Efforts to get one of Wantage’s remaining empty shop units back into use have taken a step forward, thanks to inspiration by local artists and artisans.

The shop window of the long-empty former WH Smith’s unit next to Waitrose on Wallingford Street, Wantage is being used as a display space by local artists, sculptors, photographers, ceramicists and students at local schools.

The aim is to combine a showcase of local artistic and artisan talent with a renewed focus on the opportunities for a High Street business to take on the prominent town centre unit. The 3,000sqft unit over two floors has been empty since WH Smith moved to the town’s retail park. Wantage’s town team have been working with the landlords and agents responsible for the unit to step up efforts to get it re-let, as it is one of only three still vacant of the 23 that were empty and available in March 2013.

Cllr Elaine Ware, Cabinet Member for Economy, Leisure and Property at Vale of White Horse District Council, said: “This is a great way to make use of one of the only shops in the town that remains empty. It will help to brighten up the high street, give local artists the opportunity to display their work to a new audience, and hopefully attract more people to the town to have a look at the work. Things are really looking up for Wantage, with town centre initiatives like this one giving the area a great boost and bringing welcome national recognition.”

One of the artists whose work is being displayed in the unit, local sculptor Dawn Benson (pictured in 2s) , says: “It is fantastic to be able to change the energy of this empty unit. Putting professional art in empty shops has worked well in the past, beginning with the regeneration of Mill Street. Hopefully we will also get new tenants taking up this property soon, adding to the fantastic variety of new shops in Wantage.”

The 13 Wallingford Street display is the latest in a series of initiatives that have brought local artists and musical talents into Wantage town centre, including the young artists’ Wantage and Grove landmarks display in Victoria Cross Gallery and the “Wantage Presents…” Music in the Marketplace public performance series on markets days co-ordinated by Howard Hill.

Wantage town team is a partnership of the Vale of White Horse District Council, Wantage Town Council and Wantage & District Chamber of Commerce through the Wantage Joint Economic Forum (JEF), and town team co-ordinators Mim Norvell and Iain Nicholson.