The Creative Hub, The Storey Meeting House Lane Lancaster, LA1 1TH

Digital Stories

An imitating the dog and The National Festival of Making collaboration

Digital Stories is a new creative project led by two Lancashire based arts organisations, theatre company imitating the dog and The National Festival of Making

The project was an opportunity for recent arts graduates to collaborate with an experienced storyteller Emily Hennessey and digital artist Virpi Kettu to develop their digital skills and turn their stories into brand new web-based work. 

The participants, Ian Mathison, Juvairiyya Patel, Christian Bell and his daughter, Evelynn explored their own personal stories, rooted in their connections to Blackburn and Darwen. Working with Emily and Virpi, they each developed their own, unique narratives and storyboarded their ideas, before working with video, stop-motion animation and animation of still photography with 3D effects to create their short films, which are now available to view online.

Each piece in its own, personal way offers individual perspectives on people, place and art in the heart of communities. Sparked by the participants’ stories, encouraged and developed with the mentoring of Emily and Virpi, the films are available to watch, enjoy and take inspiration from. 

Digital Stories was made possible with funding from Arts Council England and Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council.

With thanks to The Making Rooms, Blackburn

Find out more about the mentors, artists and companies further down. 


“The support and mentoring of Virpi has been great, helping with recording my video and editing, etc. I was always able to ask questions which is important to me. The relationship with everyone was also amazing and important to me”

“I was born in Blackburn with special needs and a love for art. My imagination comes from within and the art I produce it’s about me and my feelings: emotions, happy and sad. Disability doesn’t stop me. I want to be an inspiration to all people. Nothing should stop you doing what you love.

In this performance I use BSL (British Sign Language). My hands are covered in paint, and sign words and phrases that are important to me.”



Christian & Evelynn

“The support [and] mentoring we have received throughout this project [has] opened our minds to different ways of sharing our individual interests both professionally and personally. We’ve enjoyed the whole experience of working on something together and bridging my professional life with my personal life as a father.

“When Christian and his 9 year old daughter, Evelynn visited an art exhibition in Blackburn Mall, Christian was interested in the artwork, but he noticed Evelynn was much more attracted to a monumental display of bubblegum machines, right outside the exhibition space. 

They started to chat about which things and places were meaningful to them, and others which didn’t hold much significance at all… 

For this project, using collage and stop motion animation, Evelynn created a narrative between symbols and places in the Blackburn and Darwen area which mean something to both herself and her Dad, creating a dreamscape of significant insignificance.”



“My favourite part of the project was the collaboration and interaction with other artists and the team. My story is one of a growing love for my adopted hometown, going from where I was, to where I am now.”

“Some people have described this film as a love story, but for me it’s three love stories. It tells tales of how I found a lifelong passion for the view from behind the camera; of finding love and settling down in Blackburn; and of discovering that my adopted hometown is so much more than just another high street at risk of being sacrificed to the neon and Perspex cladding of consumerism. 

From where I was to where I am, in a place where I belong.

Just slow down and look up!”


More on who’s involved in Digital Stories…

imitating the dog

imitating the dog have been making ground-breaking work for theatres and other spaces for 20 years. The company’s work has been seen across the world, and their work for outdoor festivals and events has been seen by hundreds of thousands of people.

As a company, imitating the dog are most interested in telling stories. The aim is to create beautiful, memorable images for audiences, and the work fuses live performance with digital technology, in order to serve the story in the best possible way. The work is always fresh and often surprising. 

Festival of Making

The National Festival of Making is a unique celebration of all things ‘MAKING’ from the kitchen table to the factory floor. Presenting a programme of work that combines Art, Manufacturing, Making and Communities, we commission international and national artists to create a year round programme of original commissions, world class works, projects and a participatory free festival for all to enjoy. There has been no festival weekend during 2020 & 2021. Instead, we have developed a new programme of work to continue bringing cultural experiences to our participants and audiences.

Virpi Kettu

Virpi Kettu is a film director and animator working extensively in the EU and Canada. Her portfolio includes animation for the Walace and Gromit Oscar winning feature film ‘Curse of the Were-Rabbit’ and ‘Shaun the Sheep’. She has also worked with DreamWorks, Passion Pictures and Universal Pictures in animation, consulting, production and directing.

In 2012 she founded Kettu Studios, an Animation and Film Production studio in collaboration with exceptional artists based in Canada and EU. Kettu Studios was created to connect skills and experience in the animation and film industry to a worldwide network of talented freelance friends.

Emily Hennessey

Emily Hennessey is a bold and dynamic performance storyteller who tells myths, epics, folktales and wondertales from across the world. 

With a Swedish background, Emily has a particular passion for Norse mythology and Scandinavian folktales. Work and travels in India have also infused a great love of Hindu myth and epic.

Emily has toured in India, Iceland and Japan and performed at venues and festivals across Europe.

Juvairiyya Patel

Juvairiyya Patel is a Deaf and Disabled Artist living in Blackburn. She is a recent graduate of Blackburn College where she completed her Fine Art degree. She has a strong connection to Blackburn as her artwork and experiences have all been in and around Blackburn.

Christian & Evelynn Bell

Evelynn has grown up in Pendle with her Dad, Christian. As a practicing emerging artist working in Blackburn, Christian has introduced Evelynn to areas of Blackburn and Darwen which have been relevant to the narrative of his development as a recently graduating artist. Through this process, Evelynn has been given the freedom to develop her own exciting narrative via stop motion animation. 

Ian Mathison

Liverpool born Ian Mathison is a multi-disciplinary artist who moved to Blackburn in 1993. From the early 1980s, Ian balanced a career in business with life as a semi-professional photographer which became a full time occupation in 2012. Having completed his degree in Fine Art this year, Ian now describes himself as photographer, printer, painter and poet. He is married to Karen with three grown up children, one granddaughter, three dogs and two cats.


  • Producer: Kate Beard
  • Assistant Producer: Daisy Williamson
  • Artists: Emily Hennessey & Virpi Kettu
  • Creators: Juvairiyya Patel, Christian Bell and his daughter, Evelynn, Ian Mathison
  • With thanks to The Making Rooms, Blackburn