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Arts centre in Colchester anchors regeneration

Colchester's new arts centre - firstsite - with Andy Warhol exhibition

Colchester's arts centre, firstsite, designed by Rafael Vinoly Architects and completed by MACE and Jackson Coles, has provided a visitor draw and an anchor for the regeneration of St Botolph's area and East End.

The area is historic with the centre near the old Norman Castle, Roman Wall and quirky areas such as the Dutch Quarter. However, there has been some decline over the last two decades with the closing of the Keddies department store.

Now that the arts centre has been built, a further development will be completed by 2017 and will see a three screen Curzon cinema, new hotel and restaurants. This will bring jobs and activity to this important area of the town.

The arts centre building sits on one of the first Roman settlements in Britain, hence the centre's name. A mosaic floor dating from that period has been restored and forms a permanent exhibit.

No less exotic is the golden metal exterior of the building, a tall glazed wall through which visitors enter and an auditorium lined with fabric diamonds.

The centre presents a varied and challenging programme of exhibitions, commissions, residencies and screenings in a broad range of media and art forms. firstsite is partnered with Plus Tate, an 18-strong affiliation of regional galleries, including The Baltic at Gateshead, Turner Contemporary in Margate and The Hepworth, Wakefield.

The arts centre is fast becoming an international centre for the visual arts and a new cultural, social and commercial space for Essex and the region. The 180 seat auditorium, meeting rooms and function space can be hired for conferences, presentations and product launches.

Colchester is one of the fastest growing towns in the country and is poised to become a strong centre for the creative and digital industries. The nearby police station to firstsite has been remodelled to provide work space for up to 40 small firms and this has been 90% pre-let even before the opening.

It is part of a drive to attract highly skilled creative professionals from London to settle in the town and this has proved popular in reaction to the capital's housing price boom. Already nearly 7 thousand people are employed within Colchester's creative industries. Additionally, the town's fast links to London particularly in the creative and digital hubs of East London such as Tech City are important.

Gold crescent shaped exterior of firstsite, Colchester

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