Cupar’s Digital Sweet Spot

CuparNow – the project trialling a new digital improvement district in Scotland – has been launched by businesses in the town with the backing of the Scottish Government, Digital Scotland & Fife Council.

In September, it was announced that the Fife town would be the test bed for a new initiative that, if successful, will see the creation of the world’s first ‘digital improvement district’. The 15-month demonstration project – announced by Connectivity Minister, Michael Matheson MSP – is already delivering for businesses and community partners. But it is the wider opportunities and interest that’s really putting Cupar in the spotlight.

Simon Baldwin of Destination Digital – the company created to deliver the project – explains: ‘We know from our work elsewhere that managed, integrated digital and social media brings rewards for those who engage in it. In the few weeks of running the project in Cupar, we’ve built an audience, are reaching people every day and seeing engagement with folk from home and abroad. This is about supporting Cupar – creating a digital awareness that benefits multiple audiences.

On the engagement front, Simon adds: ‘The project drives interaction. We’re visiting Cupar every week – gathering content from businesses and organisations in the town. Some has featured in the 25+ videos we’ve created and shared – resulting in more than 16,000 views, equal to over 75 hours of viewed time.

The project will be running a Blog – together with social media pages that are managed 365 days of the year to support all audiences. The Facebook page already has over 1,200 followers and the managed engagement is reaching more than 2,000 every day. The project also has an Instagram page and a Twitter page as secondary channels.

And in the day-to-day sharing of content, it is not just the businesses that feature. Simon adds: ‘The whole premise is to create a service that serves multiple audiences across the community.‘ He adds: ‘We monitor all channels and interact as needed. We’re engaging with charities, environmental groups, education providers, tourist attractions – and more. But in each organisation’s own communication, they’re often acting as silos. Our delivery umbrellas them to showcase the whole offering to a far wider audience.

In the next two weeks, the ‘nuts and bolts’ of the digital elements are being installed. Key to the project’s engagement and community support is the provision of free public realm Wi-Fi that will provide free access in two of the town’s busiest streets – Bonnygate and Crossgate. Fife based Rapier Systems – a partner in Destination Digital – is installing the Wi-Fi. Richard Watson of Rapier explains: ‘This project is about community support – providing an inclusive service for all. Through the demonstration pilot, we’re providing free Wi-Fi in the town centre. This will help us to best engage with those in the town – as well as to use analytics to understand so much more about the town’s audience.’

So how did the project come about? Simon explains: ‘The project has the backing and funding support of the Scottish Government, Digital Scotland and Fife Council. They were all represented at the ministerial visit in September. Since then, we’ve been working closely with ABCD, the town’s business community, to create a steering group made up of Cupar business owners and managers. They’ve met to agree the project’s business plan and timetable – and we launch on Wednesday 28 November.

That gives 365 days to a ballot which will determine the project’s future. On that date in a year’s time, more than 350 businesses and organisations will be balloted to ask for their support. If successful, it will convert into a full five-year ‘digital improvement district’, the first of its kind – anywhere – funded by non-domestic rate paying businesses and organisations in the town.

Alison Strachan of ABCD is one of the local business leaders on the steering group. Alison says: ‘As with many, we’re facing challenges from a changing High Street, out of town and online shopping as well as the threats and opportunities afforded by the ways we are all changing how we engage and interact digitally. We’re thrilled to be chosen for this pilot and urge all to engage with it for the benefit of our community.’

David Grove, Lead Officer Town Centre Development, Fife Council, says:’ Fife Council is pleased that the Scottish Government has chosen Cupar as the location to pilot the UK’s first Digital Improvement District. We will work hard with the business community and other partners to ensure this is a success and will showcase the value of digital connectivity to businesses and communities. As a first step, Fife Council has committed 15,000 towards a 50,000 investment. This follows significant investment and sympathetic regeneration of this beautiful market town. ‘

The initiative came out of the Scottish Government’s Digital Town’s Programme 2017-18. It had a clear remit – to explore options for the best deployment of sustainable digital support. Cupar was chosen as a pilot because it is unique yet typical of so many rural towns across Scotland.

Phil Prentice, Chief Officer of Scotland’s Towns Partnership, explains: ‘In 2017, we ran a programme that engaged with more than 20 destinations across the country. We asked what they needed to best help their communities – and the delivery of integrated digital was at the forefront.’ Phil adds: ‘This is a unique project. We’re very excited to be at the leading edge of how towns and cities are looking to support multiple audiences through best use of digital and we see the Cupar project as the vanguard.’

CuparNow is gaining momentum and attention. Destination Digital have either met or are about to meet with a wide range of stakeholders who are keen to see how the project takes shape. Simon says: ‘There’s considerable interest in what we’re delivering. This is unique – and many eyes are on CuparNow to see if it can meet expectations. We’re confident it can – and the early signs support that.’

A wee taste of success!

Our featured image shows members of the CuparNow steering group, armed with Yum Yums from Cupar’s Fisher & Donaldson bakery, helping to launch the unique digital initiative. From left to right: Stuart Minick from the butcher, Minick of Cupar, Grant Hughes of The Press Caf & Bistro, Alison Strachan of Maisie & Mac, Fiona Houston of J&T Rodger, Cupar Pet Shop & Equine Store and the local authority’s elected representative, Councillor, Margaret Kennedy.

Thanks for reading!