South West Wales

Art projects helping to regenerate county town of Haverfordwest

High Street, Haverfordwest
Image caption High Street, Haverfordwest

Pembrokeshire's county town of Haverfordwest has been struggling to compete with its neighbours in recent years.

Where Carmarthen was uplifted by a £74m retail complex, Haverfordwest seemed to be on a downward spiral - with Sainsbury's pulling out of a superstore last year and several shops shutting.

But, take a tour of the town now and things are looking a lot brighter.

Arts group Confluence has begun taking over some of the empty units.

Image caption Artist Pauline Le Britton

Pauline Le Britton is one of six artists occupying a space near the river in her studio, after an agreement was reached with the landlord.

"It's fantastic, we don't have to pay business rates because we're not selling our work from here," said Ms Le Britton.

"I haven't had a space like this since I left college. People have been seeing my work in the windows and popping in to find out more."

The project has proved controversial, with critics arguing the schemes are only temporary. But founder Guy Norman says it is all about changing the perception of what art can offer in terms of regeneration.

Image caption Guy Norman of the Confluence Art Project

"We know art can invigorate a city, but we're interested to see if it can do the same for a small market town," said Mr Norman.

"As well as organising events and festivals we're doing a project called the Big Plan. People have got involved in how they want their town to look and it's definitely had an effect. Some of those ideas are represented in the council's new masterplan for Haverfordwest."

And it seems some of the town's shopkeepers are embracing the idea that brightening up the high street could go a long way towards boosting trade.

Regular yarn-bombing events take place where street furniture is covered in multi-coloured knitting, and on Valentine's Day they decked the streets with heart-shaped balloons.

Image copyright Sally Williams
Image caption Yarn-bombing in Haverfordwest

"We're trying to create a buzz that gets people talking and footfall into the town," said Brett Kilner from Haverfordwest Business Circle.

"We do think we've seen an upsurge in trade particularly in certain areas. We get holidaymakers coming in and seeking out our events now - like the Raft Race through the town this August."

Some are sceptical about how big an impact art can have on business.

Chairman of Haverfordwest Chamber of Commerce George Allingham said although it can help bring in more diversity, the main impact on trade has been down to business rates.

"Historically business rates have been really high even for small shops so it just wasn't viable," he said.

"But in Bridge Street there's been a 30% reduction in rates and that's really helped, properties are filling up now. There's interest in bring a multiplex cinema to the town now and I'm optimistic that will happen."

Image caption The Riverside, Haverfordwest

Related Topics

More on this story