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12:59pm UK, Saturday February 21, 2009

Katie Stallard, West of England correspondent

As the global recession bites, a group of artists are making the most of the economic downturn - by turning boarded-up shops into temporary galleries. The recession led to many shops in Dursley lying empty - until now

The town of Dursley lives in the shadow of the Cotswolds and has been somewhat downtrodden in recent years. Once home to the largest foundry in Europe, the manufacturing industry now has all but gone, and with it many of the town's dependent businesses. But where some might see only shabby shopfronts - Dursley's artists see opportunity. "Here we're taking shops that have been sliding into decline," project co-ordinator and ceramics sculptor Karen Hilliard told Sky News. The initiative creates a "gallery environment in the shop windows to provide a platform local artists to show their work," she explained.

Britain's streets hit by recession

Gillie Harris is one such artist - she has just finished an exhibition in the window of what was once a photography shop, and it won her a commission.

"I think sometimes people feel a bit daunted about going into galleries, and some galleries can certainly feel that way, but this is open to everyone," she added. The project is funded from the district council's regeneration budget, in close consultation with local landlords. In return for the use of the windows, the artists re-paint and renovate the shop-front, making it more appealing to potential tenants. Dursley councillor Jon Martin accepts it is not a solution to the problems on Britain's high streets, but a step towards regeneration. He said: "It's a big risk for someone to come along and set up a business in a row of empty shops.

"But once that row of shops is full, albeit of art, then it's drawing people and businesses to that area."

'The Dursley Effect', as they hope it will become known, is not expensive to replicate, costing around under 1000 a shop in re-painting and repairs, 80 on lighting, and a 10 fortnightly window clean. Market analysts Experian forecast that by the end of the year one in six retail premises will be empty - the highest level of vacancy since records began. In nearby Stroud the empty Woolworths window has already been promised to the project, and the team hope towns up and down the country will soon follow suit.