In an era of online shopping in which high streets are in decline and even a major retailer such as Tesco is struggling, the traditional town market may seem like little more than an outdated throwback to a medieval age.
Yet thanks to our growing appetite for local produce – edible and otherwise – our desire to get up close and personal with local producers, and a new generation of innovative younger traders, the town market’s fortunes are once more on the rise.
The old-style market has been elbowed out as supermarkets swallow ever-greater slices of consumers’ spending. Economic marginalisation brings social marginalisation. With the exception of the new generation of specialist markets, the traditional market now tends to be perceived in Britain as a place for cheap goods, frequented by pensioners and poorer people.
Markets are being pushed to the margins, physically, economically and socially. Often this physical sidelining is exacerbated by town centre redevelopment schemes marketed as ‘regeneration’.
In 2009 a House of Commons inquiry concluded that the social benefits of markets were as important as their economic functions. They can bring communities together, help promote healthy eating, provide more environmentally sustainable models of retailing than the large supermarkets, offer opportunities for new businesses, and bring life into town centres.
Council-run markets generate revenue for local authorities, which can be reinvested in improvements or used to keep public services running. Smaller markets, MPs heard, “provide intimate public spaces where traders and shoppers know each other and work well for the community”.
Many markets are still run by local councils and bring money into their coffers, joining together commerce, community, and local enterprise. Markets were once a symbol of civic pride: these days the council’s civic focus is more directed on providing an arena for big-ticket entertainment events, and markets are under threat from new retail developments.
If the council doesn’t have the energy or resources to reinvigorate the market, the argument goes, let local people do so. The Localism Act 2011 in England allows “assets of community value” to be identified and sold to resident-led organisations.
Local authorities can divest themselves of assets that they cannot manage well; community organisations can get on with putting their ideas into practice without the bureaucracy that often accompanies local government.
However, ‘community assets’ can quickly turn into liabilities, especially when they are ornate but poorly maintained Victorian buildings. Nevertheless, there is a common and hopeful thread that runs through the best local markets, whether they are community-led, run by local authorities, organised by producers’ cooperatives or stimulated by temporary events and activities. Markets can help keep the heart beating in town centres that have lost out to the retail parks.
Shop at your local indoor and outdoor markets
Town and country markets across England and Wales provide for everyone’s taste. The markets and the traders offer the same quality of service that shoppers have come to expect from high street shops. Individuals can find baked goods, top quality fruits and vegetables, as well as clothing and a list of other products.
There are also markets that offer finds for individuals interested in collectables and antiques. Shopping at a market is an excellent way for a family to spend the day since there are unique and eclectic items around every corner.
Many markets are located near some of their region’s best parks and are within walking distance from fantastic cafés and bistros. Allow yourself a little extra time to look around and explore. There is so much to see and it is no wonder that many shoppers keep coming back time and again.
The variety of products and friendly service makes these markets a great way to spend the day whether you need to pick up a few necessities or are looking for that perfect hidden gem.
With British Food Fortnight running from 19th September – 4th October this is a good time to check out your local markets for home grown produce.
More information about local markets can be found at www.nabma.com, which is the voice of British markets and works to support all aspects of this traditional amenity.