South Wales Evening Post

As restrictions lift and we try to get back to a new normal, it’s a very different world to the one before lockdown. For the high street shop the coronavirus and the post-lockdown world is presenting an unprecedented challenge. A trip to the town centre or popping to the shops is going to be different for some time to come.

The high street has faced more than a decade of challenges and tough trading times, from the decline in consumer spending to shoppers being drawn away from town centres with online and out of town shopping.  Fighting back, high streets have been establishing Business Improvement Districts (BID) to breathe fresh life into town centres and reinvigorate the high street.

Port Talbot took that step back in November when local businesses voted overwhelmingly to establish Viva Port Talbot. I’m proud to have been part of bringing the BID idea to Port Talbot, and am truly honoured to be the Honorary President of Viva Port Talbot, working with our fantastic Chair, brilliant Board of local shop owners and The Means who are managing the BID and have been working with us from the start to deliver this.

It was hoped that Viva Port Talbot would launch in April with a bang, but those plans were put on hold with the country in lockdown and shops in Port Talbot closed. Instead Viva Port Talbot has been helping businesses in the area with information on financial support available to help them through the crisis and providing reopening packages with floor stickers, hand sanitiser and covid-19 posters for businesses to use as they prepare to reopen.

As our fantastic Chair, Roger Williams, has said, businesses have been hit incredibly hard by the crisis, and we’re glad to be up and running just in time to offer Port Talbot businesses a helping hand through such a tough period. Organising this package means there’s one less thing to worry about on the road to recovery.

The British Retail Consortium has warned that shops face a fight for survival in the coming months as they try to overcome the impact of lockdown and operate with social distancing requirements. Viva Port Talbot is going to have a crucial role in helping the town centre recover, not only with support for local business but in encouraging shoppers back.

Viva Port Talbot, like other BIDs, is uniquely placed to help with the recovery. Our driving purpose is to promote the town centre and to drive up footfall. While in normal times that would mean holding events to draw people from outside the area to the town, the same principle applies as the focus moves to encouraging shoppers back into town in the short term.

In the long-term Viva Port Talbot will also be crucial in helping the town centre thrive. We’ve put together an ambitious and encouraging programme to transform the town centre, including developing an annual calendar of event, reinstating the Christmas parade and developing parking offers to attract people.

Coronavirus hasn’t deterred our enthusiasm or determination to get those plans off the ground, and we’ve been working hard on an exciting programme of annual events and developing a Port Talbot Pound loyalty scheme. One of the first events planned is a Port Talbot Superhero Day, with a whole team of superheroes in the town plus the iconic 1989 Batmobile.

Momentum is really building towards something special here. Everyone is passionate about making a difference in the town centre, turning it into a place that businesses and visitors want to come to, where they can enjoy spending time, and somewhere to be proud of.

High street businesses have shown themselves to be resilient and creative, but they can’t do this by themselves. They need our support. It’s been an extremely difficult few months for them, so, as shops reopen, we all have a role to play by backing the high street and shopping in the town centre.

Viva Port Talbot’s plans for the next five years are exciting and promise to re-energise our town centre.  Yes, they’ll be central in helping us recover from the pandemic, but above all Viva Port Talbot promises to revitalise the high street and make Port Talbot town centre a vibrant and buzzing place to shop.

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