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Woocommerce Category Post Widget
Kirsty Rees was in a particularly jolly mood as she bustled around her florist’s on Bute Street in Treorchy. Business was good, Kitty the shop cat was not causing too much mischief, and the high street the shop is based on had just found out it had been named the best in the UK.
“Not bad for a town in the Welsh valleys, is it?” said Rees. “This means everything to Treorchy. The place is going from strength to strength and people come from miles around to shop here. You can spend a whole day here. There’s so much to see and do.”
Treorchy (Treorci in Welsh) beat 39 shortlisted streets across the UK for the accolade, with judges paying tribute to the way the independent shops on Bute Street and High Street had worked together to turn a town in the Rhondda Valley badly hit by the collapse of the coal-mining industry into a shopping destination.
They were also hugely impressed by how Treorchy has organised events ranging from Christmas parades to arts festivals and a gay pride event – said to be a first for the area.
Just about everyone has chipped in, from the firefighters who have put up flagpoles to brighten up the place, to the Pen y Cymoedd windfarm that donated money for innovations such as a website for the shops.
Adrian Emmett, the owner of the Lion pub and the Bistro on Bute Street, picked up the award for Treorchy at a glitzy ceremony in Edinburgh.
When Emmett took over the Lion eight years ago it was a boarded-up eyesore. It is now the central hub for the community – and the proud sponsor of 15 sports teams.
“The valleys as a whole can seem like a bit of a left-behind place after the coalmines went,” he said. “Our area was built around an industry that disappeared but an entrepreneurial spirit came out of the adversity. The jobs weren’t there so we had to create them ourselves. Some places wait for help but we helped ourselves. You have to have self-belief to do it.”
Emmett believes the strength of the high street in Treorchy is the combination of old and new. “Some businesses are 40 or 50 years old. Three generations have worked there. They give us the grounding. Then the energy comes from new businesses that have helped revitalise the place.”
Two years ago the chamber of trade had 30 members; now there are 120. Between 25 and 30 new businesses have opened in the past couple of years. Occupancy is at 96% – a figure that would have most high streets swooning.
The former Plaid Cymru leader and Rhondda Welsh assembly member Leanne Wood said she was delighted at Treorchy’s success. “The way everyone came together to push in one direction was fantastic,” she said. “The high street is successful because there are so many small, independent businesses and the large chains have largely not managed to establish. I hope the lessons for this can be learned for other communities.”
For some of the shopkeepers in Treorchy, running businesses on the high street is a family affair.
Malcolm Thomas, 74, has operated Carpets ‘n’ Carpets with his son David, 51, for decades. Directly opposite in a former hairdresser’s shop, David’s daughter, 20-year-old Hollie, has recently opened a gift shop called No 86 that specialises in customised hampers.
“I grew up working in the carpet shop and always wanted my own place,” said Hollie. “I think it works well here because every single shop does something different. You’ve got to be unique. Nobody wants to come to a place where people are selling the same thing. And we all help each other.”
David added: “There’s a personal touch here you don’t get in Cardiff or Bristol. We’ve seen good and bad times here. We were worried by the advent of internet shopping, but there are enough people who still want to see and touch things.”
It is the second year in a row that a Welsh town has won the UK high street award. Last time the rather more upmarket town of Crickhowell took the prize.
Treorchy is not quite as picturesque and it does have chains such as Greggs, Subway, Spar and Iceland. There is a new Lidl on the edge of town and a Co-op tucked away off the high street. There is no old-fashioned baker’s shop or greengrocers at the moment.
But it does have distinctive, quirky shops, from clothes boutiques to a high-end cake shop. It also has wonderful, historic cafes such as the Cardiff Arms, opened in 1947 by Ernesto Carpanini, one of number of Italians from the town of Bardi in the Apennine mountains who set up eateries in the Welsh valleys.
The cafe is now run by his son, Marco Carpanini, but it is up for sale because his children have chosen a different path. Carpanini said geography and the road system helped Treorchy. “There’s only one road going through and no bypass. We have a bit of a captive audience.”
Cardiff Arms customers have a string of other options including Hot Gossip, a coffee shop that caused a stir when owner Sara Bailey acquired an alcohol licence and began selling prosecco.
She opened the cafe nine years ago when she was 25 after being made redundant. “It was busy from the start,” she said. “It felt like a bit of a risk at the time but the place is booming. I couldn’t be busier and couldn’t be happier.”