Inside Government High Streets talk

Inside Government High Streets talk

It was great going off to London last week to talk markets with Economic Regeneration teams, BIDS, Town Clerks and others….for a bit more about the talk I gave – check this out!

Thank you for the introduction, it is such a pleasure to be here today and I feel privileged to be amongst such an enthusiastic audience……you are all working so hard to enliven our high streets, and add vibrancy into the heart of our communities and I hope that you can all see the value that local markets bring in assisting towards this vision.  For the gentleman in the back who is not comfortable with online portals….I hope you find this talk helpful and I would like to assure you that the National Association of British Market Authorities is more than happy to come out and help you with your market vision for Barnet in person ……and for the gentlemen who made the comment about the early evening economy, I would like to just point out that markets are an ideal solution to welcome families into town centres….acting as a bridge into the nighttime economy. 

It was great to hear the Ministers (Penny Mordaunt: DCLG Minister for High Streets and Markets) support for retail markets and if she had not had to dash off I would have liked to have thanked her for not giving the game away about this years Love Your Local Market.  We have enjoyed another year of delivering on an ambitious campaign that has to date created over 1,000 jobs.  This could not have been achieved without the continued support and collaborative efforts made on our behalf by central government and it is something I feel that markets and traders across the UK will feel the benefits of for many years ahead. 

Before I start to talk about the Love Your Local Market campaign and how it has contributed towards the effected rejuvenation of high streets and town centres, I shall introduce myself a little further.  I love markets…… having grown up in West Africa…. markets were some of the most exciting places I visited as a child, allowing a glimpse, however brief, into every walk of life.

Returning to the UK in the 1970s, I did not witness the great markets of the north but instead saw a rather sad assemblage of cheap goods and cut price vegetables, where a trip to Beejams was fast becoming the preferred option.  The vibrant places I had witnessed in Lagos, where innovation flourished and entrepreneurship was at the heart of everything that took place, had been diminished and devalued by the march of progress, where markets were being left behind. Only Fools and Horses has an awful lot to answer too in terms of shaping the British perception of the traditional market place, but it did offer a fairly honest representation of the way things once were, including the undeniable truth that despite their faults, markets were still meeting places and significant community assets.

Visiting London towards the end of the decade I was to see this community vibe in action once again. In locations such as Camden, Portobello and Kensington, markets were spawning the New Romantics movement. This was responsible for influencing everything from pop music to High Street fashion, including labels such as Vivienne Westwood, Red or Dead and Monsoon…now standing amongst the legends such as Marks and Spencers, started at Leeds Kirkgate Market and Tesco, one of the largest supermarkets in the UK, which less than 100 years ago started out on a stall in the East End.

Now, as well as being fortunate enough to work for Nabma, the National Association of British Market Authorities, where we are witnessing the resurgence of markets as places of British innovation and in many ways that eccentricity, so cleverly recreated, celebrated and embraced in Danny Boyles Olympic Opening Ceremony, I also enjoy working in my local communities in Wiltshire where as part of my consultancy practice, I fulfill a role as a town team lead. Our bid for Portas Pilot funding was unsuccessful, but subsequent funding through the Town Team Partners allocation has seen us successfully launch a weekly market – where for the past eighteen months the town teams community market, modeled under a social enterprise structure, is operated in partnership with Wiltshire Council who deliver a general market offer alongside us.  This has seen an average 40% increase in footfall in the town centre on market day but just as importantly raises the profile of the town as a place not only to shop and visit local services, but also as a place with a social role once again. Now with a proliferation of coffee shops that did not exist at the time of writing the Portas bid, as well as a place to access fresh, local food, the market has also become known as a place to discover and support small upcoming businesses that provides the cornerstone of our Community Markets model.

In the market town of Marlborough, where two weekly markets already exist, I am also fortunate enough to work with a local Transition Town group who were concerned when their farmers market of 12 years closed down.  Fearing that local food networks would decline as a consequence of the closure, we moved the location of the market from the Town Hall to the centre of the High Street, where we are working hard to deliver a monthly community market, where not only are local farmers and growers encouraged to come and sell their goods but we have also created a vibrant space for local artisans and crafters, with special discounts being given to those in industries with low carbon outputs, many of which are reviving specialist rural skills.

Over the past two years we have assisted over 20 new businesses, offering incentives, advise and networking opportunities.  Three have successfully transitioned into opening shops, if not on the high street due to high rents, then very close by, with a further significant number moving away from the market to concentrate on enhancing their online presence, having first established a local customer base.  Our involvement with the annual Christmas lights switch on celebrations has also seen local shopkeepers keeping their doors open in the evening of the event, for the first time in many years and this year, we are working even more closely with the Town Council to ensure the event can now cope with the growing visitor numbers.

Community Groups and Town Teams being enabled to establish new markets in this way has been as a direct consequence to the work carried out by the All Party Parliamentary Working Group for Retail Markets which has coordinated the work being undertaken by our industry for five years now.   It was the advise given by this group and most especially that of NABMA, that informed the Mary Portas recommendations to support markets and introduce new ones, seen – as they are as a mechanism to increase footfall.  When the findings from the Review where announced, NABMA were asked by government to take forward the recommendation to run a National Markets Day.  However it quickly became clear that to have a single day was not workable, with so many markets run daily, weekly and monthly let alone taking into account the current trend for the pop up market.  Even today the Love Your Local Market celebrations being concentrated over a fortnight in May poses problems, mostly for the high percentage of Farmers’ markets that have now joined the movement. As a consequence, resources and support for the campaign have now been committed year round, with an additional emphasis being made over the Christmas period.

To-date over a thousand markets have taken part, and this year the campaign extended into a further five countries.  In the UK in excess of 10,000 events have been recorded, with 7,000 put on this year alone, as part of the celebrations for an initiative started primarily to promote new traders… them a test bed for new ideas, as well as getting people to use markets or lose them.  In evaluating this years May campaign,  DCLG reported that operators, traders, consumers, the press and other partners had clocked up an impressive 42 million impressions on Twitter alone in a campaign mostly promoted through social media, so I feel we can positively say we have delivered on our brief ….to raise the profile of the British Markets industry. To put that figure into context the Fire Kills campaign delivered in the same month made 6 millions impressions.

With Love Your Local Market delivering on different themes each year, the first in 2012 was very much around simply getting markets to sign up, as well as promote Mary’s recommendation to make market trading accessible, by providing tables for a tenner.  In the event over 400 of our members rose to the challenge, the majority being Local Authorities.  In 2013, 700 markets offered in excess of  4.5k pitches to new traders with a 75% take up.  It is all very well offering pitches to attract new traders, but our focus this time had shifted to retention rates, with figures coming in at 50% after a three month trading period.  Even taking into account that around half of the pitches offered in he run up to the fortnight were in the end utilised by community groups – we feel this is still quite a significant number.

In May this year the focus has been on Youth Markets and largely through our sponsorship of the Teenage Market initiative, as well as market operators finding local solutions to fit this criteria, the target of 100 youth markets taking place in 2014 has been realised.  Promoted online and through social media the Teenage Market licence is gaining traction across the country, with the package largely purchased through local authorities, working in partnership with community groups.  Attracting a new generation of traders, as well as a new type of market trader, the Teenage Market ethos is all around individuality, with a strong ‘not on the High Street’ attitude.

And young people are signing up in droves. In March of this year Salisbury, one of the early adopters of the Teenage Market license were expecting their first event to attract around 15 stallholders.  In fact this number ended up being closer to 40 stalls, with many going on shortly afterwards to make a valid contribution on Salisbury’s Charter Market during this years Love Your Local Market celebrations.

Markets have been rationalising alongside the big box, high street giants and with NABMA predicting a 25% closure rate before 2020, it is heartening to see the youth market model having such an impact, when delivered at a grassroots level……and for today’s digital natives an online campaign is just that.

Next year Love Your Local Market will be focusing even more on digital, and with the management structure of participating markets seeing a more even spread from the second year, with 52% standing at Local Authority level and the rest made up of private operators, farmers’ markets, community groups and social enterprises – we shall also put a particular focus on the latter groups. 

The 2013 NABMA Retail Market Survey evidenced that social enterprise markets where performing better than any other management structure and with interest in markets at a record high at a local level, we shall be developing a Toolkit to encourage this sector as well as offer guidance on how to set up new markets in partnership with local authorities, thus further turning the tide on the level of markets operating within the UK.

In terms of maximising local markets to rejuvenate high streets and town centres, the breadth and scope of examples of how to diversify the market offer, that we have seen from those participating in Love Your Local Market has been extraordinary and inspirational.  We have all experienced firsthand the rise in popularity of street food and the food market offer …but in addition the Love Your Local Market campaign has seen a rise in extended opening hours, with operators licensing night markets, as well as a sharp increase in the weekend offer, taking advantage of free parking in some town centres. 

The themed market has also risen in popularity and ties in with this afternoons talk on Inspiring High Streets.  We have been seeing everything from Pirate markets to those celebrating past decades, or indeed the Mediaeval and other eras, including those marking the contributions made during the World Wars, with a central component supporting the Teenage Market model, of markets also being a space for performance.  With an interest in the revival of often long forgotten traditions, the themed market, offers towns and cities a mechanism with which to promote individuality and the uniqueness of place and market operators increasingly find themselves working alongside colleagues in the arts, culture and heritage sectors, fulfilling their roles as place makers. 

One community celebrating their diversity, while also taking steps to create jobs and prepare themselves for the influence of peak oil, is Dalston in North London.  A social enterprise, Growing Communities……. are transforming food and farming in their area through community led trade. As well as supporting over 25 organic and biodynamic small-scale farmers in the region, the organisation is pioneering urban food growing in the UK. Here residents have been provided with the skills and training, as well as the start-up funding, to introduce a network of market gardens and a Community Supported Agriculture farm.  This in turn, supports a weekly box scheme that also widens the reach of other small farms in the Kent, Essex and East Anglian regions ….who supply boxes of organic fruit and vegetables starting from as little as £7.75 a week.  The organisation also accepts payment through the governments Healthy Start Scheme as well as offering a significant discount to pensioners, and through a specially devised Start-Up Programme, the model has now been rolled out into a further nine communities, creating sustainable jobs and growth as well as access to fresh, healthy food.

This wonderful cross pollination of ideas has come of course, from a single source and that is the award-winning Stoke Newington Farmer’s Market, a weekly event that lies at the heart of the community.  Here local residents who have not been persuaded to turn their back gardens and allotments into urban market gardens, are encouraged to form cooperatives selling a wide variety of baked goods and authentic world foods, representing the rich diversity of cultures present in the community. The weekly market stall is therefore not a burden to anyone in the co-ops created, when there are enough bodies to allow for holidays, childcare and other commitments. Other ultra local producers support the farmers and growers who come in from outlying areas, with companies such as those creating organic chocolates as well as the company making fresh pasta, tiramisu and a range of home-made ice creams …..all it has to be said, with a fair price tag. 

Combining the digital and box scheme theme, an enterprising business up in Yorkshire is signing up market traders with the business acumen to have their produce centrally delivered, catering for the less mobile or the time poor.  Called Market Delivered the company currently services traders from Leeds Kirkgate Market, Sowerby Bridge, Todmorden and Halifax Borough Markets, and having just come through it’s first successful year of trading, anticipates a rosey future, though admitting that convincing the older generation of trader that markets can go online, can be something of an uphill struggle. 

In the same way that communities and consumers are reconnecting with their town centres, seeing them as more than a place to shop …the Love Your Local Market campaign has borne witness to the shrugging off, of the down at heel image of markets that I witnessed in the 1970s.  They are instead showing all the promise and vibrancy that I saw as a child in Nigeria, with traders at the forefront of an emerging sector of high-quality goods, amazing food and all without the start-up costs of a bricks and mortar operation. 

Markets are playing a leading role in High Street regeneration and NABMA have been leading the charge as the voice of Markets for nearly a hundred years.  We are by no means out of the woods yet, any of us, but by working with communities alongside business and  local authorities, as well as central government, we can assist them in delivering town centre spaces that they wish to spend time in, going further than merely stemming the tide of the decline, that was so prevalent just three years ago.  

To combat this, we are working on new incentives and this Christmas shall be partnering with Small Business Saturday UK, encouraging towns lacking the necessary investment to put on a Christmas market, to take advantage of the busiest shopping day of the year, urging them to deliver special events on December 6.

Thank you for the opportunity of coming to talk to you today and for showing such an interest in markets.  I am very much looking forward to hearing the rest of the speakers as I can already see so many areas of common interest.  This is of little surprise as markets are such an integral part of the street scene in Britain today, as they have been for a millennia.