A virtual community platform to connect local businesses, services, and amenities online has been launched today – to challenge the dominance of “established” online platforms.

The project, which aims to bring “digital footfall” to Scotland’s high streets, enables locals to shop, book, and engage in a single online location at any time, complementing in-person activities in town centres across the country.

The Scottish Tech Army, a not-for-profit organisation focused on harnessing the power of technology “for good”, is behind the SOLE Scotland (Supporting Our Local Economy) scheme.

The platform also offers a digital presence for businesses and organisations that may not have their own website.

In addition to being a “go-to” reference point for the whole community, SOLE Scotland enables providers to create omnichannel customer experiences and benefit from more flexibility and additional revenue channels during post-pandemic recovery.

As part of the initial launch in Dunbar, East Lothian, SOLE Scotland is partnering with Dunbar Music Festival, which will go ahead 3-5 September.

Tickets are available on SOLE Scotland as well as a range of promotions and special offers related to the festival itself and local businesses throughout the town during the three-day event.

The pilot in Dunbar has been sponsored by East Lothian Council, with a view to rolling out the platform across the rest of the region and ultimately into other areas of Scotland in response to demand.

Alistair Forbes, co-founder, and chief executive of the Scottish Tech Army/Supplied

Alistair Forbes, co-founder and chief executive of the Scottish Tech Army, said: “Our research shows that the vast majority of consumers were highly motivated to support each other and their local economies during the pandemic and the period of recovery following it, rather than giving their business to multinationals.

“However, despite that goodwill, people often use the established platforms for reasons such as convenience, flexibility, availability and price. This is proving very damaging for many local businesses, and in turn for local communities.

“With SOLE Scotland, we are bringing together everything that communities have to offer in one place, making it smooth and simple for locals and tourists alike to explore and engage with the community. The Dunbar Music Festival is a great example of a community-led initiative to drive activity, engagement and business in the town and we are delighted to be able to support this with the SOLE Scotland platform.”

Councillor John McMillan, the provost and spokesperson for economic development for East Lothian Council, said: “This is a hugely exciting project, and we are incredibly pleased that East Lothian is piloting it. East Lothian Council has a strong, collaborative focus on supporting and sustaining our local businesses and we have worked with representatives from our key industries to understand the challenges they face and to help find solutions. The ‘shop local’ message is one we have long championed, and it has become even more important at this difficult time in supporting our businesses to engage with customers in new ways.

“Our ‘Stay Safe, Support Local, Love East Lothian’ campaign is all about shining a light on the many wonderful businesses, services and attractions we have here – and indeed highlighting how they have adapted to the current crisis, with many offering brand new, online shopping opportunities and delivery services. The SOLE Scotland project is so aligned with everything we are trying to do that it made total sense for us to be involved from the start.”

Shoppers can explore what their local high street has to offer using using an interactive map on Sole.scot/Supplied

The Scottish Tech Army brings technically savvy volunteers together with organisations that are facing digitisation challenges of some kind. The organisation was originally founded to help organisations in the front line of dealing with the massive impacts of Covid-19 on the economy and society.

Since its launch in April 2020, the community of more than 1,700 volunteers has worked on more than 250 tech-focused projects across Scotland.