The small town of Treorchy in the Welsh valleys has beaten far bigger rivals to be named high street of the year in a nationwide competition.
Home to just 6,000 people, Treorchy triumphed at the Great British High Street awards after impressing judges with a welter of community initiatives that had reinvigorated its struggling local economy.
“In our area in the valleys of south Wales there is not much industry and times are tough,” said Adrian Emmett, who runs The Lion pub in Treorchy. “But in the face of adversity we have come up with an entrepreneurial model. There are areas that have received a lot more funding than us. This is about self-help.”
The Rhondda town boasts a website, arts festival and “hop, shop and save” scheme that trades advertising space on local buses for in-store discounts.
In recent years membership of the Treorchy chamber of trade had swollen from 30 to 120. “If the community didn’t shop local we wouldn’t be here,” said Emmett of the high street, where 80% of the shops are independent.
Other finalists in the awards, which recognise communities at the forefront of efforts to reinvent their high street, were Grimsby, Swansea and Hitchin.
“There have been no big investments,” said Emmett, who described the victory as a town-wide effort. “It is from us pulling ourselves up by ourselves up by our boot straps. It was about getting people to believe we could do it.”
The win for Treorchy is a rare good news story as high streets around the country suffer steep decline amid a sea change in shopping habits. Last year they shed more than 140,000jobs as store closures and retail failures made 2019 one of the most challenging years in a generation.
Jake Berry, the high streets minister, said town centres and high streets remained the “beating heart” of communities with the awards celebrating the “grit and determination of local people who are dedicated to supporting their communities, growing their local economy and finding innovative solutions to modern day challenges”.
Kelso, in the Scottish Borders, won the rising star category after the market town managed to increase the number of shopper visits despite cuts to local services. The town is developing an app to promote local events and businesses.
The awards are a partnership with the payments firm Visa, which funds the £15,000 top prize. Its UK and Ireland managing director, Jeni Mundy, said Treorchy and Kelso were examples of communities that had made huge strides to transform their high streets. “Their success goes to show that where you shop really does matter,” she said.