Perhaps not since the first dark days of its downfall has a light dared to dawn for Tonypandy’s Dunraven Street. In what appears to be a full-throttled assault against the gloom, an effort to bring a touch of the contemporary to this shaggy, dilapidated valleys town has finally come about.
Bright, modern, spacious and willing to accommodate the average agile-working, laptop-wielding millennial, stepping into Clwb Coffi’s classy coffee joint is hopefully just one of many steps in what could be the town’s bright future. Goodness knows it needs the footfall, the revenue and the kind of chutzpah it takes to move things forward. After all, why should Treorchy take all the glory?
For those unfamiliar with its history, a few years back this little, historic and picturesque high street was trashed in the media, frequently making it onto the UK’s worst retail area lists where it eventually garnered the reputation as ‘Wales’ Worst High Street’. Pretty harsh, no? Especially given its heyday as a thriving community full of successful businesses.
Its demise came about through no fault of its own. An ill-considered pedestrianisation, the introduction of parking charges and a successful application for an Asda to be built nearby meant that convenience and price naturally won out. Meanwhile, Treorchy’s high street flourished, recently being honoured as the UK’s best in the Great British High Street Awards.
For John and Sarah Sutton, however, this is not a fight they’re willing to take lying down. “We were tired of all the bad press in the paper,” say Clwb Coffi’s local business-owning couple, “and we’ve had to battle comments like ‘this is too nice for Pandy’. Still, we think things can be different. We hope to get people thinking more positively, spark a change and spur other businesses on!”
Anyone familiar with 80s baseball movie Field Of Dreams will remember its classic call to action: “if you build it, they will come!” Sitting at a table in Clwb Coffi watching a queue form to the door, it seems true here. The kind of place Tonypandy’s been waiting for, perhaps.
“I’ve been in almost every day since it’s opened. I love a flat white!” says Simon, from the neighbouring village of Penygraig and already a regular customer. “Friendly owners too. Before, I’d drive further afield, to Talbot Green, Pontypridd, Cardiff. Now I just come here instead.”
Chris, from the nearby village of Trealaw, echoes those sentiments. “Yeah, it’s good to have good coffee locally. Not many places to hang about in and have a chat in Tonypandy. Going to cafes isn’t quite the same. And it’s child friendly.”
Quick to point out all the benefits, the two talk about how the coffee shop’s becoming its own little community, serving the kind of coffees they enjoy whilst offering the convenience of being on their doorstep. But is that all there is to Clwb Coffi, a place to hang out and chat? Not exactly: speaking to the owners, there’s a greater goal in mind.
“We care about speciality coffee where farmers get paid a fair wage, an ethical supply chain and fair trade,” says John, perhaps the more reserved of the pair. Sarah elaborates further: “We also want to host events here – a food festival, events for the elderly, barista training, autism hour, a book club.”
Part of the Chamber Of Trade, Sarah regularly meets with other business owners and entrepreneurs, hoping one day to open the doors of Clwb Coffi as an assembly point and means of collaboration whilst creating further business opportunities within the area. Currently, she also works part-time for Tearfund, a Christian relief and development charity, a likely inspiration it seems to the businesses’ ethical aims and practices. John, meanwhile, is finishing off his studies in finance, and both have attended the 5-9 Club, a business-support course aiming to help budding entrepreneurs and run by startup company Welsh ICE.
Ideological/economical aims are one thing, but does Clwb Coffi’s fare pass the taste test? Thankfully, yes. Indeed, there’s no style over substance here: a fresh, clean environment, photos of local woodland on the walls, funky modern lighting, and the coffee’s not half bad either. Of the highest taste and quality, at a decent price, it’s fair to say they’re ticking all the boxes.
Clwb Coffi, Dunraven St, Tonypandy. Info: www.clwbcoffi.com
words OLIVER R MOORE-HOWELLS