A Market is for Life not just for Christmas

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 @MrsMarketUKLYLMMarkets 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.

About Leigh Sparks

I am Professor of Retail Studies at the Institute for Retail Studies, University of Stirling, where I research and teach aspects of retailing and retail supply chains, alongside various colleagues. I am Chair of Scotland's Towns Partnership. I am also a Deputy Principal of the University, with responsibility for Internationalisation and Graduate Studies.
This entry was posted in Farmers Markets, Festivals, Independents, Localisation, Markets, Mary Portas, Places, Town Centres and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to A Market is for Life not just for Christmas

  1. John Orchard says:

    Leigh

    I have just carried out a town centre survey of Barnsley which measured the mix and the voids as well as other details such as rateable values. What struck me is that the market, which is a bit tired and in need of some TLC is nonetheless regaining much of its former importance to the town. It is responsible for having been the nurture zone or incubator for a good number of the businesses now trading in shops in the town and it als prevents the most central area from being a food desert. The local Morrisons whilst not far away is out of the town centre and the new Lidl is right on the edge, and a long walk from the centre. So, here’s to markets everywhere, and power to the added resilience that they can bring to a town!

  2. Leigh Sparks says:

    Thanks for this. I think there is a really good story about the role of markets as low cost entry to retailing. When you hear some of the rates bill figures (see yesterday in Parliament at the Select Committee and the Debate on the High Street) then the contrast with the opportuntiies that markets offer is amazing. And as you say the products on offer can provide vital supply or variety – and often on a local supply basis.

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