A RUNDOWN empty shop is being taken over by an arts organisation, as the latest phase of a successful regeneration project.

Slack Space Colchester, a volunteer-led arts group which puts empty shops to creative use, will open in the former Marc Jason Shoeworld shop in Queen Street, Colchester, next month.

The group has a short-term lease from Colchester Council to take over the ground floor of the large shop, which has stood empty for many years.

The terms of the lease mean if a business shows an interest in the building, the arts organisation will get just a month’s notice to move out.

Paul Smith, councillor responsible for resources, culture and the arts, explained: “Slack Space moves around as premises become available. It sets up shop until someone wants to move in.

“It is great for regeneration and encouraging shoppers to an area.

“The group has already attracted more than 13,000 people to its site in Long Wyre Street.

“That’s 13,000 extra people in the area, making it look more attractive to retailers.

“Many of those people will probably stop and shop nearby while they are there. Slack Space has really helped to keep things going during the recession.”

Mr Smith described the Shoeworld shop, previously Keddies department store, as “tired” and said it had proved difficult to attract a new leaseholder.

He added: “It has been hard because the premises are not very attractive.

“It is a little bit out of the main shopping centre for a start, and the whole area is in need of regeneration.”

Slack Space, which is fostered by arts organisation, Firstsite, is vacating its Long Wyre Street shop on Saturday, because Specsavers is taking up the lease to open a second local branch.

Michelle Reynolds, chairman of Colchester Retail Business Association, welcomed the move.

She said: “We don’t want to see empty spaces in Colchester.

“It’s not good for the town and if Slack Space is happy to use the space, on the understanding it has to move out if a retailer wants to go in there, then that is great.

“At least the space is being used and if we can attract people, even if it is just one or two, by filling the space rather than leaving it empty, then we should do it.”

Abby Cheverst, from Slack Space, said: “We aim to brighten up slack spaces in Colchester and if our time at Long Wyre Street has encouraged people to look at the location favourably, then part of our job is done.

“However, as one door closes another opens and the Shoeworld location is one we have had our sights on for many months.”