Luton's Museum Of Stories: Bury Park community tales showcased in new audio app tour of town
and live on Freeview channel 276
A new app is bringing Luton’s community stories to the centre stage.
Museum of Stories is a digital community project set in Bury Park, Luton. The free application includes timed walks taking place daily at 4pm and 6pm from September 11 to 16.
The audio-based app features 12 five-minute audio dramas which take place over a large time frame. The project is being co-produced by playwright Fin Kennedy, and creative consultant Shemiza Rashid.
Fin set his sights on trying his hand outside of the theatre industry after spending 10 years as a writer in residence at an east London secondary school. He said: “That ignited a passion for telling community-type stories and working with non-professional actors.
"During the Covid lockdown, the theatre was decimated but audio drama could still be recorded. I set up Applied Stories, a digital production company, that makes place-based audio dramas with community casts.”
Fin added: “This project combines different strands of my experience, from the structure and dialog of dramatic script writing to nurturing community writers and actors, and also the technical sound editing and the outbuilding. I’m motivated by taking stories out into the real world, and that’s more possible than ever now with technology. It’s an exciting time.”
Fin had previously supported his co-producer Shemiza when she was producing her first theatre production at the Hat Factory. The two of them worked with Titilola Dawudu to write the audio dramas.
Shemiza said: “My career path has always had creativity and people at its core; enabling, empowering, and engaging voices to be heard in spaces where they wouldn't typically be given a platform. Museum of stories was the perfect project to place a magnifying glass on these beautiful stories that could easily be lost in time.”
Fin added: “It was always Bury Park in mind. I knew Luton a little bit after touring shows in the Hat Factory, but I was so struck about Bury Park being its own thriving independent high street. There are no chain stores, and it’s always really promising because families and generations are behind these places.”
The concept began around two years ago with a commission from Revoluton Arts, a project that hosts grassroots events in Luton.
Fin added: “We set up the phone line which we advertised locally, anyone could call and share stories. We then reached out to contributors and formed a steering group, pairing the entries with professional writers so that they could perform their own stories.
“We used most of the stories, and I was astonished by the quality and range of the submissions. The entries that we got were really representative, and I was anxious that we’d have to make difficult decisions because of the limited budget. It’s such a fascinating way of getting under the skin of an area.”
The co-producers had previously considered the idea of centring the project around ghost stories. Shemiza commented: “One of the submitted stories is located in Alexandra Opticians on Dunstable Road.
“This story makes me chuckle because when I originally met Fin and he approached me about the idea, he said he wanted to create a ghost story walk through the buildings of Bury Park. I said that isn’t happening, I don’t want to be involved in the project if we talk about ghosts. Well, he got what he wanted and a ghost story is included. Hear the story for yourself through the app, and tell us what you think.”
Aspects of the 12 stories were researched by local historian Jackie Gunn, who was approached by Fin. Jackie said: “My dad was very interested in history, and my mum was born in Dunstable Road but moved to Bury Park Road and spent most of her life there. When Fin appealed for stories around that area, straight away I had a lot of stories to tell him.”
Jackie compiled an A-Z folder with the unused data she had collected. She added: “It was mostly made from census records, land registry, newspaper articles going back a number of years, and knowing people that particularly had a memory at the time - especially my mum. I backtracked on certain people she knew and compiled it together into a combination of stories.”
Another story submitted by Fahim Qureshi relives the racial tensions in the 80s and 90s at Luton Central Mosque. Fin said: “The benefit of time and hindsight does a lot - the storyteller who submitted that story reflects on it and is able to locate that period in the development of his own life and his own generation who were politicised by it.
"It gave birth to community initiatives and grassroots projects to stick up for communities in the face of national front marching and discriminatory policing. He ends his story with the full circle news that his son is currently training to join the police himself.”
In the eyes of those involved, there is no substitute for local voices. Luton’s Deadpool, a well-known figure within the Luton community, weighed in on the new app. He said: “I’ve been using the app this morning, honestly it’s beautiful listening to the stories.
"We forget sometimes that history isn’t just built on wars, it is people's real lives and what the Museum of Stories has done is bring to life the stories from people who live here. It’s endearing to listen to this and get a feel for what things used to be like in this ever-changing world that we live in.”
Both Fin and Shemiza agreed that they would like to expand the project in the future. Shemiza concluded: “I would love the opportunity to expand the project and build this wonderful museum and audio gallery into something bigger. We are made of something really remarkable and special in Luton.”
The app will remain online until the end of 2023. Tickets for the timed walks can be booked via Eventbrite.