Paranormal Study at Oldham Coliseum Theatre

In Search of Harold Norman and Friends.....

A design project in development with the Oldham Coliseum Theatre to transport their resident ghost Harold Norman to their new theatre space down the road for when it opens in 2020. The early stages of the project have been to investigate the history of paranormal sightings and encounters in the historic theatre space. Through accounts from a local expert and eye witness testimonies from those that have worked in the theatre over the years its been fascinating compiling the local knowledge and correlating experiences with architectural and interior spaces.

The project so far has taken me to the Oldham Local Studies and Archives centre to investigate news reports from the time of Harolds death on stage during a fight scene accident whilst playing MacBeth. To Cornwall and the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic in Boscastle to meet with experts and investigate the art of catching and containing ghosts in bottles through their museum of occult artefacts and library archive.

For the next stage of the project I need to find Harold in the theatre space (or what is interpreted as his presence) and also encounter some of his 'friends' (accounts that relate to other ghosts/ anomalous experiences that have been sensed in the auditorium, front of house, corridors, stairways and backstage). In order to do this I will conduct a series of studies with paranormal psychologist colleagues from the psychology department at Manchester Metropolitan University to determine the location of encounters and what is happening in those spaces in relation to the atmosphere created by the design of the environment. This study will be part of a number of similar events that contributes to the development of a 'psycho-spatial' database that defines parameters for measuring experiential phenomena and the understanding of how the design of the environment influences the perception of anomalous encounter.

This study will collect data measuring psychological and parapsychological perceptions and cognitions of buildings and locations reported to be haunted. Participants will be taken on a tour of the building through a series of locations that have either been identified as having reported paranormal activity or are neutral spaces. Responses to these locations will be captured through a questionnaire in order to document experiences, also to establish psychometric parameters to help frame research data, for example questions will use the Australian Sheep Goat Scale (ASGS) (Thalbourne and Delin, 1993), Haunting short scale (8 items) (Drinkwater et al., 2015) and the Survey of Anomalous Experiences (Irwin, Dagnall & Drinkwater, 2013). 

This study will also use biometric and environmental measuring to correlate physical response to environmental ‘paranormal’ qualities. The study will help to identify factors that influence the perception of anomalous occurrences and to define and translate subjective and analytical data into the development of new design concepts/parameters. Collected data will map the territory of parapsychology and outline variations in paranormal phenomena, providing novel insights for mental health and wellbeing in response to spatial phenomena. This is consistent with contemporary work examining the anomalous (Irwin, 2009) (e.g., haunted locations), which has established associations between the designed environment through staged haunted experiential scenarios and its effect on wellbeing and behaviour (Anette et al., 2016). 


Annett, M. et al. (2016) The Living Room: Exploring the Haunted and Paranormal to Transform Design and Interaction. Proceedings from 2016 ACM Conference ‘Designing Interactive Systems’, Brisbane, Australia, pp1328-1340.

Bem, D. J., Palmer, J. and Broughton, R. S. (2001) Updating the Ganzfeld Database: A Victim of Its Own Success? The Journal of Parapsychology65. pp.207–218.

Epstein, S.; Pacini, R.; Denes-Raj, V. & Heier, H. (1996). "Individual differences in intuitive-experiential and analytical-rational thinking styles". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 71: 390–405. 

Irwin, H.J. (2009) The Psychology of Paranormal Belief: A Researchers Handbook, University of Hereford Press.