The Story Machine at The Mill

The Story Machine is a mini-cinema/puppet booth/video camera which enables a community’s stories to be told, seen and heard more widely and more easily, through a combination of digital technology and engaging ‘low-tech’ activities. I worked with Catherine Greene, Gail Ramster, Alan Outten, Lizzie Raby and Walthamstow artist Michelle Reader to design and create the Story Machine with The Mill, a community centre in Walthamstow, east London, as part of the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design’s role in the Creative Citizens project.

Blog posts explaining the Story Machine in more detail, with photos of the process (part 1, part 2)

Output from the Story Machine on The Mill’s website

▶ A case study of The Story Machine from the Creative Citizens’ Variety Pack: Dan Lockton, Catherine Greene, Gail Ramster, Alan Outten, and Elizabeth Raby, E. (2014) ‘The Story Machine‘ in Dan Lockton, Catherine Greene, Alice Casey, Elizabeth Raby, and Abbie Vickress (Eds.) Creative Citizens’ Variety Pack: Inspiring digital ideas from community projects, London: Royal College of Art, September 2014 (download PDF)

▶ Discussion of The Story Machine in a book chapter on communities’ use and repurposing of technology: Jerome Turner, Dan Lockton and Jon Dovey (2016) ‘Technology and the creative citizen’ in Ian Hargreaves and John Hartley (Eds.), The Creative Citizen Unbound: How Social Media and DIY Culture Contribute to Democracy, Communities and the Creative Economy, Bristol: Policy Press (PDF not currently available)

The Mill provides space and resources for local people to organise groups, events and activities for adults, children and families, ranging from art exhibitions to book clubs to language classes. There was a need for volunteers and participants to be able to share their stories of The Mill, and the activities they take part in—with the existing community, but also to help the centre engage with the wider community, and at the same time provide evidence of The Mill’s impact on its local area to help with future funding applications.

Through a process of collaborative workshops involving volunteers and participants at The Mill, we arrived at the ‘Story Machine’, comprising the Story Chair (a mini-cinema and puppet booth) wirelessly connected to the Story Wheel (an iPad Mini built into a steering wheel). People taking part in activities at The Mill can use the Story Wheel to film and photograph what they’re doing—helping to show the creative energy that is spent every day, in exhibitions, celebrations and workshops. The videos and photos then upload automatically to the Story Chair, where they can be viewed and shared in the centre, and photos are also uploaded to The Mill’s website, ensuring there is an ever-changing kaleidoscope of images of their activities. As The Mill’s Ingrid Abreu Scherer put it, the idea is to “use digital technology to add value to our activities and messages, not to replace them”.

The Story Machine was launched at an exhibition in February 2014, Telling Stories, which encouraged local people to contribute stories of Walthamstow and The Mill, via a postcard wall, and interviewing each other using the Story Wheel. The Story Machine has gradually been incorporated into activities, including a Junior Reporters’ workshop (where young people learned interviewing and reporting skills through using the Story Machine) and use at a range of events, providing an ongoing record of everything that happens at The Mill.