Some months ago the Ashbourne Thursday market was given a reprieve for 12 months with the promise of support in marketing it and improved signage in the town to help people find it. As the calendar ticks on the decision point is again approaching. We have had a year where a number of issues have threatened the character of our beautiful town. You may think the recommendation to close the Ashbourne weekday market is a local issue, something which doesn’t affect you. You may also think that every part of the economy needs to make cutbacks at the current time. You may think you have visited the current market and there wasn’t anything there for you. Here’s six reasons to think again:
1. Markets are at the heart of the recovery of our High Street. This is a national issue right now. Mary Portas @maryportas has been reviewing Britain’s High Streets and before Christmas reported back. A back-to-basics world of market stalls run by entrepreneurial traders is at the heart of a plan to turn around Britain’s ailing high streets said the Guardian report on it. She said: “On a market stall people can try out their ideas and get their business booming without too much cost. It’s great for our town centres too, bringing in fresh ideas and products, and preserving our nation’s cultural heritage.” We are throwing this lifeline away.
2. Closer to Home. Is national too far away? What about Buxton for a glimpse into the future http://www.aboutbuxton.com/buxton/buxton-market-what-market. All businesses, towns, and markets have ups and downs and in a down they need revitalising not putting to sleep. I don’t want part of Ashbourne’s character to go. If you don’t live in Ashbourne this is coming to your town too. First Post Offices, then pubs, small independent retailers and now markets. We need to turn the tide to protect our communities and to change the expectation that this is inevitable.
3. Attract visitors. Like it or not but Ashbourne’s economy is based on attracting visitors to the town through tourism and commerce. All the parking in the world is not going to attract people. Conversely, if the attraction is strong enough people won’t look at the price of parking or its proximity to the middle of the town. There are regular letters in the Ashbourne Telegraph complaining about the price of parking and describing how they go elsewhere to shop. Here’s the point – Lots of towns have supermarkets to go shopping at. The issue is about the weakness of the proposition we are offering the people once they have parked and losing the weekday market (potentially leading to the Saturday market too if economics are applied in the same way) can only make this situation worse. Think what all the cafes on the Square with outdoor seating and big windows will feel like when all they look on to is a car park!
4. Losing something we enjoy. Markets are an attraction to be enjoyed. A good market (see my previous blog for examples) is part of the experience but one that residents can enjoy as much as tourism. Its shocking to see how few stall markets still exist in DDDC’s area. Ignore what the market is today and imagine what it could be with the right plan and backing
5. Losing jobs and entrepreneurship. This isn’t just about saving money it is about people’s livelihood – stallholders and Council-employed staff working to support it. There’s then the visitors who are now being encouraged to shop in Wirksworth rather than come to Ashbourne on a Thursday. There will be a loss of parking revenue and every penny they spend on cups of tea, other shopping while they are here etc. Every market day there are casual traders still turning up and testing out a market stall. I have had enquiries from a number of people asking how they can get a stall and liking the ideas of specialist markets that either haven’t been tried or not tried in an integrated and concerted way. Think of the infrastructure that goes behind a successful Shrovetide or Highland Gathering and how powerful it could be for the markets.
6. Loss of community. There are few enough safe places to meet. On a sunny morning when you look at a market you don’t just see goods and money changing hands – you see people talking to each other and meeting people they maybe only see every week. Its a happy and friendly place and that alone is a reason to celebrate it.