Digital Improvement District: CuparNow
In 2018, Cupar was chosen as a demonstration town to prove the concept of a Digital Improvement District under the Scottish Government's Digital Towns Programme 2017-18.
The idea of a Digital Improvement District was based on the need for a digital approach to deliver support to a range of audiences: residents, visitors, community groups, culture and tourism bodies, education and training providers, environmental projects, and health and social care partnerships. The overarching ambition was to create a sustainable digital model, one that would enable a town to deliver all the desired services, removing the need for ongoing applications for funding support from local, regional or national government. The initiative had the unanimous support of the town's business association, ABCD.
The demonstration phase ran for 15 months (from September 2018) until a ballot in December 2019. In line with the Business Improvement District legislation, the ballot gave every non-domestic rate paying business and organisation in the town the opportunity to vote on the initiative.
In campaigning for the support of businesses and organisations, a detailed business plan was published providing a full breakdown on how each £ of the collected levy would be invested (see page 23). The largest proportion (35%) is allocated to the management of integrated, digital communication. The next biggest budget items, each with 12% of the budget, are the free Wi-Fi service, the managed Blog (with categorised listings, map and events calendar) and the weekly face-to-face visits to local businesses by CuparNow’s ambassador.
Businesses gave their backing by a majority of both number and rateable value voting. The successful ballot resulted in the creation of the UK and Scotland's first Digital Improvement District: CuparNow that will run for five years (2020-2025). The annual levies for businesses and organisations vary from £0 to £2,000, depending on each property’s non-domestic rateable value, generating around £80k annually to fund the Digital Improvement District.
The Digital Improvement District delivers integrated digital communication and services seven days a week between 8am and 10pm. Digital channels - including the core channels of the Blog, Facebook and Instagram with supporting channels of Twitter, YouTube, TikTok and LinkedIn Local - are fed with content that is captured and gathered from the town's businesses and organisations, including through a project ambassador who undertakes face to face visits to engage with businesses before content is published.
CuparNow also provides free public realm Wi-Fi in the town centre. By late 2020, this had been used by more than 13,000 visitors with over 1,000 of them subscribing to receive regular updates on what the town has to offer. The service also captures key data which helps to understand visitors’ demographics, home locations, times and lengths of visit.
When the Covid-19 lockdown was announced, CuparNow came into its own. Delivery continued seven days a week and was able to provide support to multiple audiences across the town and Cupar's wider rural catchment. The Digital Improvement District has a Covid-19 recovery plan, which was updated in August 2020 to explain the project’s activity during lockdown. An appendix to the update contains a Toolkit & Case Study on the development of the Digital Improvement District.
In September 2020, the Digital Improvement District launched CuparClicks, a multi-vendor platform created with support from the Scottish Government's Business Improvement District Resilience Fund together with investment from Fife Council and the company that delivers the Improvement District’s services, Destination Digital Ltd.
CuparNow has created the fastest growing and largest digital audience of any town or city in Scotland. The town has a population of less than 10,000, but across all channels it has built a digital audience – Cupar’s advocates - that tops 21,500 and continues to grow daily. Readers of the project's Blog come from more than 800 cities across 80 countries.
Future plans for CuparNow include using technology to aid business support, environmental monitoring, health & social care partnerships, education and training, safety and security as well as transport.