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David Olusoga launches StoryTrails at Sheffield DocFest 2022 ahead of its UK-wide tour

David Olusoga launches StoryTrails at Sheffield DocFest 2022 ahead of its UK-wide tour

  • Date27 June 2022

On 26 June at Sheffield DocFest 2022, TV presenter, historian and Executive Producer of StoryTrails David Olusoga, took part in an event with Sheffield based creatives to mark the launch of StoryTrails, the UK’s largest immersive storytelling project.


David Olusoga

StoryTrails opens in Omagh on Friday 1 July, the first of 15 stops around the UK, from Dundee to Swansea and from Blackpool to Lincoln.

David Olusoga said: “StoryTrails is something I really care about because it’s about reminding ourselves of those places that are not just special to us, but special to previous generations. The power of using new technologies to imprint stories from the past onto place, onto geographically specific points on the globe is hugely exciting. And, it’s happening right here in Sheffield and across the UK in 2022.”

Professor James Bennett, Director of StoryFutures and StoryTrails, said: “StoryTrails brings together augmented reality, virtual reality and immersive cinema to communities across the country revealing untold stories in places where we’ve never been before. 1000 stories, 15 locations, 4 types of immersive technologies put in the hands of 50 new creatives to bring those stories to life. StoryTrails is about getting people to experience local stories through new technology”.

StoryTrails, part of UNBOXED: Creativity in the UK will tour 15 towns and cities across the UK this year. A team of 50 emerging creatives – a talented and dynamic cohort representative of the UK population were trained by StoryFutures Academy, the National Centre for Immersive Storytelling and then created the project, bringing together diversity and innovation to chart a new course for the future of storytelling. 

Centred around each location’s local library as well as on the streets of the towns themselves, the StoryTrails live events feature digital experiences that allow people to experience their town in a completely new way through the magic of augmented and virtual reality.

For each location bespoke augmented reality trails have been created featuring cine film and video home movie footage and photography from the BBC and British Film Institute, and local and national archives presenting a window into the past. Stories range from the contribution of Slough to the space race, to Sheffield’s environmental pioneer Ethel Haythornthwaite. It includes the untold story of the founder of Joe’s ice cream, Joe Cascarini which celebrates its 100th anniversary in Swansea this year to Dundee’s forgotten Olympians boxer Dick McTaggart and swimmer Cissie Stewart. Visitors can borrow devices from the library and follow a guided augmented reality trail which run on the hour throughout the live events. They can also download the story-trails app on their smart phone and follow the story trail route from outside the libraries.

Ben Luxford, Head of Audiences, BFI said “StoryTrails is like nothing I’ve experienced before, in terms of a truly immersive use of archive, it’s incredibly exciting.”

At each location there will also be a physical installation unique to the town and viewed on a cycloramic cinema screen set up inside the libraries. Immersive virtual maps of the towns have been created using 3D scans of the local buildings, people, objects and areas, telling stories of people and place. This 15-minute film will play on a loop throughout the day. An expanded version of the map can also be viewed on iPads inside the library.

Time travel continues inside the libraries across the two 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.

This innovative project is led by StoryFutures Academy, the National Centre 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.

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.

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.

The Story-Trails app will launch on iTunes and Google Play stores on 1 July with each town’s trail added to coincide with the live events in location.

The app and immersive trail will be available online throughout 2022

Visit for full list of locations.

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