5th March 2016

Shopping locally – and the Tented Market Traders

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The benefits of shopping locally

The benefits brought to our local economies by small businesses of every kind are well documented.

This excellent 2013 article by The Guardian (http://www.theguardian.com/money/2013/dec/06/shop-locally-small-business-saturday-seven-reasons) lists seven such benefits. It’s a message that underpins the Small Business Saturday movement. (https://www.smallbusinesssaturdayuk.com)

Number 1 on this list is this: Research on spending by local authorities shows that for every £1 spent with a small or medium-sized business 63p stayed in the local economy, compared to 40p with a larger business.”

You have to ask yourself why a local council or local regeneration developer wouldn’t want that? Unless, as is indicated in the article quoted below, and as seen in many a TV cartoon, the pupils in their eyes have been usurped by £ signs.

The damage done by national chains and on-line mega stores in gaining market and pushing independent businesses to the brink and beyond is not restricted to Swindon or even to the UK. It’s a worldwide issue.

As this article from across the pond points out: “The disappearance of local businesses leaves a social and economic void that is palpable and real — even when it goes unmeasured. And a community’s quality of life changes in ways that macroeconomics is slow to measure, or ignores completely.”

(Content Source: http://www.amiba.net/benefits-local-business/)

I don’t think there’s any arguing with that really. Over there or over here – it’s equally applicable.

The same article then goes on to posit this: “Local officials often fall for the seductions and political appeal of national chains and may even use public funds or tax rebates to lure them. They’re baited with promises of jobs and tax revenue, but they often fail to consider the greater losses that occur when the local business base is undermined.”

Swindon tented market

Swindon’s tented market

And it’s really pretty hard not to feel that current moves to demolish Swindon’s tented market – a move that (with the situation as it is at the moment) will render a number of independent businesses minus premises, minus businesses and minus jobs – is not a result of just such a seduction and an attack of myopia of epic proportions on someone’s part.

Swindon already has the new Regent Circus development of cinema and national chain restaurants – and some units there are still empty. There’s also a new food court coming to the Brunel Centre. Not to mention the plans for Old Town and all the other restaurants the town already has.

How many Costa outlets does one town need?

Do we REALLY need more places offering the same old, same old homogenized fare – I hesitate to use the word ‘food’ because I’m not sure it is. These places don’t have chefs – they have assembly workers constructing this ‘fare’ to a formula and sticking it in a microwave. That’s not food – that’ simply fuel.

All of which, as interesting as it may be, is not even the main point.

The Vox Pop

If there’s one constant cry emanating from the people of Swindon it’s the lack of independent shops. Well – there are lots of reasons why that’s so and they aren’t necessarily unique to Swindon.

An outdated system of business rates is one. And it’s strangling high streets up and down the land. The Guardian again in 2014: “… said that the property tax is no longer fit for purpose, and called for it to be reviewed. Committee chairman Adrian Bailey said that business rates are among the single biggest threat to the survival of the high street.”

The rise and rise of online shopping is another. And, I won’t lie, I do sometimes wonder if some of those that shout the loudest about the number of pound shops in our towns don’t, when it comes to the crunch, eschew the independents and go for the bargain basement online warehouses. Well – y’pays your money and you takes your choice y’know?

Okay – we may not have chic boutiques and funky gift shops in Swindon. But we do have some great independent businesses of various kinds.

To highlight just a few of them we have:

Paolo’s, a wonderful independent Italian deli on Commercial Rd offering excellent wines, Italian olives and cheeses and fantastic coffee – among many other things.

There’s a wide range of independent coffee shops across the town. There’s the Polski Skleps and the fabulous offerings down Manchester Road. And then there are the traders in the tented market. All of them working hard to make a living and in some cases employing other people – and doing that brilliant and vital thing of keeping money in the local economy.

One such trader is Jo Heavens of the Emporium of Loveliness. Jo has been particularly vocal and active in the cause of saving the tented market. https://www.facebook.com/EmporiumLoveliness/?fref=ts

Or – and what’s more important to my mind – saving the livelihoods of the traders that currently operation in there. Because, as it is, they appear to be nowhere on anyone’s agenda – and that’s really quite shocking.

Eggelicious Ash Mistry holding a Tim Carroll painting of the Tented Market

Eggelicious’ Ash Mistry holding a Tim Carroll painting of the Tented Market

Another is Ash Mistry of the very well known and successful Eggelicious – an establishment that does serve ‘food’ as opposed to fuel: slow food fast! Read more about Eggelicious here

A building past its sell-by date

There’s really no escaping that the tented market is reaching the end of its useful life. It was built with a 25-year lifespan and it’s approaching that now.

Swindon’s number 1 fan that I am I can’t pretend that I’ve ever particularly cared for the structure. So, on a personal level, I have no issue with the basic notion of demolishing the wretched thing. HOWEVER – I do have an issue with a whole host of things surrounding this move to demolish it:

The way it’s been handled – by whoever it is that’s handling it:

The traders in the market were not given official notification of these plans – they found out about it on social media.

New traders were allowed to come in and spend THOUSANDS setting up their unit and their business in the full knowledge of these plans.

The traders are facing the demolition of their premises with no provision in place to relocate, to compensate or include them in the new plans.

As a result FORTY people will be put out of work. With no offering of suitable premises in the town centre the face the loss of their business.

Jo Heavens has additionally put forth an argument about the history of the market:

“…with the demolition of the market, this development would destroy the 757 year history of Swindon holding a market since 1259. Swindon was known formerly as Chipping Swindon (Market Swindon) and was granted a charter to hold a market by Charles 1 in 1626. This charter was transferred to the New Swindon Local Board in 1890 along with a plot of land sold by Major Rolleston subject to it being used for a market only. The traders are currently taking legal advice on this covenant land.”

That is all as it maybe. I don’t know and I make no comment on it.

For me personally what’s wrong on every level about this whole ‘thing’ is that – in simple terms – these plans will not only see the market demolished but people’s livelihoods too.

Ash Mistry of Eggelicious told me how, as someone who puts a lot into being a caring employer, distressed he is at the prospect of having to lose valued staff.

Like all the other traders in the market he agrees that the place is shabby and needs investment or rebuilding. And, like the other traders, he wants to be consulted and included.

He’s as frustrated as everyone by the lack of:

  • Clear communications from the council – feeling very strongly that there needs to be much more of it.
  • Offers of alternative sites in the town at a suitable rate/rent level
  • The lack of suitable space in general for small businesses to get started in and to have the space to employ someone ‘properly’. By which he means be able to pay someone a decent wage – rather than being throttled by an out-moded business rates system.

I’ll conclude by returning to No 5 in The Guardian article –You can help build communities:

” Bookshops, cafes and craft shops often drum up custom by hosting events, from book groups to knitting clubs and children’s events. If the businesses are not supported, the local groups tend to disappear too.

Markets also often give space to community groups and social enterprises, says Ellie Gill, campaign manager at Love Your Local Market. “Markets can have a community value, as there is often a social purpose to stalls – they can be public spaces as well as retail outlets.”

http://www.loveyourlocalmarket.gb.com

A sentiment echoed in one of Jo Heaven’s communications on this issue:

“They have unanimously voted to be included in a revised plan for the site to include a market on the footprint of the site, with a smaller scale restaurant development and possibly flats above this.

Potentially themed market days such as Antiques and Vintage Fairs, Farmers Markets or table top sales could be held in a central area with the traders in units around the outside. This would add to the regeneration of the town centre and provide a unique indoor shopping experience that is not being offered by our neighbouring shopping towns. “

Swindon has already lost the battle with Bristol – with Cabot Circus & Cribbs Causeway. We can’t compete with that now so it’s time to move on and make Swindon different and build on its many strengths.

And a good place to start would be by working WITH the traders in the market rather than trying to obliterate them. As appears to be in intention. I’m not saying it IS – but it looks that way.

So the council, Forward Swindon or whoever the heck else it is needs to start thinking outside the box.

As my mother would have said: Buck your ideas up!

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