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Treorchy in the Rhondda Fawr valley of South Wales is a vibrant community with a range  of independent local businesses.

But Treorchy’s high street, like many others across the country, has felt the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“As our independent stores, local shops, and national chains emerge from this devastating pandemic, we’re beginning to see the extensive impact of this crisis on our retailers,” says Adrian Emmett, Chair of Treorchy Chamber of Trade and a local business owner. “Supporting high street businesses to attract custom and footfall back to town centres is absolutely crucial.”

Cardiff University Business School is collaborating with partners, small business owners and community leaders on a project to support the community’s COVID-19 recovery through digitising Treorchy’s high street.

The team is introducing an app and web platform for Treorchy, to promote local online shopping, tourism and the arts. This community-led marketing tool will connect small businesses with existing and new customers, to help the high street build back from the impacts of COVID-19.

Like many communities, Treorchy's local businesses have been heavily impacted by the pandemic.

A digital high street

Digital inclusion is key to the project, with training and education for people in the community to ensure that everybody has the ability to use and benefit from the digital platform.

“Some business owners were really desperate to start using the app, but they were worried they would find it too complicated,” says project lead Professor Carolyn Strong. “So our priority was to start working with local business people, to get them trained and engaged with the app.”

Training for business owners is being provided by students from our Business School who live in the Treorchy area and are being employed as trainers by the project. They are able to provide guidance on how to use the platform, as well as having an understanding of the local community and business needs.

Our Business School’s longstanding engagement with the community in Treorchy has been essential to the project’s success. Connections between the community and the Business School have seen students working with local businesses to learn about market research and business plans, and have even led to a group from the Business School judging the town’s Christmas window display competition.

Treorchy's local businesses owners are being trained in using the digital platform by students from our Business School who live in the community.

Building on community spirit

“The passion behind Treorchy town and the community spirit – that’s the key to this project,” says Professor Strong.

This community spirit was evidenced throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, with local business owners working together to support one another, including collectively sourcing PPE to make sure every business had enough to open and operate safely. The community has had many obstacles to overcome, with the pandemic arriving just months after devastating floods destroyed homes and businesses in the town.

This community spirit is one of the reasons Treorchy was selected as the Welsh pilot town for the NearMeNow digital platform, and has also seen the town recognised for a number of awards. The town was awarded Great British High Street of the Year 2019, an award that celebrated "the grit and determination of local people who are dedicated to supporting their communities."

Treorchy has been recognised for its strong community spirit, being awarded Great British High Street of the Year in 2019.

Looking to the future

The business community in Treorchy have big plans for their digital platform. After this initial phase, they hope to expand the app to include more than just retail, allowing other local tourism, art and culture businesses to benefit, and giving visitors Treorchy a place to find everything they need during their visit.

The team aims to sustain the partnership and support the longer-term plan of rolling the app out to support other communities and local businesses across Wales.

“Significant strides have been made in digitising the high street, but we mustn’t halt progress now that lockdown measures have been eased,” says Professor Strong. “Digital towns are the key to driving Wales’ economic recovery following the pandemic."

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