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Library staff help bring new-style Swansea stories to life

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Swansea library staff are at the forefront of a unique new storytelling experience coming to the city this month.

Teams from around Swansea Council’s libraries service are playing their own unique roles in immersive experience StoryTrails.

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It’s part of UNBOXED: Creativity in the UK, a ground-breaking UK-wide celebration of creativity in 2022 and is led by the National Centre for Immersive Storytelling: StoryFutures Academy.

“Our library staff provide the Swansea public with a great service day in day out.

“It’s great that they’re using their talent, skills and dedication to help bring StoryTrails to life in Swansea.

“It will be an amazing two days of fun for local people and I know that families from around the area will enjoy the new experiences it brings.”

Library staff involved include Karen Gibbins, Gwilym Games and Bethan Lee.

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Library services manager Karen Gibbins (Image: Swansea Council)

Library services manager Karen said: “StoryTrails is the UK’s largest ever immersive storytelling project. It’s great for Swansea to be one of the 15 venues and it’s great for us library staff to get involved.”

Local studies and special collections librarian Gwilym said: “StoryTrails will allow local people to experience Swansea in a completely new way through the magic of augmented and virtual reality. They’ll use new technology to travel back in time, experiencing gripping local histories.”

Local studies and special collections librarian Gwilym Games (Image: Swansea Council)

Principal librarian Bethan said: “Our Swansea 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 Swansea Central Library on August 10-11 from 11am -7pm when local creative talent will help showcase the stories.

Digital storyteller Owen Richards is making an interactive immersive map of Swansea. Filmmaker Jay Bedwani is making an augmented reality story trail around the city.

Stories will be brought alive in new and surprising ways with the help of archive material from the BFI, national and regional film archives as well as the BBC.

Swansea’s audiences will be guided through an immersive tour of the city as they explore stories across virtual and augmented reality and via a series of installations.

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Outside the library, visitors will enter a virtual story portal to begin the StoryTrails experience, guided by a free mobile AR app and local performers. Photo ID will be required to borrow equipment for this.

The AR trail, accessed through mobile devices, invites visitors to discover Joe Cascarini’s route to building the now famous Swansea brand Joe’s Ice Cream, from his arrival from Italy in the 1920s, through his supportive relationship with his sister to present day and a digital centenary party to which everyone is invited. 

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 AR trails across the two-day event as well as follow the route independently by downloading the app onto their own devices.  

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

The immersive map reveals 10 stories of local people and familiar landmarks, such as Mumbles Pier, the Swansea.com Stadium and the National Waterfront Museum. 

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The map was created by 3D-scanning 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 library.

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.”

StoryFutures Academy, the UK’s National Centre for Immersive Storytelling, is at the forefront of training and up-skilling creative media professionals in the use of the next generation of storytelling tools.

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It is run by Royal Holloway, University of London and the National Film and Television School (NFTS).

StoryFutures Academy wants 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.

Lead image: Swansea libraries staff – key members of the city’s StoryTrails team. (Image: Swansea Council)

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