A market solution for Ashbourne

It’s easy to stand on the sideline criticising so here is a constructive suggestion on a way forward (with acknowledgement to the traders for some of the ideas).
It assumes that no-one inherently wants rid of the market but that all parties have some reservations on the terms of progress. The Council is clearly thinking financially – they want a solution that will be profitable for them and for the town. The market traders want a profitable livelihood. As with other people this depends on footfall significantly increasing. The retailers in the town want a market which enhances their trade – brings people to Ashbourne without taking their sales. The residents of Ashbourne want something they can be proud of – another part of our culture. The visitors to Ashbourne want a show. They want something which draws them in, that they can show off to friends and family.
I am also prepared to concede that the journey from where we are now to a normal trading market may be too far – the market needs to take a different path.
Think about what appeals to you about the markets you have visited:
1. Bakewell Farmers’ Market. Seemingly crammed, always drawing people to the town and full of good quality food stalls. It has the advantage of only being once a month and of being in an all-weather venue but it seems to have it right – drawing on local produce. Its held in a venue that’s synonymous with agriculture – where else would you buy your bangers?
2. Birmingham Christmas Market. There are lots that have tried to copy them but they have a good relationship with an authentic German market and the event complements the existing activity. The local retailers are happy with it and Brummies are proud to host it.
3. French town markets. I love them and they appeal to me on any scale. Local people buy local produce on a regular basis – they are used to using the market and proud of the local terroir. We could look at the benefits of twinning advice for this but mainly seeing the benefits of unique local advantage.
4. Covent Garden. When you use Google images pictures of street entertainment appear more than any of the retail. Covent Garden is theatre.
5. City covered markets are a regular shopping trip for many people but they succeed through tight control of opening times, attendance and presentation. Buyers know what they can get there and that the stalls will be open.
There are some lessons here. Ashbourne has a unique culture and opportunity. Trying to replicate any of these models is doomed to failure. If you think about the themes though you can see how something could be sustained which enhanced and drew on what Ashbourne is good at. Before outlining a solution we also need to be clear on finance. The current recommendation which suggests replacing a market with car parking spaces is ridiculous. It is based on a principle which treats the cobbled square as if it was a supermarket shelf with it being made available to the most profitable item. We may as well be done with the debate and sell it to Marks and Spencer/Tesco or Sainsbury with that logic. Surely the challenge is to make our town centerpiece an asset and focal point.
Here’s a six point recovery programme
1. Manage the existing market properly. Rather than treat it as a problem look after it properly. The stallholders should all attend regularly rain or shine. If they can’t do that they dont really have a business anyway. They should keep their stalls tidy and well presented. In return the Council would promote and provide the market with the right environment. Now that the old stalls have been stolen what better time than now to replace them with something good rather than something cheap. As fastidious observers of colour schemes they could provide the stalls with branded canvases which keep the wind and rain off shoppers and vendors alike?
2. Go after the stalls y0u want. When all stalls are used in a successful Ashbourne market the heart of it will be based around fruit and veg stalls, butchers, fishmonger and hardware. Go after them and make it difficult for them to say no to come to Ashbourne. Offer the local retailers the first option to extend their space onto the square. The other types of stall are a luxury – this is your bread and butter.
3. Plan a market which extends beyond the square. How about clothing in the comfort of the Town Hall, crafts in the Green Man Yard? make all of the areas of the Town Earn their keep. Sometimes the all-town events like Christmas shopping are too straggly because we are not used to practising it often enough.
4. Encourage people on to the market. Markets are an entry point into retail (see Mary Portas’s views on this). We should encourage local producers, craftsmen, charities and the like to take a chance without too much risk. This not only raises revenue but also engages the local community and breeds the next group of shopowners.
5. Play to our strengths by having themed markets around the main market and which have natural organising structures around them. Examples could be:
A more regular antiques market. We have lots of good antiques retailers in the town who may relish the chance to do an easier to organise version of Antiques in the Street
A Craft market. The popup shop before Christmas was excellent and that just involved a handful of the lcoal talent
A Shrovetide themed day on the Saturday following the games where the balls could be on display, Sellors watches presented formally, awards made and maybe tie it in with a beer festival on the Square.
A Scottish themed market around the Highland Gathering. Make sure the bands arrive in time for a full day on Saturday with entertainment, food and the regalia associated.
A farmers market. We are blessed with great produce in Staffordshire and Derbyshire. Attempts in the past have not really taken off because they have been done in isolation and the definition of local produce has been stretched. Look at the Bakewell success and work out why they wouldn’t come to Ashbourne on the second Saturday in the month for example. Engage our excellent cafes in the campaign and get them all out on the street.
An Armed Forces weekend. The Remembrance Parade is always well supported and we have a good heritage of supporting our troops. This could be a costumed fund raiser.
A Fairtrade market. We should be really proud of the town’s ethical trading.
6. Finally, treat the Square as a stage and have performers every weekend raising money for themselves or for Charities. We have an excellent Performing Arts department at QEGS, the Outlaw Shakespeare company, the Town Band and lots of local bands. Give them the chance to perform regularly at weekends and this will draw their followers as well as visitors.
Of course I know nothing about the difficulties, I’m naive about the finance, and overoptimistic about the public response… but wouldn’t it be great!

About justaukcook

/kʊk/ Not a chef, not an epicure, not a foodie. Just one who likes to prepare food – What really happens in the kitchen and on the high street is what I write about. Follow me on Twitter @Justaukcook and on https://www.facebook.com/justaukcook
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7 Responses to A market solution for Ashbourne

  1. Fiona says:

    I’m with you on wanting a GOOD market in Ashbourne and making the market square the heart of the town. The idea that what we get instead is some more parking spaces is indeed laughable. I think you’ve come up with some great ideas in your blog post. However I think it’s time to stop being a bit wet liberal about the existing stall holders (I am not targetting this at you personally, it’s a general observation on people discussing the market).

    To get a good market, we need to get rid of some of the stalls that sell unappealing tat, not to put too fine a point on it. The market is failing because no one wants to buy what is sold. I can only think of one nice stall on Ashbourne market. This means stopping banging on about the stall-holders livelihood and looking at the market as a whole and objectively with the health of the town at the front of mind. I’ve no idea who could decide who stays and who goes. A benevolent dictator like me?. Or if it could be determined on takings per stall? Could we create a market where we invite good stalls, at least in the first instance?

    Bluntly we need a lot less stalls selling cheap plastic shoes and a lot more stalls like the italian one that sells nice bread and interesting cheese.

    I have no desire to save the market in it’s current form whatsoever. If I could see a plan to get it from where it is now to something like Bakewell’s market or as you say any French market (I love them too), I would be behind it 100%. I think asking the stallholders themselves to come up with such a plan is pretty flawed though, half of them are the problem in the first place.

    Is there some sort of group responsible for discussing and deciding this and council level or whatever? I have no idea how these things work.

    • I’ve never been accused of being a wet liberal before – on balance I think I quite like it. I did want to try and include all views in my suggestion. It would be wrong to blame the stragglers. There could be a Darwinian principle which suggests these are the “fittest”. Agree with the issue about some current stalls but concerned that when its gone its gone. First the Thursday market and then ultimately the Saturday will follow if the same criteria are applied. I’m trying to get contact details from DDDC to see who is responsible for the next stage. If anyone knows….

      • The District Council’s Ashbourne ward members are Steve Bull, Tony Millward, Tom Donnelly and Andrew Lewer. The chairman of the council’s Partnership & Regeneration Committee, which will on 23 Feb consider the sub-committee’s recommendation to close the Thursday market, is Albert Catt.

        The officer with direct responsibility is the head of environmental services Heidi McDougall. Her boss is the director of community services Peter Foley. The council’s main switchboard is 01629 761100.

        As I understand it, even if P&R decide to go with the Thursday closure recommendation on 23 Feb they have to first consult again with the public. The first batch of consultation yielded, I think, around 20 responses.

        It’s interesting too of course that the District Council also runs the much-acclaimed Bakewell Farmers’ Market you mention in your blog (now the second largest in the UK), and, of course, Bakewell’s popular Monday stallmarket.

        Hope this helps..

  2. I think the “special” markets is the way ahead.

    A weekly regular market and monthly themed markets… Christmas, Shrovetide, Whitsun…

    And introduce a regular, monthly, farmer’s market and craft fair

  3. buxtonjim says:

    Thank you for writing so thoughtfully and analytically, Paul.
    I wish you well with stimulating a debate that, hopefully, may lead to a successful result for Ashbourne.

    During my ten years or so in Buxton I’ve seen what was already a struggling market become virtually wiped out. These days, it’s little more than a sterile car park augmented by the inevitable cab rank. The sense of community focus there has virtually evaporated. As with all vicious circles, the few remaining stalls survive yet more precariously. I guess that’s the way of all eco-systems.

    Markets bring diversity to towns as well as idiosyncracy of course.The irony in Buxton is all the sharper as “High street” traders disappear. It takes more than charity shops, coffee outlets and the odd phone retailer to create local colour and the shopping magnet that some visitors desire. Ironically I’ve even heard bits of local talk about the potential in allowing a few market stalls in Spring Gardens to bring some “life” back into the town. I must have missed something here…

    Good luck with the campaign!

  4. Nick says:

    I have only recently moved to Ashbourne so I guess I have little knowledge regarding the history of the market but I do feel strongly that it shouldn’t be lost.

    I moved from a place that had similar problems and decided that the best approach was to create a more themed approach, French, medieval etc. These markets were not every week and moved around the area and therefore always got a showing somewhere locally. Mostly based around food and good quality food at that. Specifically the type of unique food that’s not usually available in the local shops (no criticism meant). This definitely pushed up numbers and created a central theme that could be promoted by the town itself.

    Hope this helps 🙂

  5. Lewis Hunt says:

    Couldn’t agree more with all the above comments on what to do with the Market Place in Ashbourne, I’d consider running for Local Council with this management view- now you need a plan though!
    A weekly Market is too frequent and turning stall holders away is not viable at the moment and the Market is not in a position to do this so I disagree with Fiona below.
    Let’s go bac to basics in business and ask what customers want? Hold a public engagement session first for the town’s people to ask the right questions to them!

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