Does this craft shop owner have the answer to revitalising Wales' high street?

It's been a talking point for years, but is there an answer to saving high streets across Wales?

A recent report from the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), found that only 3% of people thought their town centre was 'thriving', with many respondents describing them as 'bleak.'

Jayne Charles, who runs a textile shop in Cwmbran, says it was already difficult to trade before the pandemic and now that's made things even harder.

"We have days where we're busy, we have days where we're quiet but I think we're more aware of a quiet day now and you tend to worry a bit more than you would have done pre-lockdowns.

She also says that she's now having to contend with lots of pressures on her business including online shopping, which has caused challenges for some time.

Figures show that more people are turning to online shopping than heading to the high street.

"It is hard. It was getting harder before. Obviously you've got different factors now. There's shipping, that's a nightmare, getting things in that's all very much delayed and sporadic and we've just got to do what we can and get on.

"The internet has been here for a while, you do just what you can to compete with the internet."

"We're very aware that they [customers] will come in and check our prices and then they'll go back and buy off the internet. You just hope that while they're here they will stop and see what you have and see what you can offer.

But Jayne, who's been in business for 32 years, believes there is a way to revitalise town centres and give them a future.

"I think we need to bring variety back. You've got sports shops, you've got the high end goods, but not everybody can afford the high end goods, so you've lost the bread and butter and what most people can afford and you've got the same everywhere, so we just want variety.

It's a sentiment that is shared by those at the FSB. Brett John, Deputy Head of policy at the organisation in Wales, thinks there is still a place for town centres and high streets.

"Town centres can be beacons of character and community spirit. They're places where people can live, work, shop and enjoy but it's all about distinctiveness.

"That's something that really shone through in the report. People want to see their town centres with a sense of purpose and a sense of uniqueness rather than trying to recreate something."

But Brett John admits it's been a really difficult time for small businesses and it's likely to continue.

"If we reflect on the last couple of years, town centres and high streets have seen an unprecedented level of challenges.

"We've seen post offices shut, we've seen ATMs and banks close, we've seen an unprecedented number of shops close and the pandemic has served to exacerbate many of those challenges.

"At the moment what we see is a flashpoint of spiralling costs for small businesses in town centres. We see them facing staff shortages and supply chain disruption as well but what surprised me is the passion people have for their high streets.

"I think it is something that could not be overstated and I think that is something that we need to capture and utilise as we move forward."

Within the report, the FSB says town centres in Wales will be characterised in the future by:

  • A vibrant small and independent retail offer

  • High streets for a digital age

  • Spaces that people feel safe in and enjoy

  • Resilience and activity throughout the day and year 

  • Sustained levels of increased footfall

  • Unique cultural and creative footprints

The report concludes that decision makers do face an "uphill struggle" to breathe new life into towns.

However it points out that it is everyone's responsibility in Wales, including individuals, members of the business community and politicians to come up with plans to move the high street forward.

See more on this story on Sharp End on Monday evening at 23:15 on ITV. You can also catch-up here.