Rolling through towns across the nation during the scorching summer of 2022, the UK’s largest immersive storytelling experience took over public libraries to tell local stories told by local communities through a series of AR walking trails. From Omagh to Dundee, Swansea to Slough, Lambeth to Lewisham, the public were invited to step through time and space to experience history where it happened. Building on our longstanding vision to bring Augmented Reality to wider audiences and reanimate public spaces through immersive storytelling, the mammoth project resulted in the building of 16 unique AR Trails and 15 AR Cinemas. Find out how this was done below.


The project was commissioned as part of Unboxed: Creativity in the UK, the festival celebrating creativity across England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, through a series of free events and TV, radio and digital experiences. We successfully achieved funding to be one of the 10 projects in the festival in a pitch to bring an original, large-scale installation to the attention of a global audience. This was guided by a collective passion for immersive storytelling and the belief that this medium could spread a shared sense of identity across the UK. The project was led by StoryFutures Academy and delivered alongside our esteemed partners, the BFI, broadcaster and filmmaker, David Olusoga, the BBC, Uplands Television, ISO Design, with cutting-edge technology provided by our long-term collaborators, Niantic. The experience was brought to life in The Reading Agency’s national network of libraries with help from Produce UK.

Our Approach

To create a multi-location, community-driven, AR experience that is both educational and entertaining, the team honed in on the key components of the project. Led by Creative Director, Kim-Leigh Pontin the experience was built with accessible consumer tech at the forefront meaning it had to be easily available to anyone who wanted to take part, while the content itself had to be authored and speak to different communities, rather than a set of homogenised stories that an algorithm could come up with. This resulted in local storytellers creating stories about local heroes, and then the communities themselves contributing their own stories throughout the experience. 

Alongside being accessible, the design also needed to be empathetic, with multiple points for participants to interact with users who are given numerous chances to connect to the story by placing themselves inside it. One experience contained an encounter with a giant typewriter at a challenging moment for the story’s protagonist, this posed a question to the participants, at the end of the trail the walkers were able to see their response surrounded by their community’s, presented as a light sculpture of hope, displaying the collective hopes and ambitions of the community.

The Nuts & Bolts

Along with StoryFutures, the Nexus Studios team trained up to 50 creatives from across the country to tell the stories of 15 communities by integrating archive material from the BFI, regional film archives and the BBC into site-specific locations using state-of-the-art technology. The team harnessed Niantic’s recently launched Lightship VPS (visual positioning system) for this experience, this technology localises virtual objects without the need for QR codes or markers, allowing permanent objects or structures such as monuments, public art and signage along the trail, to become Wayspots and host intelligent AR experiences with accurate precision.


The results were astounding, with millions of people engaging with the stories in-person and through the BBC2 special The Peoples’ Piazza. We were thrilled that 38% of visitors were new to Immersive technology, with the AR component proving particularly engaging. It was also successful in reigniting public spaces, including local libraries with 71% of visitors saying they were more likely to return following the events and 155 librarians across the country training in immersive storytelling and gaining the skills to be able to run scanning and trail workshops.


Kicking off the StoryTrails tour in Northern Ireland, with an exploration of the reasons why people have moved away from Omagh, throughout the last six decades. Locals, Kathy Dunphy and James McAnespie shared their optimism for the future of the town, while the trail itself was narrated by well-known Northern Irish genealogist, Vincent Brogan.


Detailing the life of local ice cream vendor, Joe Cascarini, the story followed Joe’s journey as an Italian immigrant arriving in Swansea during WWII to becoming a beloved local celebrity as the owner of Wales’ oldest Ice Cream parlour, Joe’s Ice Cream, narrated by actress Michelle McTernan. Participants of the tour were gifted a voucher to try one of Joe’s specialities.


Visitors experienced the incredible history of Winifred Atwell. The gifted young pianist could play Chopin at the age of 6 but because of racial bias was not accepted into the world of classical music. Through grit and determination, she went on to become the first black artist to have a number one in the UK charts with ‘Winnie’s Honky Tonk Walk’!

What’s Next

The scale of these experiences along with the quality is increasing all the time given advancing technology in visual positioning systems like Niantic’s Lightship VPS and Google’s ARCore Geospatial API, while the fidelity and detail included in this work are improved through the vast leaps made in the fields of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Neural Radiance Field (NeRF), fully-connected neural networks that can generate views of complex 3D scenes, based on a partial set of 2D images.

Community-based projects emphasise local stories and are important because they celebrate our commonalities and our differences. Interactive stories give storytellers and participants a sense of agency, an understanding that their point of view and experience of life matters. This is a crucial difference between linear mediums and future storytelling experiences.