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Augmented Reality immersive experience ‘StoryTrails’ to reveal hidden Swansea history

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Two local creative talents, Owen Richards and Jay Bedwani, have been recruited to work on StoryTrails – a unique immersive storytelling experience coming to Swansea.

It’s part of UNBOXED: Creativity in the UK, a ground-breaking nationwide celebration of creativity in 2022.

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StoryTrails allows local people to experience their town in a completely new way through the magic of augmented and virtual reality. People will be able to use this new technology to travel back in time, experiencing untold local histories from Swansea.

These stories will be brought to life in the places where they happened, reanimating public spaces and creating a free, entertaining and playful family-friendly experience.

StoryTrails will visit just 15 locations across the UK, including Swansea on 10-11 August. Led by the National Centre for Immersive Storytelling: StoryFutures Academy, the StoryTrails project has recruited the best and brightest creative talent from the local area to showcase the stories of this community as part of the UK’s largest ever immersive storytelling project.

Owen Richards

Owen Richards will be making an interactive immersive map of Swansea, having spent much of his youth staying with friends in the city and performing in its many venues with his band. Owen has spent ten years as a digital storyteller in the social care sector, and he has been chosen for Channel 4’s Screenwriting scheme, as well has having his short film OVERS broadcast on BBC 2 Wales.

He explained his love of the city by saying “Swansea is a port city, and like the tides, it never stays still. It’s a city of constant motion, growing and changing, drawing people in from across the world. With a rich history and a deep sense of community, Swansea has so much to share.”

He feels StoryTrails can help democratise storytelling, explaining that “Using immersive technology means that people can interact with and contribute to the project, giving them ownership of it.”

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Jay Bedwani

Joining Owen will be Jay Bedwani, whose family gives him a strong sense of connection to Swansea. Jay has been recruited to make an augmented reality story trail around the city.

He is a filmmaker who completed his first feature documentary, Donna, last year, and currently teaches documentary film at Media Academy Cymru.

He said “I love Swansea’s cultural history – the poetry, music and writing that is still infused in the city today.”

He is particularly excited about the chance to use augmented reality to bring the past to life, stating “Utilising new technology to highlight the vibrant and surprising history of Swansea is a dream come true!”

Owen and Jay are part of a team of 50 emerging creative media practitioners who will participate in the StoryTrails project, telling the stories of 15 communities through state-of-the-art immersive technologies in new and surprising ways.

These include 17 practitioners creating augmented reality (AR) story trails across city centres and 15 building immersive installations which will map the emotional geography of a location. In addition, nine creatives will develop the virtual reality (VR) experiences and nine will take on a professional placement in one of the StoryTrails partner organisations.

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The practitioners will be working with unprecedented access to archive material from the BFI, national and regional film archives across the UK as well as the BBC, with the goal of reimagining the UK’s screen heritage for the future. Full training in immersive technologies, such as augmented reality and 3Dscanning, has been provided. They will be supported throughout their journey by experienced producers.

On 10-11 August, audiences will be guided through an immersive tour of Swansea as they explore stories across virtual and augmented reality and via a series of installations created by Owen and Jay.

Outside Swansea’s Central Library, participants will enter the virtual story portal to begin the StoryTrails experience, guided by a free mobile AR app and local performers.

Using stunning AR experiences that remix the BFI and BBC archive, local people will experience history where it actually happened, revitalising the streets upon which they stand with new voices and untold stories of the past.

Inside the library, participants will be immersed in a virtual map of their town that will be made up of 3D models and audio stories captured on location. They will also have the opportunity to explore further stories via bespoke virtual reality experiences.

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Professor James Bennett, Director of StoryFutures and StoryTrails, said: StoryTrails is a massively ambitious project as we travel across the UK to discover unknown, surprising and intriguing stories from local communities.

“We’re excited to work with local creative talent like Jay and Owen to uncover and bring these hidden histories to life, creating a new sense of belonging and immersing audiences in an amazing new way to see themselves, their communities, their towns and country.”

StoryTrails is led by StoryFutures Academy, the UK’s National Centre for Immersive Storytelling.

The centre is at the forefront of training and up-skilling creative media professionals in the use of the next generation of storytelling tools. It is run by Royal Holloway, University of London and the National Film and Television School (NFTS).

StoryFutures Academy say they want to ensure that the UK’s creative industries are not only the best trained in the use of these game-changing technologies but that the future workforce properly represents the full diversity of UK talent.

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TV presenter and historian Professor David Olusoga, Executive Producer for StoryTrails, said: “I am thrilled to be working with StoryFutures to help bring about change in the diversity of our creative industries.

“By enabling 50 diverse creative voices to create compelling stories that combine past, present and future through the magic of immersive technologies, we’ll be mapping a new path for creativity in this country.

StoryTrails will set the public’s imagination alight with experiences that use the poetry of history to inspire a new vision of our future.”

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