Seasonal storytelling with digital technologies


9 minute read
Marisa Harlington

Marisa Harlington

Marketing Manager

Digital Placemaking

Wells high street with people sat outside a cafe

Photo: Krisztina Papp

Our calendar years are defined by the four seasons, and within those fall many diverse occasions – from religious and traditional celebrations like Christmas, Easter, Diwali and Chinese New Year, to local festivals, carnivals and events that are unique to a particular place.

Every year, our high streets are transformed by the big seasonal events as retailers and placemakers vie to attract footfall and stand out amid the competition. It also marks a particularly testing time for parents like me, who have to drag bored children around shopping. 

While we love a family day out in town, I wish there was more than Pokemon Go to keep them entertained. Something that engages everyone, no matter their age. Which got me thinking about the role of place-based, digital seasonal storytelling on our high streets – both as a form of entertainment, but also a way to attract visitors and support the local economy.

While it is true that the Christmas season is a vital period for our high streets – the UK spends more on seasonal gifts than any other European nation – seasonal storytelling is more than the Christmas and Easter scrum. Think of all the religious celebrations, national holidays and local Saints’ days; the sporting events, festivals, carnivals, markets; tribes coming to town such as Whitby goths or a football derby. The UK is full of cultural diversity and there are myriad seasonal events with stories to be told. 

Reimagining high streets through storytelling

Our high streets are evolving to serve a different role in people’s lives and are being reevaluated to meet people’s expectations today. According to BBC analysis of ONS data, British high streets are becoming more than just shopping destinations; they are places people go for experiences.

As a nation of storytellers, our connection to places is embedded in stories about places and our relationship with them. This means storytelling has a central role to play in creating place-based experiences that increase dwell time, boost footfall and connect different high street communities – businesses, local authorities, residents and visitors.

The below examples highlight the wide-ranging ways digital storytelling can be used to revitalise British high streets.

Busy small high street with shoppers and bunting
Photo: Ruby Doan

Easter trails and spring-time bloom

Easter egg hunts have long been a tradition in the ‘real’ world, so it is not surprising that a growing number of towns are incorporating digital Easter hunts into their place strategies. But as they become more common and less of a differentiating factor, the real potential lies in being clever with how those augmented reality (AR) eggs or bunnies can draw attention to specific places and shape a narrative. Incorporating additional elements, like quizzes or prizes, might be able to further enhance engagement with the story.

Spring is also a unique season for nature as flowers bloom and trees regain their greenery, so there will be lots of opportunities to showcase the scenic beauty of town areas. Consider, for example, where bluebells or daffodils can be seen and how a narrative of the town can be told along the way.

The Discover Stroud Trails app, for example, highlights the best locations to see snowdrops and bluebells in the district, ultimately encouraging people to explore and spend time in nearby towns. 

An abundance of spring/Easter/May Bank Holidays around this time also brings long-weekend leisure jaunts and lots of tourist pounds. It is a prime time for places to be creative to support the local economy and increase the likelihood of people revisiting or recommending.

Summer holiday entertainment

With six weeks of school holidays to fill, this is a really key time for places to think about how to bring the summer holiday footfall to their towns.

A nice example of this is Get Suffolk Reading and Lowestoft Town Council’s storytrail for Kensington Park. Developed as part of Love Parks week for families during the summer holidays, the story can be followed by scanning QR codes around the park. A good example of enhancing engagement, an extra interactive element allows children to interact and share their own ideas too.

Character-themed trails like Wonky the Woodpecker trail in Winchester, meanwhile, are a great way to entertain youngsters while highlighting what is interesting about a place (the legend of Wonky dates back to King Alfred). A digital/AR element could easily be applied to offline trails like this to add a new layer of storytelling, making it quick and easy to create Wonky-themed trails for any seasonal event in and around the town.

Families relaxing in park opposite shops in Harrogate
Photo: Illiya Vjestica

Ghosts and gunpowder plots

With autumn comes falling leaves, fireworks displays and an array of menacing and comedic-looking pumpkins in neighbourhood windows up and down the country. The widespread enthusiasm for Halloween makes it a great time for towns to have fun with digital storytelling. This could involve creating trails featuring spooky characters or recounting local ghost and horror stories, such as Dracula at Whitby Abbey or historical tales from Bodmin Jail in Cornwall.

Then Bonfire Night brings with it the story of Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot. It is yet another chance for places to think about how storytelling can complement the usual fireworks displays and bonfire gatherings, and in a way that is interesting and educational as well as entertaining.

This trail in York, which is centred around York in the time of Guy Fawkes, shows how the story could be made unique to a place. Adding an immersive element, like AR explosions or a historical character leading you around, could make it even more exciting.

Christmas and Valentine’s Day

Christmas is arguably the biggest global seasonal event, bringing with it vibrant markets, impressive lights displays and increasingly extravagant shop windows. 

Festive trails featuring elves, reindeer and Santa are created to lead people on hunts around places in the search for hidden characters and clues. But beyond entertainment, these trails usually have a much greater purpose; to encourage people to explore town centres and support local businesses, such as Northampton’s Hi Santa Stops experience.

Similar to the shared experiences created through dressing up, trails like this can help to create a sense of community over the festive period, connecting people with each other, with places and with local businesses. The prize element adds a nice incentive at a time when people are already looking to spend.

Not forgetting the myriad rich stories and traditions to be told at this time; of the roots of St Nicholas and Santa Claus, the nativity and birth of Jesus. This digital nativity trail in Leeds, for example, invited local communities to follow the trail using QR codes and online videos, which could be found in local businesses along the way.

A couple walking down a shopping arcade with Christmas lights
Photo: Dean Xavier

Valentine’s Day arrives with an abundance of hearts, roses, cards and more chocolate, often overshadowing the true meaning behind the occasion. With the origins of Valentine’s Day dating back to the 3rd century and the real truth still unknown, there are many possible stories to be told about the mysterious St Valentine. 

Additionally, there is mythology surrounding other figures associated with the day, such as Cupid and Aphrodite. Wales also has its own celebration of the lesser-known Welsh patron saint of lovers, St Dwynwen, presenting a distinctive opportunity to celebrate its unique heritage at this time through digital storytelling.

Culture and celebration

From annual celebrations like Pride and Notting Hill Carnival, to once-in-a-lifetime events such as the King’s Coronation, there are opportunities to bring stories to our high streets throughout the year.

Think of all the carnivals and processions that take place in towns and villages. Somerset Carnivals, for example, is an ancient tradition that dates back to the 1600s. Now a popular showcase of fireworks, street processions, fairgrounds and street food, adding a digital layer of storytelling – perhaps QR codes to unlock stories about different locations along routes – would give people something new to do while ensuring its history lives on amid the annual hubbub. 

Large parade float on theme of 'samba', covered in lights
Photo: Somerset Carnivals

Cam & Dursley’s AR storytrail for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee Beacon, meanwhile, used magical characters to tell stories from the Queen’s 70-year reign. Not only an example of how high streets can harness the power of storytelling to mark nationally-celebrated events, this type of digital experience would also work well to tell the stories of famous locals, past and present.

Seasonal occurrences like Whitby Goth Weekend, Bristol International Balloon Fiesta and Edinburgh Fringe Festival also present key opportunities to create digital experiences that tell the story/history of unique place-based events and draw people to surrounding high streets. Finding ways to engage locals is just as important as attracting visitors.

Challenges and place-based solutions

Given a major issue for high streets and town centres is that the tourism offer is often at the expense of supporting local identity – i.e. tourists coming for an event and not engaging or spending in the town – place-based storytelling is well-positioned to address this challenge.

As demonstrated with the examples above, there are various ways digital storytelling can be used to encourage people to explore a place and support the local economy throughout the year. It is a core pillar of Calvium’s Place Experience Platform (PEP), which supports placemakers to do that easily and flexibly, enabling the creation of trails, hunts and quizzes for special days, weeks or seasons.

Screengrabs of the Warminster pumpkin hunt

Warminster Town Council, for instance, used PEP to create a seasonal pumpkin hunt as part of the Explore Wiltshire app. It is a prime example of how time-targeted content can strengthen a place’s tourist offer while fostering connections between high street communities.

Community co-creation is key to the success of creating digital place-based storytelling experiences like this. This is not only in our experience, but something reinforced by the High Streets Task Force, which recognises the importance of considering the “unique history and lived experiences of local communities in forming place narratives, rather than employing a more detached top-down branding approach.”

Final thoughts

With digital technologies continually adding fresh opportunities for visitor engagement, our high streets must adopt the evolving opportunities fostered by digital storytelling.

For all its many benefits, storytelling has a crucial role to play in helping high streets to become the places of experience that people want them to be. Placemakers that can harness digital technologies imaginatively, therefore, will be better placed to meet and exceed expectations while hitting their KPIs and ensuring the long-term sustainability of high streets. 


Contact Calvium to discuss how we can bring dynamic digital functionality to your seasonal storytelling.

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