For around a thousand years, the London Borough Market has existed in one form or another. It has survived fire, flood, plague and war – and on the 3rd of June this year, a terrorist attack. The market has since reopened, with traders determined to continue their work and serve the local community.
Although many markets are a historic part of their host towns and cities, they are far from being relics. Indeed, in recent years markets have experienced something of a revival. In London alone, since 2010, the number of street markets has grown from 162 to over 250.
There are clear reasons for this – markets offer consumers and traders a number of benefits, and they make significant contributions to the economic, social and political health of towns and cities.
Economic impact of markets
Indeed, in 2015, the Institute of Place Management (IPM) conducted a comprehensive review of the impact of markets and found that markets not only have a significant turnover, they also impact indirectly on the wider economy – meaning that the £3.5 billion turnover directly attributable to retail markets is actually worth around £10.5 billion to the UK economy.
The Portas review in 2011 hailed markets as a potential saviour of the high street. Indeed, the IPM review supports this, reporting that markets can help to increase town centre footfall by up to 25%. This has significant economic potential. In London, market visitors spend around £752 million per annum in nearby shop-based retailers.
Markets were also found to:
- act as a significant employer, both nationally and at the local level
- support intergenerational economic mobility (through family-owned businesses)
- support the development of entrepreneurial skills in young people through ‘youth markets’
- act as business incubators and support business formation due to their low barriers to entry, for example, enabling migrants to set up their own businesses
- enable small businesses to reach larger businesses whom they can supply, and support other local businesses, such as farmers.
- encourage high street diversity and create a distinct ‘identity’ for high streets
- promote high street resilience, as they are flexible and able to respond quickly to changing demands.
- help to utilise vacant and underused spaces within high streets
- attract tourists, who are drawn to them because they are “unique, quirky, unusual”
Markets also have a number of social purposes. They are important places of social interaction, which facilitate community cohesion and social inclusion. Markets can also help to improve public health and quality of life through the provision of fresh, quality produce at lower price points, which may be particularly beneficial for low-income families.
From an environmental perspective, there are also a number of benefits arising from the sale and purchase of locally produced products, including reducing pollution associated with high ‘food miles’ and reducing the need for consumers to travel to out-of-town sites, such as large retail parks, in order to make their purchases.
Although there is overwhelming evidence that almost every street, food and farmer’s market is an invaluable asset to its local community, markets still face a number of very real threats. These include:
- the rise of out-of-town shopping centres, the dominance of big supermarkets, and the popularity of online shopping
- planning and regulatory regimes that do not allow for, or restrict, the expansion or establishment of markets
- a lack of support for markets or poor management by local authorities
- high land values making it difficult for markets to be established
As many markets are a lifeline for areas experiencing deprivation, it is important that they receive the support that they require to survive and flourish.
Promoting and supporting markets
So, what can be done to support markets? Earlier this year, the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, announced plans to establish the London Markets Board – a team of experts tasked with delivering a London markets strategy, and work to preserve and promote London’s increasing number of markets.
On a wider scale, NABMA (National Association of British Market Authorities) and the National Market Traders Federation recently published a ‘five-year manifesto’, which made a number of recommendations for ways to support markets.
A key recommendation is that local authorities work to raise the profile of markets. There are many market-focused national initiatives such as Love Your Local Market, the National Youth Market, and the Great British Market Awards, which local authorities can become involved in.
The Love Your Local Market campaign, for example, is an annual event, established in 2012, which brings together markets across the UK. It aims to build affection and support for markets in local communities, and offers free or subsidised pitches to start-ups to test trading conditions. In 2013, it increased footfall in participating town centres by 10%.
Other recommendations to support markets include:
- greater recognition of the role of markets in local economies, jobs and growth, as well as in civic local society
- ensuring that retail markets have a voice in policy making that affects them, including planning and town centre management
- further lifting the current burden of business rates for SMEs
- supporting greater awareness of the sector’s employment opportunities including apprenticeships, platforms for self-employment and training hubs
- developing and supporting sector-led initiatives that aim to support entrepreneurship and increase the amount of businesses on markets, and support them digitally
- encouraging schools and further education establishments to work with market operators to enable people entering the labour market to embrace markets as a possible career
There are some promising signs. Around £90 million has been invested into improving markets since 2014, and an increasing number of local authorities are making them central to town centre plans and regeneration activity.
By promoting and supporting markets in this way, the economic, social and environmental benefits can be maximised. As the 2015 review of markets underlines: “markets are an important asset to a location, and their future cannot be left to chance.”