Markets have been an important feature of many towns for more than 1,000 years.
Currently, there are around 1,150 regular, traditional retail markets, and almost 80 per cent of them are operated or licensed by local authorities. But this situation might soon change unless councils support their markets.
COVID-19 has hit all town centres very hard and their future recovery is uncertain. My organisation, the National Association of British Market Authorities (NABMA), has recently completed a survey of markets that suggests we could see around 400 disappear in the foreseeable future as a result of the pandemic.
In considering this potential loss, it is important to remember what good markets are able to contribute to town centres. Not only do they offer a significant retail element, which, in the past three months of COVID-19 restrictions, has played a vital role in supporting the food supply chain, but they offer so much more in community engagement, new low-start business opportunities, culture, history, colour and vitality.
Indeed, a good market has recently been recognised as one of the top 25 assets of a successful town centre by the Institute of Place Management.
At the outset of the pandemic, NABMA launched a five-point plan to support markets. We sought support from government for traders and operators. We are delighted that our campaign has had significant success, with traders getting access to various compensation packages and operators having the opportunity to get grants of up to £30,000 to successfully relaunch their markets.
“Good markets… offer community engagement, new low-start business opportunities, culture, history, colour and vitality”
Open-air markets received the ‘green light’ to open on 1 June and indoor markets followed suit on 15 June. NABMA launched a social media campaign on 22 June to raise the profile of these reopenings and encourage as many people as possible to use their markets.
As a national organisation, we can only do so much, and we need the support of individual local authorities to ensure that the dreadful prospect of losing 400 markets does not become a reality.
How can you help? If you have a market, you can make sure you are a member of NABMA. We have the experience and resources to help your market meet the challenges of COVID-19 and its aftermath. Details of how you can get information about NABMA are given below.
Make sure your market is an important part of your plans for the future of your town centre and that it is supported with a designated markets champion in the council.
Also, consider whether the current management arrangements deliver the best results. Many local authorities now operate their markets with different management arrangements that include private operators, community and trader involvement, and arms-length company arrangements.
Finally, get down to your market and talk to officers and traders. Find out what they think.
You need to act now, otherwise, in a few months, your market might be listed among the potential 400 casualties. That’s something none of us want.