Cupar digital pilot project could change towns across Scotland

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The evolving nature of shopping has forced businesses across the UK to adapt.

Figures published by the British Retail Consortium earlier this year showed that the number of empty shops on high streets was at its highest level since 2015, with one out of every ten shops vacant.

As shoppers have turned online, looking to find cheaper deals on sites like Amazon, high street businesses have looked to increase their online presence and change with the times.

And Cupar could be at the forefront of this evolution.

CuparNow was launched in September 2018, looking how to use digital for the benefit of the town, its businesses, and its community.

The scheme uses the traditional Business Improvement District (BID) funding model, with businesses paying a levy.

Since September 2018, the project has become an active part of the town, with the aim of working with the more than 400 businesses in the town, as well as the range of community groups.

The Digital Improvement District (DID) has seen the launch of free town centre WiFi, a blog that promotes the activities of businesses and community groups, and built an audience that can learn about what is happening in Cupar.

These posts have covered various aspects of the town, sharing deals at businesses, from town centre traders to food shacks, to informing folk about the work that is going on at groups like Cupar Museum, to helping promote events at Bell Baxter.

While Cupar has hundreds of businesses and many groups which are active in the area, the project brings these together.

Posts, shared 365 days of the year, have reached more than one million people, being shared in countries around the world.

But all this could come to an end in December.

The demonstration period ends on December 12, and unless businesses agree to help fund the project, it will finish.

The ballot papers will be counted on December 13. If enough businesses vote in favour of funding the project, then it will continue running, every day, until 2024.

If not, it will end.

Alison Strachan, chair of the CuparNow steering group, chair of local business group ABCD, and owner of Maisie & Mac, is urging business owners to vote yes.

“For me it’s a no brainer,” she said. “This is a tiny bit of the money I spend on advertising. It’s very cost effective. I know as a business owner that social media works. I think there is a real enthusiasm from residents – those who are engaged with it.”

It was ABCD that first contacted the Digital Scotland, looking for advice about how businesses could better use the web to promote the town.

The organisation wanted to do more to promote its members, but felt that forming a traditional BID was not the right move.

“If you had typed Cupar into Google, there was virtually nothing there,” explained Alison. “It was like the town wasn’t there. We felt Cupar’s digital presence had to be raised, that we needed a mechanism by which people could become aware of some of the businesses, and aware of the voluntary activity in the town. That is combined in this.

“If this goes ahead, this will be the first Digital Improvement District in the world. People moan about the impact of the internet on retail and shopping, but this is harnessing it for our own good. This is the world we live in.

“We might as well use it for our own businesses.

“I would appeal to people to vote yes. It has done a fantastic job so far and the potential going forward is amazing.”

Cupar was one of dozens of towns that had shown such an interest – and now other towns are keeping an eye on the success of the project, to see if it is something that they could use.

Kirkcaldy4All, the Lang Toun’s BID, announced it would be folding in March 2020, but revealed it hoped to start a scheme similar to that being tested in Cupar.

And Simon Baldwin, project manager, said the CuparNow model could help towns across Scotland.

“We’re trying to create something here that does work for small places,” he said. “If we can demonstrate it here and prove the concept, lots of places could use this. The opportunity is enormous for small towns – and Scotland has a lot of small towns that need help and support.”

While CuparNow will be funded by businesses, should it go ahead, the project also promotes the work of the many community groups in the town.

And Simon has made sure the project is not too focused on the town centre.

“Traditional BIDs have tended to be town centre focused,” he said. “We we started this, we knew it needed to be a whole-town project, so every business can be part of it. Everybody can benefit from being more engaged digitally. The project makes sure that nobody is left behind.”

More information about the CuparNow project can be found on www.cuparnow.blog, or on the Facebook page, by searching for CuparNow.