Glastonbury Abbey: Storytelling through Immersive Heritage Practice

AHRC funding was awarded for a second follow-on project (2022-3) which harnessed the research to support Glastonbury Abbey’s post-Covid recovery. The aim was to shift interpretation towards a ‘mixed reality’ approach to immersive storytelling, engaging especially with the family audience segment, through a combination of digital delivery, live (costumed) performance and interactive heritage trails.

We worked in collaboration with two Creative Industries partners – Arcade immersive heritage and Thread architects – to develop two integrated but independent immersive components: (1) a mobile storytelling app for explorer families (with child age range of 9 to 14 years), that would interact with (2), a route of stational markers that could also function as a wayfinding trail for visitors who may not wish to engage with digital technology (e.g. spiritual pilgrims). The ambitious brief demanded that the storytelling narrative should balance education with play, respect the spiritual ethos of the sacred heritage site, and observe the importance of authenticity grounded in archaeological research.

A series of Knowledge Exchange workshops were held at Glastonbury Abbey, involving their learning staff in co-creation of the AR App ‘Glastonbury Stories’, which combines archaeology with gamification.

The app is complemented by a trail of stational markers that help to orientate visitors by acting as visual points within the landscape, while also providing the physical location for QR codes. In addition, the markers function independently as a wayfinding trail for visitors who do not wish to use the app but may enjoy a creative, non-digital experience. Our research identified the importance of authenticity of materials, both for the markers and the related QR codes. The ideal solution for markers was to use fragments from Glastonbury Abbey’s collection of medieval stone sculpture, while the app reads QR codes based on medieval ceramic floor tiles excavated from the abbey. The heritage trail is being piloted with temporary markers comprising medieval worked stone fragments placed on black timber pallets. Further experimental work is in progress, including 3D printing of replica sculptures in different materials and the creation of a prototype armature for one stone fragment, before seeking formal permissions and funding for the full heritage trail.

© Arcade