The world is changing, fast.

There is new technology, new fashions and new tastes.

We hear about it on the news every day, but we see it perhaps most noticeably on our high streets.

Colchester, like every other town in the UK, is being impacted by the crisis on the high street.

Almost 2,500 shops were lost from top 500 UK high streets in 2018 and the trend is continuing.

However, Colchester is blessed with a healthy mix of big global names and small independents.

And a key player in Colchester’s success story is the South Lanes Project.

The project was instigated in March to tackle the problems facing retailers.

The community-led initiative was set up by business consultant Neil Gibb to transform the south side of Colchester into a thriving social and economic area.

The area covers St Isaac’s Walk, Eld Lane and the surrounding streets.

It is run by the people of Colchester, for the people of Colchester, and over the past nine months has seen considerable successes.

Mr Gibb said: “What we realised was Colchester’s greatest asset is the network of small streets and lanes which contain a hive of small businesses, community projects and unique one-off cafés and independent shops.

“Individually each enterprise might be small, but collectively they offer something totally unique – experiences you can’t find in other towns nearby and certainly can’t get on the internet.

“The South Lanes Project is an exercise in what is known as place making. What we realised is in the internet age simply having chain shops is not enough.

“What place making is about is a creating a sense of identity and destination people are really drawn to,a rich and unique experience you can’t get anywhere else.”

The team built their strategy on what they called the three Cs – community, creativity, and commerce.

A number of events have been held to attract people to this particular area of town and Mr Gibb said the response has been phenomenal.

He said: “From small beginnings at a meeting in MetroBank in March the project built and built.

“Over the course of nine months we experimented with late-night opening, worked with stores to look at how they could become more social and experiential, put on events, filled empty stores with art, encouraged street musicians and acts.

“In less than a year the South Lanes brand has become known everywhere from central Hovernment to local people.

“We have been backed by both the Government’s minister for high streets and his counterpart in the opposition.

“We have been asked to write about the project by Retail Week and were visited by the Save The High Streets Project.”

One of the great success of the South Lanes project is the After Dark programme.

After Dark tackles what is called the twilight issue – how do you attract and keep people in town as the days ends, especially in the dark nights of winter?

After Dark started as a series of free films in venues like Tymperleys in Trinity Street and has its first big event at Colchester Arts Centre on Thursday with a showing of the cult movie Blue Velvet.

In November, the South Lanes project was shortlisted as a Rising Star on the Great British High Streets – securing one of just 28 places in the UK.

It was the only project in East of England to make the cut.

Neil said: “We hope we win. As well as prestige it will generate £15,000 of needed funds to support the development of the project going forwards.”

An analysis of the value of the brand found it was upwards of £1million and the project is still only in its infancy.

Neil has big plans for the future. He said: “It’s hard - or perhaps too upsetting - to imagine big stores like Fenwick or Debenhams closing.

“Both are working hard to turn around their fortunes.

“But the days of big box retailers being a draw into town are over as the internet and out-of-town centres with lots of parking draw shoppers away.

“In the next few years we are going to see huge changes in what was the traditional make-up of the high street.”

What is needed next is investment by the people, the council and Business Improvement District.

Neil said: “We need the backing of the council, particularly the formal endorsement and support for the South Lanes brand with marketing, street signage and maps in the area.

“We need investment from the Business Improvement District (BID).

“The BID has about £500,000 to spend each year in improving the centre of town. About £25,000 is ear market for independents.

“Given the collective value and significance of the South Lanes to Colchester’s future, this amount needs to increase.

“The South Lanes is an opportunity for Colchester to be ahead of the curve.

“What we have is the opportunity to create ‘The Colchester model’ – a benchmark for how town centres can be transformed into thriving communities in the age of the internet.

“Together, we can do this.”