There has been a lot of talk recently about revitalizing our High Streets and one of the suggestions was through the use of Markets as a catalyst to encourage growth, certainly this is something Mary Portas has suggested in her Review and it has been welcomed by many industry groups.
But what I would like to address is the effect this has, indeed the way in which some local authorities and industry groups now view our markets, not as a vibrant community of hard working business people, doing their best, while contributing to establish a community hub, but as a commodity, something that can be conjured up, positioned in place then pushed around to suit the interests of other third parties, without any regard to effect it may have on the core of the market, the very people who make it a market in the first place.
“The reality is, a market cannot be used as a commodity by interested parties in an attempt to prop up retail interests without impacting negatively on the integrity of the market itself.”
Markets are not commodities, they are in fact a collection of businesses and business people the best of which are fostered by an entrepreneurial spirit and vision, not only for the success of the market itself, but also for the community at large, to fulfill a community need. Yet they seem to have been reduced to nothing more than this, another tool at the disposal of local authorities, to pull out every now and then when the heat from the high street gets a little too hot, that the Council has failed the high street in the first place is usually overlooked, (I am not saying the demise of some high streets lays solely with Councils, quite obviously we have endured very challenging economic times of late) what is mentioned is a grand revitalization plan that involves a new market to assist in attracting much needed customers back to the ailing high street.
Think about that for a minute, their is no argument that the primary objective is to improve footfall to the local retail in the high street, but that is only one of the multitude of benefits you get from a successful market. Certainly increased visitation is a business goal, but just as important is fulfilling a community need, generating employment in the area, fostering the growth of small business, giving the community a sense of place, providing a forum for community groups and if done correctly encouraging young people to become involved in numerous ways, including opportunities to entertain and perform as well as gain valuable experience and part time work.
But when markets are perceived to function only as an instrument to attract more people, it does a great disservice to the very fabric of the market and the people involved in them, it strips away all the other wonderful benefits and puts the focus squarely on numbers.
Somehow if the local retailers don’t get an almost instant increase in sales the market is looked upon as a failure, what is completely ignored is all of the other benefits the new market maybe having, employing a multitude of people, providing the community with a forum and acting as an incubator for small business to name but a few.
Firstly markets should be managed professionally, by entrepreneurs who have a vested interest in the business success of the market, and who understand the communities needs. This does not preclude local Councils from running markets but it does require the correct choice of staff, not simply the allocation of personnel from an obscure department who just happen to have the time available, but real, experienced, professionals.
And secondly, markets must be allowed to evolve and adapt to their environment, they will change over time, lessons will be learnt, but to be of any benefit, again, it requires a professional to interpret these changes and gently guide the market forward.
All to often I see flourishing markets threatened with a move or a restructure, not because it is really necessary but because an industry group or business entity, with no market experience whatsoever, has taken it upon themselves to interfere in a successful venture because they perceive benefit from the change, they reduce the market to a microcosm of what is really is and attempt to utilise it for gain with no regard for the impact it may have on the market or the community as a whole.
Markets were never a commodity, they were a very important necessity, and many of our towns were built on markets.
I believe markets are so much more than a commodity, yes they can be a part of the revitalization process for some of our High Streets, but they must be respected for what they are. They should be designed to have longevity, not a short term fix, and if they are going to be incorporated in the process of rebuilding they should be designed to be as much a permanent fixture in the High Street as a high profile local retailer, they are not an expendable asset.
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