As has been noted in these pages, I am not a great fan of the Orange One. The idea that celebrity can save the high street is not one I ascribe to readily, and the Portas review for me missed a lot of opportunities. And as for the television programme follow-ups with Portas Pilots … please.
But celebrity has its uses, and I very much doubt if a TV programme on regenerating your high street fronted by your local academic or some other worthy, would have much of an audience. And one thing that Mary Portas has been good at, and useful for, is keeping high streets in the news and that can not be a bad thing, can it? But then what happens when the celebrity circus leaves town? What can be built from the local up?
One thing that I think Mary got right was her enthusiasm for markets. She proposed a national Market Day and saw markets as bringing life and energy back into places, and in offering low cost start-up opportunities to would be retailers. And on both of those counts I think she is right. As regular readers will know, I have often commented on the wonders and delights of markets in this blog.
But maybe she did not go far enough? Rather than a Market Day, how about a Market fortnight? And that’s where we are just now.
In 2012 an inaugural Love Your Local Market campaign saw 2000 people taking up the challenge of market trading. It is estimated that 200 are still in business. This year’s event, which runs over two weeks, from May 15th – 29th aims to improve the take up and the longevity. In addition to getting people into market trading, Love Your Local Market is about celebrating the role of markets in creating desirable spaces and events and seeing them as part of the process of reviving town centres and communities, using the resources and energy that you can find in your town. Full details and updates are available on the Love Your Local Market website and on Twitter via @MrsMarketUKMarkets are energetic and enthusiastic economic and social spaces when done right. Local markets celebrate what is great, and in season, locally and reduce the supply chain, linking producers and consumers, in food and non-food. They can bring colour, life and energy back into town and high street spaces. What’s not to like?
We are seeing a revival in interest in markets. Some of this is to do with the popularity of collecting and antiquing. Some is to do with the desire for something different, local and traceable or authentic. The recession also plays a part. And on the supply side markets can offer an affordable entry point to retailing – though in the best markets, pitches may be at a premium.
It is an oddity, which markets can exploit, that despite record levels of vacancies in shop and other units in town centres, the ability of new businesses to get a space or a lease on anything like sensible terms is so limited. Our dysfunctional property market will eventually be forced to adjust, but in the meantime markets can offer space, place and often entry level prices, and bring life back to centres.
So Love Your Local Market. We are halfway through the fortnight, so there’s plenty of time to get out there and explore what’s on offer. But then, some of us already know that it is not about a Market Day, or Market Fortnight, but Markets should be a regular part of normal life, year round.