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New technology to bring Bognor Regis’s rich seaside heritage to life


 

The 'Bognor Regis Time Portal' is a brand new, free, innovative arts and cultural experience for the town, using Augmented Reality to bring the past to life. Augmented reality takes history beyond museums and books, and this free and easy-to-use technology will let viewers reimagine Bognor Regis's heritage in the very same spaces as they took place over a century ago and engage with Bognor its rich seaside heritage in a completely new and immersive way. 

 

A brightly coloured, futuristic looking “portal” frame signposts the location of the augmented reality experience, which cannot be seen with the naked eye.  Following instructions on the signage, using their mobile phones or tablets to scan the portal and passing through, audiences will see and hear from Mary Wheatland – working class swimming instructor, bathing machine operator and life-saver credited with saving over 30 lives, and experience the spectacle of three full sized wooden bathing machines positioned on the main beach for the first time since 1923.

 

The “portal” has been designed to stand out, attracting attention and interest from people, drawing them closer to find out more. It has been designed to withstand the rigours of the proposed seafront location, using a material that is robust and easily cleaned.   

 

The physical portal and Augmented Reality art installation will be in place next to decking next to the beach, opposite the old Brewers Fayre site from late March 2024, and the experience goes live at 12 noon on Friday 29th March.  The Bognor Regis Time Portal will run to the end of September 2025. 

 

The Artist

The exciting project is being delivered by Bognor Regis resident Matt Reed, an artist with a wealth of experience of working in various creative fields, including the film and TV industry, architectural glass design, wallpaper design, music video direction, and augmented reality art.   Matt has shown his work in prestigious venues such as the Institute of Contemporary Art and the National Portrait Gallery, and has recently completed his Masters in Architectural and Urban Design. 

 

Speaking about the installation, Matt said, “I’ve been working on this project for the last few years, and, with my team I’m really excited at the prospect of bringing this to my home town, celebrating the heritage of Bognor Regis and the life of incredible local figure, Mary Wheatland.”

 

He added: “We will be launching the work in time for the Easter bank holiday and to mark the 100th anniversary of Mary’s death on the 1st of April. Members of the public will literally be able to step back in time and witness “digital twins” of bathing machines where they once stood on the beach and to encounter a moving, talking holographic rendition of the "Mermaid of Bognor" herself created using state-of-the-art volumetric video.”

 

Working with local partners

In developing the Bognor Regis Time Portal, Matt has taken great care to ensure historical accuracy.  He has worked closely with local heritage experts, including members of the Bognor Regis Heritage Partnership and spent time researching at the Museum.  The script is being developed in conjunction with a local expert on Mary Wheatland, and will be brought to life by a well-known local actor, Vicky Edwards.   Other partners are involved in bringing the installation to a wider audience, including schools and the wider community, with the BID, Artswork and VAAC committing ongoing support. 

 

Audience

While the primary audience for the installation is the residents of Bognor Regis, the installation is likely to attract new visitors to the town.  Heritage can help drive strategic goals around tourism, community engagement, economic development, localism, partnership working and most importantly community pride and developing a strong sense of place. 

 

The use of Augmented Reality technology in this way is very new and has the potential to draw significant attention from the arts and technology communities.  The committed support of Niantic Labs evidences the global interest in and potential growth for the “Time Portal” project trial in Bognor Regis, and it’s been estimated that around 80,000 will explore the installation in a slightly different way through their 8thwall.com website.

 

Funding

The Augmented Reality artwork is as one of three installations being delivered from late March 2024, using funding awarded from Arun District Council’s allocation from the UK Shared Prosperity Fund.  A further development will be the creation of a new thematic Heritage Trail, focused on bathing machines. This will include the proposed AR project on the main beach, the restored, full sized original bathing machine at the Museum and the town council’s miniature machine on display in a new location.

 

The multiple installations form part of a wider project to change perceptions of Bognor Regis, which was identified as a priority by all local partners through the Bognor Regis Town Centre Forum, which includes officer and Elected Members representatives from, BR Town Council, BR Regeneration Board, BR BID, Arun District Council and West Sussex County Council.  While improving perceptions of the town is a shared goal, this particular project is being driven by Bognor Regis BID. 

 

BID COO, Heather Allen said: “Businesses have been really clear that the BID should focus on promoting Bognor Regis as a tourism destination, and changing the way people think about the town.  This project does just that, and it’s really exciting to support an initiative that reflects one of the town core values by celebrating Bognor Regis’s rich heritage in a really future-focused way by embracing the very latest technology.” 

 

Almost 79% of the total costs to deliver the project has been met by generous in-kind support from the creatives, technicians and partners.  This “in kind” support is dominated by Niantic Labs (creators of Pokemon Go) who have agreed to waive 18 months of commercial fees to support the project through their 8th Wall website.  This evidences the commitment, interest and support of creative and local partners to see the "Time Portal" realised in Bognor Regis. Less than £5,000 of UKSPF funding has been committed to the Augmented Reality project. The remaining funding for the project was secured through the support of an Arts Council England award. 

 

Full details of the proposed project are available at: www.brtimeportal.com

 

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