen, of Vietnamese heritage (Lewisham) and actor Robbie Gee (Lambeth) and are among hundreds told through ground-breaking multimedia technologies this summer. They were created using film from the 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 Story-Trails app onto their own mobile phones.

Inside the libraries, immersive maps in each location reveal ten stories of local people and familiar landmarks, such as Lewisham’s Clock Tower; the Migration Museum; The Rec at Cressingham Gardens and Lambeth’s Club Silly. The maps were created by Naresh Kaushal in Lambeth and Nina Perry in Lewisham by 3D scanning the people and buildings that build up a picture of the life and heritage of each location. The 15-minute films play on a loop throughout the day and a further 20 stories can be viewed on iPads in the libraries.

Naresh and Nina, as well as Patricia Lalla and Michelle Hudson, who created the AR trails in Lambeth and Lewisham respectively, are four of 50 emerging creatives from 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 Center 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).

Patricia 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 for Lambeth – a borough with a richly diverse heritage and a strong independent spirit. We’ve unearthed incredible stories of powerful local characters for an amazing local story map installation using new scanning technology.”

Michelle said “We’ve worked closely with BFI and BBC archives and used Augmented Reality to bring to life one of the more hidden communities of Lewisham and make their stories accessible to all. If you don’t have a smartphone you can borrow one on the day – come along to the library in September and you’ll be able to give it all a go, for free.”

Time travel continues inside the libraries across the 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 and StoryTrails Creative Producer 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. David will also be giving a talk on 11 September at 2.30pm in Brixton Library on the historical importance of public places and his forthcoming documentary film.

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.

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 cities 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.”

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 Story-Trails 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 Lambeth
10 September, 10-6pm and 11 September, 11am-5pm
David Olusoga Talk 11 September at 2.30/3.30pm
Brixton Library, Brixton Oval, London, SW2 1JQ

StoryTrails Lewisham
17 September 10am-6pm and 18 September, 11am-5pm
Catford Library, 23-24 Winslade Way, Catford SE6 4JU

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