Colchester – From Town to City Stories

‘Street Stories’- Augmented Reality Art Trail Transforms the Colchester’s Vacant Units

Our Colchester Business Improvement District (BID) has worked with design agency Arch Creative and Graffio Arts to deliver a spectacular new vacant units project, designed to improve the appearance of empty shops and unused windows in the city and transform them into points of interest. Working with seven local artists spanning a range of styles and mediums, Street Stories celebrates the innovative achievements of pioneering people from Colchester and explores some powerful themes including neurodiversity, identity, mental health, the city’s history and local icons.

The Street Stories Project

A range of visually unappealing units and underutilised spaces in the city centre have been turned into living works of art, and a trail has been created which people can follow around the streets of Colchester in a safe and secure way. These large-scale artworks will be brought to life in visitors hands with an interactive Augmented Reality (AR) twist, where you experience each piece through multi-sensory animation, and triggered by a free downloadable smartphone app.

By moving visitors around the artworks it will encourage footfall across the city centre. The augmented reality feature gives another dimension to the artworks, providing an added draw and making it a great outdoor activity for all ages to engage with.

Arch Creative Director Joe Nixon explains why the project is so important:

“These installations have been a huge success in Leicester and Stirling. Our concept was to create an interactive street museum and highlight some important and less well-known stories to new audiences. We’ve been able to give a platform to Britain’s skilled artists and showcase each city’s talent, character and history. Along with their artistic and cultural value, these pieces have helped drive the local economies, improving the atmosphere along the trails and promoting the empty stores. Most of the vacant spaces end up being filled by new businesses. It really breathes new life into these forgotten spots that would otherwise be sitting empty, perhaps indefinitely.”

Arch Creative developed the Street Stories content, creating seven immersive animations, and have partnered with digital agency Graff.io Arts and their new AR app to complete the experience. Street Stories topics include Colchester legend Damon Albarn of Blur and Gorillaz fame, the city’s agricultural and trade roots shaped by its landscape, Jonathon Prestney’s Movement Space LGBTQ+ community and dance company, and how we break the barriers to connecting with others through art.

Colchester artists of varying style, age and background have been selected for this project. The first seven to be showcased are former busker and current oil painter Maria Barnes, self-taught fluid artist Shristina Manandhar, passionate and elegant Denisa Mansfield, bold colour-and-line artist Ella Blaxill, watercolour and acrylic painter Ann Dowden, large-scale realism sketcher Alice Nicholls and award-winning filmmaker and photographer Eleanor Church.

Street Stories is an inclusive community project which celebrates the diversity and heritage of Colchester, champions local talent and repackages the tourism offer in a modern and memorable way. Street Stories aims to become an innovative and exciting tourist attraction for Colchester city centre.

An Our Colchester ambassador looks on the Street Stories installation

A Brighter Future for Colchester

“We often have found that visitors main feedback for the city centre is the amount of units which appear vacant. This project is a great way to bring some life back into these units and other unused spaces, and advertise their potential for businesses looking to move into Colchester.

A challenge we faced whilst running this project, however, was the lack of available units! Many around the city centre are under contract for businesses moving in or have renovation plans underway, which is great news. The fact that these artworks being installed all centre around the theme of Colchester and its heritage is very fitting for the upcoming city status.

We’re proud of the place in which we live and work and these vibrant artworks which celebrate our city really resonate with what we’re all about We hope these installations bring a sense of pride to the visitors and residents of Colchester and highlight some of the brilliant features we have available to us here.”

Sam Good , BID Manager