Sussex students help create treasure hunt inspired by local history for Brighton Festival
By: Stephanie Allen
Last updated: Friday, 24 May 2019
A treasure hunt will take place through the streets of Hangleton this weekend, after students and staff from the University of Sussex successfully collaborated with a local storyteller for the Brighton Festival.
Final-year undergraduates from the department of History were offered the chance to apply their learning by researching and presenting material on Hangleton’s history, which Brighton-based storyteller Jon Mason would then weave into a themed event.
Overseen by course leaders Professor Lucy Robinson and Dr Chris Warne, students threw themselves into the challenge, devising puzzles and story elements and using digital technology to present their ideas producing content which will be viewable to participants through their phones.
The work has resulted in a ‘Time Travel Treasure Hunt’; an interactive adventure for families in Hangleton tomorrow (Saturday 25 May) which will share stories about heroes, villains and folktales from the area's past.
Laura Barrow, an undergraduate student in History with a year abroad, said: “The Hangleton project was a great way to round off the year and continue to explore my interests in digital history and interactive media.
“I really enjoyed working with my group and learning about the area. Devils Dyke railway and Hangleton has some rich history which I wouldn't known about if we hadn't done this project.
“The tutors and our professional storyteller did a fabulous job guiding us through this process.”
The event takes participants on a search for fragments of the ‘Chronoscope’, a lost time machine credited to real-life local inventor Magnus Volk. Malevolent forces are trying to control the City's past, present and future by finding the time machine first, but a Time Agent has enlisted the treasure hunters to beat them to it!
At each step, the narrative is joined by spies, ghosts, thrill seekers and other figures from the local past, making it not just a tour of the physical space, but a journey through local history.
Participants will also be challenged to think about Brighton & Hove's contested identity over time, considering whether Brighton is a rural village or a wealthy resort, a Bohemian metropolis or a conservative suburb. Even if the hunters find all the pieces of the Chronoscope, they must decide how they want the City to be.
Storyteller Jon Mason said: "Events like this are why I became a storyteller in the first place, I want to engage everyone with the drama, magic and depth of history in the landscape around them.
“It's easy to write off somewhere you're familiar with as boring, and that affects how we feel about ourselves. But everywhere has its own story, and the people who came before us leave marks which can define our life."
The Time Travel Treasure Hunt is part of the Brighton Festival’s Our Place programme, a day of free events at Hangleton Community Centre on 25 May. A parallel day of events was also held at Whitehawk on Saturday 18 May. The idea of Our Place is to bring family-friendly theatre, dance, music, games, activities and workshops into smaller communities, and involve local residents in planning and staging the events.
Megan Sweeney, a student in Anthropology and History, said: “I enjoyed exploring what history can be and do in the real world outside of university, through both traditional storytelling and the digital medium.
“I feel more involved in the community outside the centre of Brighton now; an area I would probably never have been to if I hadn't been a part of this project.
“It feels good knowing that our research helps extend the Festival so that it feels more inclusive to smaller community areas like Hangleton.”
Lucy Robinson, Professor of Collaborative History, said: "We are committed to genuinely collaborative relationships with the wider community and feel it is important for students to reflect on their place in Brighton and Hove as a community beyond the university campus towards the end of their time studying here.
“Rather than coming up with projects in the isolation of the University and then 'exchanging' them with communities, we see ourselves as part of the community, engaged in the co-production of questions about history and responses to them.
“There is a particular resonance with Our Place as it was put in place during poet and musician Kate Tempest's curatorship of the festival; a very real example of how the arts and popular culture can drive social change. Our Place breaks down the artificial lines between 'high art' and popular culture; this seems a close match with Sussex history's focus on bottom-up, everyday and resistant histories that take popular culture seriously as a driver for historical change.”
After the event Professor Lucy Robinson and Dr Chris Warne will analyse the relationship between the academic research undertaken, Jon's narrative, and the participants' experiences.
The Treasure Hunt runs at 11am and 1.30pm (duration 60-90mins) on Saturday 25 May 2019. Starting place: Hangleton Community Centre, ages 6+, FREE ENTRY.