If you want to regenerate a town centre, set up a local market

A blog by Ellie Gill first published for The Guardian’s Local Leaders Network in 2013

While retail stores are closing, markets help to start businesses, create jobs and breathe new life into the high street

There has been much public comment in recent weeks on the Portas Pilots, set up just over a year ago to test ideas to boost our ailing high streets.

As part of the Department for Communities and Local Government working party on markets, the National Association for British Market Authorities was responsible for Portas putting an emphasis on the importance of markets in her plan. Although the fortunes of the 27 high streets chosen for the DCLG-funded initiative have been mixed, Nabma’s Love Your Local Market project – born from Mary Portas’s idea of a national market day – has proved that markets make a positive impact on the community.

Photo thanks to The Guardian

Photo thanks to The Guardian

Love Your Local Market is a fortnight-long celebration of market culture in the UK, which also aims to make it easier for people to become market traders. This year, nearly 700 places in England put on more than 2,200 market events, making this the biggest market event ever held. We set a goal to make 3,000 pitches available to those wanting a low-cost, low-risk route to market the chance to start a new career or the opportunity to test out their business idea. This is to ensure that markets remain a key part of a local town centre’s retail offer.

“…..nearly 700 places in England put on more than 2,200 market events”

By the start of the fortnight, the markets industry had come together to pledge just over 5,000 pitches for new businesses, many of which were either free or very low-cost. New market traders were also offered support from local market managers and free insurance for the duration of the campaign, giving local people the opportunity to start or expand new businesses, create jobs in their local communities and contribute to the economic growth of the high street.  Wholesale bakery company Bread Source were one of 2,800 traders to take up test pitches during the fortnight, trialling their products at Norwich market over four days. At the close of Love Your Local Market, they were requesting a permanent place and advertising for additional staff on Twitter.

The movement has also inspired new markets to set up, including one in Trowbridge, Wiltshire. The new town team, in partnership with the council, started a market in March this year that is already one of the largest in the region and has increased footfall in the town five-fold. This proves that, while parking, rates and all of the oft-cited ills of town centres will continue to be discussed and fought over, if you want to regenerate an area, set up a market.

Examples of people using the events as a springboard for other activities include the launch of a new town loyalty app in Barnsley, while Darlington for Culture got together with their local markets team to ensure that Love Your Local Market provided a stage for local arts groups. Kirkgate market in Leeds reported a 50% increase in footfall against normal Sundays for their Worldfeast event, bringing in 51,000 people.

Image courtesy of Leeds Markets

Image courtesy of Leeds Markets

For centuries, markets have been enlivening and adding vibrancy to the public spaces in our town and city centres. Although a primary aim of the campaign has been to build affection for markets, the essence of Love Your Local Market is delivering the message that local people are the co-creators of town centre spaces. The thousands of events held across the country have been a demonstration of how to make these spaces functional, healthy and happy. We are all witnessing the contraction of retail, so let us give people the tools they need to deliver real change in their communities and make towns the multi-functional places that Mary Portas aspired to.

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