Over the last three months I’ve been working on a travelling exhibition project for the BBC linked to their forthcoming TV series Turn Back Time: the High Street. The exhibition, which opens tomorrow, will travel to 11 locations across the UK over the next seven weeks, stopping in at unused shops on high streets across the country.
The programme sees a group of shopkeepers taken back in time to different periods from the 1870s to the 1970s, with the aim of trying to run their shop in that era. So the butcher has to adapt to life in a Victorian butchery, then Edwardian etc, right up to today. Each week the shopkeepers get told their new historical period and are presented with challenges along the way, such as rationing.
The BBC’s learning team have a project called Hands On History, which is about getting people to engage with history in new and interesting ways. As part of the campaign for this programme they commissioned the event production company Innovision, and me, to come up with an interactive, educational history experience that can travel to the pop-up-shops across the country while the show is in transmission.
We’ve created a flexible, modular piece of kit which can be moved each week into spaces of varying sizes. The first part of the ‘experience’ is a recreated 1930s grocer’s shop, complete with counter, till, scales and lots of lovely 30s products. We’ve commissioned interactive live interpretation company Past Pleasures to provide actors in role as a 1930s shopkeeper and customer.
Visitors then get to go into the back room of the shop where they will encounter a range of interactive elements, such as a timeline of the high street, with smelly games and things to touch; a place to record the memories of the high street; a chance to dress up and local resources about the history of the area.
The first shops open tomorrow in Truro and Poole. Do go along if you’re in the south west and take a look at the exhibition. And look out for the tv show starting next week.