At the DDDC Meeting at the start of the year the decision was made to give Ashbourne’s Thursday market a further 12 months to prove its viability. At the meeting the committee noted the strength of feeling about the issue and also the wealth of ideas being discussed on how to improve it.
A telling point was that Councillor Alan Hodkinson attended the meeting and spoke beforehand highlighting that the Town Council was in support of the Thursday market and willing to offer its support. Mayor Steve Bull was a substitute member of the committee and did a sterling job representing the Town at some points in the debate. Trader Vic Thorpe also spoke from the heart in highlighting that there would be victims of the proposed closure – traders, the people who set up the stalls and Ashbourne itself.
So what does the 12 months mean? There is no clear guideline on what success looks like. The finances of the market were poorly represented in what was otherwise a good report and this was shown up in the meeting. The Thursday market currently makes a small profit – £300 before overheads are applied. The allocation of overhead towards Ashbourne looks unfairly loaded but also, by definition, a lot of this overhead will remain even if the Thursday market closes. Conditions for traders have been made harder with the requirement for more commitment from casuals. The emphasis must be on making the Thursday and Saturday markets an asset to the Town – somewhere we all WANT to visit.
This is a circular argument which was described by one of the DDDC committee members – there are many failing pretty markets around the country. The ones which work are the ones where they are part of a town’s DNA. The market becomes more attractive by continuing its current upward path. In preparing the report the working party visited Ashbourne market on a cold November day and found few traders and even fewer customers. At first glance this may be seen as a little unfair but equally a successful market has the discipline to be there, like all good retailers, on good days and bad days with a broad welcoming smile. One of the the other committee members generously acknowledged that since the recommendation was made the Thursday market has grown (with regular food stalls) and the Saturday market is now almost full (made easier by the reduced size as a result of the old stalls being stolen). We all now have jobs in making the next few months and the next 12 years successful.
As residents of Ashbourne we really need to take Buy Local to heart. If we don’t do it we will all lose out. Ashbourne will be a poorer place for it. This applies to the whole town and not just the market. We don’t need to spend more or inconvenience ourselves; quite the opposite. All the market traders and the independent retailers in the town need is that we Try Ashbourne First. If in the next 12 months we all think about trying to spend just 5% more within the town it would make a huge difference:
- 1 full tank of petrol from a local service station rather than the one on the way to work outside the town.
- Buying your fruit and vegetables from the market or the local greengrocer rather than the supermarkets
- Thinking about the provenance of the food we buy even from the local suppliers – meat from local farms, bread from a local baker, eggs from local chickens
- Make a point of visiting the local shops and market to see what is available. The research tells us that many people don’t even give the town a chance by coming in to have a look. The price comparisons and visits to local retailers on this blog really contradict the prevailing perception.
The retailers and market traders play their part too. Give us the chance to buy locally – source your products from local producers. Sainsburys, Waitrose, Marks and Spencer, the Coop and even Majestic should play a part by committing to stocking a percentage of local products in the stores in Ashbourne and be proud to do so. Make it easy for us as consumers and for tourists to the town to make the local choice by clearly labelling items.
The biggest breakthrough from the Council meeting was that the Council and the market traders are working together. The lesson from Ashbourne Thursday market is the same lesson that is slowly affecting a steady stream of retailers in the Town – Spencers, H Smith are part of a trend. We don’t want a town centre with empty properties and Closing Down sales so USE IT OR LOSE IT.
*Photos courtesy of the Ashbourne Town Council website