Treforest is the home of Sir Tom Jones and where the world famous Groggs were founded. It's also the village where students from across the world travel thousands of miles to study.

These are a few of the main things that come to mind when you think of Treforest which is located in the south-east part of Pontypridd, but there's a lot more to the area than you may think.

If you've lived in Pontypridd for most of your life you'd probably think of Treforest as the 'student hub' of the town, much like Cathays would be described as the 'student hub' of Cardiff. But just because the area is known as the home of students, this doesn't mean that's all there is to it.

Many people wouldn't think of Treforest as a place to hit the shops, with Pontypridd town centre being only a few minutes' drive down the road. It's the town centre where you'll find the indoor market and the main high street that once homed big name brands such as Marks & Spencer, River Island and Clarks.

Over the last year or so Pontypridd town centre has seen many new shops and developments pop up. You can read more about that here. But, if you take a little time to look, you'll also find there are some pretty diverse businesses in Treforest.

One person who is keen to speak all about the area's diversity is Mike Morton, who is the proud owner of Olive's Attic Café.

Mike Morton feels at home at Olive's Attic

Mike, 67, has been running the little coffee spot for around four years. He admits he took a leap of faith when he started the business as he spent time as a teacher and an actor before taking the reigns at Olive's. But, just by speaking to him for a few minutes, you can see how happy he is that he took the risk.

"I had never done anything like this before. I was really going in the dark.

"I'm retired and I had always dreamed of running a little café. I don't know why. I think it comes from childhood memories in Pontypridd when we would go out to my favourite café. I have always loved café culture, so it's been a little dream I have had for a long time, but I didn't think I would ever be doing it."

A few years ago the chance came along to take over the premises on Fothergill Street, and Mike quickly snapped up the opportunity.

Obviously the last 12 months or so have been more difficult due to the coronavirus pandemic. Mike used the first lockdown to make some adjustments to the premises, and said the help businesses like his received from the Welsh Government and the local authority helped to take some of the worry away.

Mike has always wanted to run his own cafe
Olive's Attic in Treforest

The café owner was born and bred in Treforest so the fact that his dream has been made a reality in his hometown means all the more to him as he feels he's able to really make a difference to the area.

He's even been involved in developing a joint enterprise with a team of others, which has involved turning the building next door to the café into an arts hub called ARTtic. Here a team are working together to do things like sell local artwork, handcrafted items and promote local music.

Even though so much work has been done over the last few years Mike said people still visit the café even now, and say "I didn't realise this was here". This is something he hopes will change as lockdown restrictions continue to ease, and they are able to host more events such as open mic nights when rules allow.

"We have some lovely students who come in here," he added.

"If they come in here and they like the coffee then we are doing something right, I would like to think.

"I grew up in Treforest. There was a very vibrant high street when I was a boy. There were lots of different businesses and shops - you didn't need to go into Pontypridd. It was very diverse.

"That changed somewhat, and then later came along the university. The student population has made it a vibrant place again.

"In one day you can have two people from Rhydyfelin, somebody from Latvia and someone from Lisbon in here. It's wonderful."

A general view of the streets

But business owners in Treforest said the pandemic has had an impact on how many students from the University of South Wales' campus actually go out and about in the area. With online learning having taken over in the last year, some said the dynamics of the area has started to change, and they aren't able to rely on students visiting like they could two or three years ago.

Jayne Coleman, 55, has been running Martha's Homestore for two years. After always having a love for vintage homeware she decided to take the plunge and open a shop on Park Street, which is only a few minutes down the road from Olive's Attic.

The little shop sells everything from vintage interiors to locally made items from designers like Coop Ceramics.

Jayne said: "Over the years Pontypridd had the big names. But it's OK here. I have built up my loyal customers."

Jayne has overseen the business for a couple of years

When you look around there are lots of little businesses and there aren't many gaps on the high street. Admittedly, there are a quite a few takeaways, pubs and a couple of hairdressers, but there's also a florist, post office, pharmacy and there are some other quirky, independent shops too.

Treforest doesn't embody the hustle and bustle of Pontypridd town centre on a busy day but there are people walking around browsing and popping into the odd shop or two.

For Jayne she said the last 12 months have seen less people popping in who study and work at the university after people worked and studied at home during lockdown.

Now she sees less students and teaching staff around so less people come in to take a peak at what's on offer.

Martha's Homestore
Inside Martha's Homestore

"What I found is a lot of staff would come in just for a look," she said.

"I would have students who would browse. It's not a big change, but we did have a few.

"In lockdown we did click and collect and that was amazing as my customers still bought from me so that was a help really. It helped me to keep going."

For Jayne, she said she doesn't like to say that Treforest is totally forgotten because her loyal customers keep coming back.

She said: "We have it very different here. I don't want to have a negative spin on it, but it's only a five minute walk from town, and there are lots of different things here."

If you don't know much about Treforest one thing you may have heard of in your time is the Pink Shop.

Quite frankly it can only possibly be described as the area's own Willy Wonka cave of confectionery that has seen grandparents dragged in off the pavement and ravenous children wrist deep in paper bags full of penny sweets.

Two years ago the well-known shop opened its doors again after it seemingly shut for the last time. You can read more about that here.

The Pink Shop

Since then it has been under the watchful eye of Sharon Richards, 51, who admits they are "very lucky" to have been supported so much during the pandemic.

Sharon said: "In the first lockdown we had to diversify. We were selling fresh bread, milk, eggs, duck eggs and we were delivering to the local area. We carried on with that for quite a few months."

Sharon Richards
You don't find many sweet shops like this

Talking about how the sweet treats have been flying off the shelves, Sharon added: "I think because people haven't been able to go out they want treats. They couldn't go to the pub or for a meal so the next best thing is to have some chocolates and treats.

"We have ordered from the USA, New Zealand and we have ordered from Dubai. They all want something a little bit different."

Even though Sharon admits they have all been flat out throughout the pandemic, she said there have been some changes to the way the team now operate.

Too many sweeties to pick a favourite

Before March 2020 the Pink Shop would usually open its doors at 7am so people could pop in and pick up their treats to take to work. The shop lies opposite the train station making it the perfect spot to make the most of passing trade but, with less people heading into the city to work now, they decided there was no point in opening the doors until 10am.

Speaking about the students, Sharon added: "They are not going out like they were.

"People are not going to the station. The mornings are more quiet now.

"We are still busy. Everybody knows the Pink Shop - that's the thing so we are quite lucky in that respect. "

Richard Bebb

For Richard Bebb, 51, there's also been a bit of notable change over the past 12 months.

He took over Treforest Hardware on Park Street in 2012, but has worked for the business since 1995. The shop owner said the premises has been a hardware store since as far back as 1904.

But even though the shop has been going strong for so long Richard said there are still days where people drive by and say: "I didn't know this was here".

When asked if he thinks this is because people think of the village as a student area, he said: "You've hit the nail on the head."

Richard said: "We are doing OK ourselves. We have a good client base and we have loyal customers, and they have really supported us through everything that's going on.

"It's been hard, but we've had a lot of support."

Richard said the team are lucky they have customers who stay loyal to them who are not just from Pontypridd but who are from wider areas too, like Aberdare and Merthyr Tydfil.

He said there are people who know about the shop from further afield, but then there are also some people who may visit the area regularly without realising the shop is there.

"It's surprising how many people just drive through and don't know we're here," he added.

"It's strange. There are so many of us here, but people don't know."

Treforest Hardware Store
Richard pictured at the shop

Richard said: "It's seen as a student village. There are so many landlords and student properties, which I'm glad to see here, but people are not able to park."

Over the last few months Richard said he also started to notice that less people from the university visiting the shop. He said the students were never a big client base for him as such, but members of staff and landlords would regularly visit before lockdown.

This has changed since teaching has been virtual. He's lucky to have a loyal client base, but he said there are people who haven't been visiting the shop as a result of the pandemic.

The business owner also thinks Treforest will see more families move to the area if less students decide to move into housing.

"For us, we are content with families in the area, as people will always want DIY, but it's sad to see the landlords selling up," he said.

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At the moment nobody knows what Treforest will look like in the next few years. We don't know what long-term effects the pandemic will have on the student community and we don't know to what extent the atmosphere will change.

What we do know, for now, is that in the most unassuming of places there are rows of little shops, pubs and eateries desperate for people to visit after they've been forced to shut up shop time and time again over the past year.

Lockdown has taught many people a lot more about the importance of shopping local but shopping local doesn't just mean heading to your nearest town centre. It also means taking note of all the different, varied and unique businesses that are around you. You may be surprised to find that sometimes these little gems are in the most unlikely of places.