From the miles of woodland, fields and rolling hills that surround Darwen, you could be forgiven for assuming this Lancashire market town might not be a hub for innovation. But though recent years might have seemed tough at a glance, with four banks closing and the demolition of the 3-day market, things aren’t what they seem as the town gears up for total transformation.
Heart of Darwen, a community initiative founded by Liam Dargan, has been at the center of this shift together with The Darrener. Both are working to revamp, modernise and breathe life back into Darwen by putting locals at the forefront of key decisions. One issue affecting the town was a lack of payment technology being used by local businesses. In fact, 95% of the business in the historic market hall were cash only. Liam recognised the problem immediately:
“We know that shoppers aren’t carrying as much cash these days. After conducting research with The Darrener, we realised that many of the businesses in town were still cash-only. Younger demographics often don’t carry any cash at all, and with two high schools/colleges in the town centre, it’s even more important that we encourage them to spend money locally.”
It was at this point he approached Square to help local businesses secure an affordable and easy way to take card payments. Of course we were only too happy to help. For a town like Darwen that’s run on cash for many centuries, we wanted to make sure small businesses didn’t miss out on the shift to card payments. That meant coming up with a simple and easy way for businesses to give card payments a go. We armed sellers in Darwen Market with a free Square Reader and their first £1,000 of transactions processed fee-free. As well as the technology, we also pledged training and marketing support to ensure nothing could get in the way of their smooth setup and quick growth.
Economic empowerment is the reason Square exists, and Darwen isn’t the first community we’ve worked with in this way. Over the last year we’ve partnered with Holywell in Wales to encourage shoppers back out on the street as part of its ‘Digital Town’ initiative. It was the first project of its kind in the UK, preparing and equipping 55 of the town’s independent businesses to accept card payments. That number has now grown, and 95% have left behind their cash-only approach.
Back in Darwen, things have really taken off, resulting in something remarkable. Square’s Michael Lau travelled to Darwen to see the initiative in action:
“Darwen Market and town centre has a fantastic range of independent businesses which give the town its character and personality. This scheme will allow shops and market traders to start accepting cards, many for the first time ever. It’s a great example how 21st century technology can help this 19th century market hall to thrive.
“At Square we’re committed to helping businesses access technology easily, quickly and affordably. When the Heart of Darwen project approached us and explained the work they were doing, we felt their purpose was perfectly aligned with ours and we were excited to join the campaign.”
Change in action: The Sweet Shop, Darwen
One of the businesses on the front line of Square’s partnership with Heart of Darwen and the Darrener is The Sweet Shop, owned and run by Becca Greenhalgh.
Becca had been working as a recruitment consultant, but her passion to open a shop at the heart of the community won her over. She bought her store back in 2016, and before Square, had been accepting cash payments exclusively, “Since I bought the Sweet Shop two years ago, I’ve definitely found that less and less people are carrying cash. People want to pay by card, and it’s important that small businesses in the market and the town adapt to this change.”
With her Square Reader, Becca is now able to accept any way her customers want to pay, and never turn down a sale. With next-business-day transfers as standard, she also doesn’t have to wait long to receive her money so that it can be reinvested into the business, “Having Square on board has made such a huge difference to my business - alongside the sweet shop, we’ve launched a tea room so we’re now able to upsell other products too. It’s a really positive move to be able to get customers back spending in local shops.”
With 81% of people saying they’d shop more locally if they knew a business took cards, and only 13% using a cash machine more than once a month, the case for communities and businesses of all sizes to invest in payment technology is huge. With Square, that opportunity is becoming a real and affordable reality for more and more across the country.