It’s fair to say 2020 has been a tough year for us all – but Pontypridd has had an utterly torrid 12 months.
From the floods during Storm Dennis to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the town has been dealt multiple blows this year.
Businesses have endured a lot of challenges and a lot of pain but, despite the tough times, nothing has stopped the town from persevering.
Among the heartache and tragedy has been the determination to see businesses succeed and the town has continued to fight back again and again. So much so that 2021 could be the year when Pontypridd sees a really big transformation – Covid-permitting, of course.
From new shops opening their doors to major developments coming into shape to iconic buildings being brought back to life – the town has a lot to look forward to over the next few months.
Even though 2020 may have been a challenging year for the town, and we now face another lockdown going into the New Year, we are starting to see glimmers of hope that could help to bring a new sense of vibrancy to Pontypridd town centre.
When the town is back open for business, there should be lots to look forward to.
Discussing the future of the town Alex Davies-Jones MP said: “We are seeing businesses that are bouncing back from the floods and from Covid. They are using the Transport for Wales offices as a sort of anchor to keep them – to show things will get better.
“I think Covid has transformed the town centre. As people are working from home they are shopping local and we have had a massive interest for our town centre. The lido is on track and ahead of schedule to re-open in the spring.”
It’s always been hoped that the new development site, Llys Cadwyn, would help to regenerate the town.
While the majority of the development has now taken shape in December it was also confirmed that two new businesses have committed to operating from some of the units.
Bradley’s Coffee and café and bar business Loungers have confirmed they will soon trade at the Llys Cadwyn site.
Number 1 Llys Cadwyn (near Bridge Street) will include a library, customer contact point, and leisure/fitness centre, while 2 Llys Cadwyn (centre building) includes Grade A office floorspace and a food and drink unit.
Number 3 Llys Cadwyn (near Gas Road Car Park) is the new home of Transport for Wales and includes two food and drink units. A new river walk and footbridge into the park has also been built near the site.
One man who knows just how much the ‘shop local’ initiative has taken off this year is owner of Cortile Coffee, Richard Metcalfe.
Richard, 58, has had a stall in the indoor market with his partner, Sara, for a few years but this year they have also opened a new shop in Taff Street.
Cortile Coffee is a family-run business that was established in 2017 and specialises in all things tea and coffee.
It offers various coffee services and there is also a café in the market.
During the first national lockdown they worked hard to create the new shop, near WH Smith, and hope the new store will bring a bit of difference and new life to the town.
Despite going into another lockdown, Richard has had a successful few weeks since opening. The business also trades online.
Speaking the day after the new store opened its doors, Richard said: “Since we opened we haven’t stopped. We sold out of lots of stuff within a day. We stayed up until 1am last night just to re-order everything. We are so proud to have the support of the local people.”
It’s easy to see how the business has taken off so quickly. The day before the new shop opened its doors many people could be seen peering through the window as they walked by trying to get a peek of what lay inside.
Speaking about the year, Richard said: “It’s been very dynamic as when one lockdown ends another one comes. People are working from home and we started to see a lot more people stocking up on equipment.
“We are getting more of that sort of worker – they are working from home so we are able to give them more of a 24-hour service.
“We are going out of our way to do home deliveries as well around Cardiff and Pontypridd to try and take the load off the Post Office. It’s under stress so we have found it’s quite useful if we deliver.”
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While businesses have had to adapt to working in different ways this year Richard said many traders have benefited from people being encouraged to stay local. This could be easily seen when you walked around the town centre before the new lockdown was announced.
The autumn period saw a constant buzz around the town centre most days, and people could be seen queuing to enter certain shops right up the high street.
Admittedly part of this was down to social distancing procedures but the town centre has seen a visible rise in footfall in recent months at times where restrictions have been lifted.
“We have been really busy with the café side of things, luckily, because people are staying local,” added Richard. “This is not just us personally but other traders have said the same.
“It’s a little bit like a Christmas for them because people are shopping local and it’s nice. It really makes a difference to people’s trades. I think it’s vital to have an online presence. If people are not allowed to visit you have to have presence online.”
But Cortile Coffee is not the only new shop to appear on the high street this year.
Pontypridd Anna Shop is a new convenience store located towards the other end of town and not too far away KooKoo Madame opened a brand new shop following the floods.
James Furniture & Mobility Ltd is also set to open at the former River Island unit after the retail brand closed its branch in Pontypridd during the pandemic. It’s a sign that empty spaces are slowly starting to be filled and, hopefully, that the high street is on the up.
Going forward the hope for many businesses will be that cases fall and restrictions ease as we move further into 2021.
It’s hoped there will soon come a time where people can make the most of the local high street once more.
But some businesses admit more restrictions being put in place at the end of the year will make things difficult.
There are lots of good things happening in the town, but the prospect of further closures due to restrictions is causing concern.
Speaking before it was announced that Wales would enter the highest level of alert before Christmas, meaning most non-essential retailers must close other than for click and collect offerings, co-owner of KooKoo Madame Emma Jamal said: “It hasn’t come as much of a surprise to be honest. Like all businesses we are all dreading daily what’s going to happen.
“I was thinking we wouldn’t open after Christmas Eve anyway. The worrying thing is there is still no definite decision as to when or how long that will go on for.”
Back in February the original shop in Mill Street was flooded so Emma explained they decided to move and re-open on the main high street.
She said with the floods and then the Covid-19 outbreak it seems to be “never-ending” but she added they were lucky they had been able to open the new shop where loyal customers had continued to support the business.
“As a whole town businesses together need to be strong,” she added. “We need to be able to open.
“There are lots of places that are unfortunately closed and that’s due to staff members having Covid or having been in contact with someone who has Covid so it has had a massive knock-on effect.
“If we are forced to close again it is worrying as to when trade will pick back up.”
But, on a more positive note, something everyone has missed greatly is also set to make a comeback in 2021.
Work to restore the National Lido of Wales has progressed well with the majority of the repair work on course to have been completed by Christmas.
The repairs are scheduled to be fully complete in January which will allow the lido to be brought back into use. A re-opening event could even take place ahead of the normal Easter opening if circumstances with Covid-19 allow.
The restored Ynysangharad Park footbridge, more commonly known as the Marks & Spencer bridge, was also successfully lifted into the park during early November. If all goes to plan it’s hoped this will be put back into use in February 2021.
“We have lots of things to look forward to,” added Alex Davies-Jones. “We have these businesses people will want to support. The idea is you wouldn’t just go shopping in Pontypridd – you would come for a day out.
“You would have a coffee, go for lunch, and stop to pick up some things from the market. It’s a destination town.
“There was a stigma attached to shopping in Pontypridd back 10 years ago – you wouldn’t go there to do your shopping.
“You would think it was all charity shops and pound shops and when Marks & Spencer went it was particularly hard.”
A lot of work has been done in recent years to try and turn this around.
Focus has been placed on revamping the indoor market where there are various stalls for essential groceries.
As well as this there are many independent and quirky places to eat in the food court which has really helped give the market a modern touch.
Ms Davies-Jones continued: “Nigel John – who owns the market – wanted to transform it.
“Instead of it being a traditional Valleys market he wanted to make it an artisan market to bring it up to the 21st century and make it somewhere you really want to go.
“Where you can go for your artisan cheese, your good-quality meat, and make it somewhere where you really want to go for lunch.”
Speaking about other exciting plans, she added: “The plans for the Muni will be quite exciting. We can have people back in the theatre.”
Many people were left devastated when The Muni Arts Centre closed at the end of 2018 but Rhondda Cynon Taf Council has confirmed the planned £4.5m investment in the venue is progressing. The aim is to establish the much-loved building as a unique regional arts and music venue.
Together with the Awen Cultural Trust the council is hosting a public consultation providing a chance for residents to have their say on the plans up until January 18.
After this decisions will be made as to how work will be carried out on the building and what sort of activities it will host.
But The Muni isn’t the only building set to undergo a big transformation in the coming months.
The Pontypridd YMCA is also on track to become a new multi-million-pound centre for culture, creativity, and the arts in autumn 2021.
Managed by Artis Community Cymuned, the venue is set to host a programme of arts and cultural activities for people of all ages.
The development, funded by the council and Arts Council Wales, started in February 2020 and the next milestone will see a striking glass design spanning the entire rooftop.
As well as this the former bingo hall is set to be demolished in the new year in preparation for redevelopment of the site.
While 2020 has been a year like no other it’s clear that, in Pontypridd at least, there is a lot of hope for the future.
So much has changed in 2020, and another lockdown has hit many businesses once more, but a lot is being planned to ensure the town centre has the ability to bounce back.
If this year has taught us anything important it’s not to give up and to have faith that things will get better.
Throughout the year a lot of work has been done behind the scenes to ensure that Pontypridd has the ability to get back on its feet. In 2021 it will be down to the people to support it.
There is still a lot of uncertainty surrounding the next few months but, for Pontypridd, better times are hopefully ahead.