RCT Council has supported Mountain Ash business Abigail Lewis Photography to access Welsh Government funding and transform an unused building into a bespoke studio – allowing it to go from strength to strength this year.
The town centre business, run by sisters Abigail Lewis-Savage and Kristie Lewis, specialises in maternity, new-born and early years photography. They previously rented premises locally, but the property didn’t meet the needs of their business. Abigail and Kristie initially contacted the local area Officer in the Council’s Town Centres team which, working with the wider Regeneration department, could help identify suitable funding opportunities for the business.
Council Officers helped the business secure a Development Bank of Wales loan to purchase their new premises on Oxford Street – an empty former betting shop building – along with an Urban Centre Property Enhancement Fund grant of more than £170,000 from Welsh Government, to transform the derelict building. Works began on site during February 2021, and Abigail and Kristie could welcome customers to their new premises two months later.
The works have provided more space for the studio, separating its viewing area to accommodate more than one customer at a time – creating additional opportunities to generate income. The building was previously in a poor condition but is now rejuvenated, also improving the overall look of the town.
Abigail Lewis-Savage said: “We previously rented a property, but it really wasn’t what we wanted, so we got in touch with the Council’s Town Centres Officer for Mountain Ash, who introduced us to colleagues in the Regeneration department. We then had a meeting and it was explained that there was support available for the regeneration of empty properties on the high street.
“This was perfect for us. It was a specialist building that we needed, and the capability to design something ourselves. We found a building in the same street – we haven’t moved far at all! We got the ball rolling in Spring 2020, at the start of the pandemic, and works could then start in February 2021.”
Abigail added that she would recommend the support offered from the Council throughout the project, and would encourage other businesses to find out about the grant funding opportunities which are available to them.
She said: “If you don’t ask, you don’t get! It was a lot of hard work, but it was definitely more than worth it. We would never have been able to do this without the support of the Council. It’s been amazing since we’ve been able to open in the new premises – we’ve gone from strength to strength. We’ve even won Gold and Bronze for maternity photography in the Glow Awards.”
Abigail and Kristie also took part in the Council’s latest Shop Local campaign which launched in April 2021, when the easing of Coronavirus restrictions allowed non-essential retail to reopen following the winter lockdown period.
Abigail added: “We definitely agree with the Shop Local message, and encourage all of our customers to shop in the town, as we do so ourselves. It’s important to help out everyone trading in the town. It’s all about putting back into local, so all of the community can benefit.”
Councillor Robert Bevan, Rhondda Cynon Taf Council’s Cabinet Member for Enterprise, Development and Housing, said: “I’m delighted the Council has been able to support Abigail Lewis Photography to access this significant funding from the Development Bank of Wales and the Urban Centre Property Enhancement Fund. The project has been full of advantages – from bringing a derelict property back into use, to having a positive effect on the town centre and helping a local, hard-working business progress with its goals and vision.
“The Council’s Regeneration department undertakes invaluable work to help local businesses, and highlight the funding opportunities available. In recent months, we’ve helped 69 local businesses from across Rhondda Cynon Taf develop outdoor spaces to increase their trading – via Welsh Government COVID recovery grants from Transforming Towns and the Valleys Taskforce.
“Important work also continues to improve our town centres. Free Wi-Fi has recently been installed in Tonypandy, which means six of our seven principal town centres now offer this – with the seventh, Pontypridd, to follow soon. We also continue important schemes such as the Town Centre Maintenance Grant, helping landlords and business owners improve their property fronts.
“I’d like to offer my congratulations to Abigail Lewis Photography for the completion of their redevelopment scheme in Mountain Ash town centre, and for the excellent progress that the business has made in its new home.”