Since the end of January my blog has been market-related rather than me-related and I’ve found it difficult to get my mojo back and to find the way to transition elegantly. My conclusion is that I should conclude first!
The Ashbourne Thursday market is with us for at least another 12 months which is great news for Ashbourne and for the market traders. Its down to the Council and the traders to call the tunes now in terms of what they want. It’s then down to each of us to play our part in making it happen. So what did I learn through the process:
1. The market is an Ashbourne asset not a group of traders. This took me a while to realise but its a vital piece of information. The Thursday market has been going for less than 30 years but the Saturday charter market has hundreds of years of precedent. If the view had been taken that it was the responsibility of the traders to make it happen, who knows what direction it would have taken through times of recession and war. To me it is a part of Ashbourne’s “stage” and the traders are our paying guests on it.
2. There is a clear rivallry in DDDC between towns. In the current economic climate it is possibly heightened but Ashbourne’s gain is clearly Bakewell, Wirksworth and Matlock’s loss and vice versa. There is lobbying happening all the time and we should fight our corner to make sure Ashbourne is not forgotten and to make sure that we are not viewed as doing well and therefore not needing assistance. I, for one, have a greater appreciation of the time and effort put in by Councillors at District and Town level. This also highlights the need for prudence because the proposal to close the Thursday market was all based on a set of financial figures, however poorly presented, comparing it with the other markets. With the vested interests from other towns there were lots of people wanting to avoid closure in their own town all too happy to join the Ashbourne bandwagon. The other observation in the light of the rivallry is the need to spend locally as much as possible. We need to defend our local traders as much as possible by giving them our money. We all need to spend outside the town and even inside the Town at the big supermarkets but consciously supporting our infrastructure has never been more important. We also need to find a way of getting rid of the “them and us” relationships with the big retailers which is also going to be divisive. This needs to be far more than a local charity support in the store and a perpetual but ultimately unsustainable “no” assumption in planning meetings.
3. Social media is an effective communications tool. The total marketing budget for all of the markets is £1800 for the year. This really is a pittance…so low that you may as well say it is zero. One of the first announcements of the market petition on Twitter reached around 30,000 people within 48 hours. What was apparent to me was that, while the DDDC comms department “get it” very well; most people and almost all Councillors really don’t. There is a massive need for a Social Media Community manager at County, District and Town Level to engage the online community. Social Media is the perfect forum to unite and galvanise on key issues at virtually no cost.
4. I have met more new local people and seen more about how our town functions in the last three months than in the previous 9 years and the experience has been overwhelmingly positive. I had taken for granted the number of people who volunteer their time or contribute the extra. They all deserve our thanks. The Town Council, the Ashbourne Partnership, the News Telegraph etc all perform great things on our behalf. Personally I have enjoyed communicating with and meeting them and I am much more engaged with Ashbourne than ever before.
5. There are so many ideas and so much energy around the Town. Lots of people have the town at heart and want it to succeed. People came forward and offered their time voluntarily – even people from other Towns wanting to help. Some of the thoughts were truly exciting and would transform the status of the Town and how we all feel about it – they could reinstill a real pride for all ages. I became aware of some of this through the market conversation – many I’d read about but hadn’t understood the full significance. An example is the Ashbourne Partnership’s project to transform the Recreation Ground with distinct activity areas – a huge mulityear project being coordinated on a shoestring and drawing grants from many different areas. We have see lots of complaint letters about the designs of the new toilets and the library but how many people input at the early stages when consultation took place? Although the News Telegraph got on the case early as far as the market, only 19 people across the whole district answered the call in the DDDCs original consultation and so they had no alternative but to use that as the basis of their report.
There is more energy and more ideas in the Town than I certainly appreciated. The problem is that ideas are easy to express but the doing is much harder. It tends to fall on a few people to do the work and after a while of being unappreciated volunteers get fed up. I would love to see a plan for the Town which we could all understand and buy into. It would make Planning decisions easier to make and understand, get all stakeholders in the town working together, make the fight against the Tourist Information Centre closing and the reduction in Police Station hours easier, and give Ashbourne competitive advantage in economic and tourist terms. It would also draw out more people willing to help and share the burden – a true Social Network.
I promise no more #ashbournemarket, polemics and badgering but if anyone needs help to do so let me know.