The market town is dead…long live the market town!

new market

“Tradition is a guide and not a jailer.”

Somerset Maugham

….and neither should it be the excuse given for not taking action.  The majority of people I speak with mourn the decline of Wisbech market, and yearn for yesteryear.  My response is that we cannot go back but we can be successful, and within this light reflect our traditions and heritage in what we do.

No retail operation is going to be successful if it does not cater for current needs and fits with modern living. This means providing a range of goods and services, and being available when people are not working. Today the shopping event must also be attractive, it is those locations which offer something different and unique which get the attention and the shoppers.

The disappointment in Wisbech, the market in particular, is the absence of any local or regional identity. This is not to say that local produce is not available but it is not promoted or marketed and certainly there is not a comprehensive range available. The best markets I have attended you could do your weekly shop in, and I think that would be a decent objective when deciding which stalls are needed. I have been to a number of markets where well known “shops” in the town also have a stall on market day – and from old photographs of Wisbech this used to happen her too.

“If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.”
Maya Angelou

The “Market Day” should be something special. Most days of the week you would expect there to be a mix of stalls but I do not believe there should be a generic “market” everyday – if anything this seems to me to be unfair competition to shops with considerable overheads to burden. There are numerous opportunities to have varied days including occasional continental markets, “flea market”, book market, arts and crafts etc with a traditional Market 2-3 days a week perhaps. At present there is no certainty as to what you might find on any given day, and mostly by 2pm most are shutting up. I would suggest if you were able to make a few market days more of an event to attract shoppers would be better than several days of casual shoppers.

The market place is a community space. It is where we should be celebrating, promoting and enjoying ourselves too. There should be days when arts and crafts are on display, how about a roped off area for dance displays or other public performances. So much talent within the town this would be the perfect “free” venue for entertaining and showcasing. Many opportunities to have themed events through the year, we should encourage community groups to “bid” for the space on given days each month – perhaps in partnership with others if necessary. It should be obvious that these events would provide retail opportunities too especially for refreshments but I would suggest lots of “tie in” opportunities for shops too.

Last summer I know that both Thetford and Swaffham held Night Markets, which I understand were very successful family events. If there is one area of the economy which could be boosted it is the early evening. A weekly Night Market during August for example could provide the perfect vehicle during the summer for shops and cafes to also extend their hours, and for families to enjoy our beautiful town. What a great backdrop too for local entertainment too.  The couple of “Moon Market” events I have helped arranged to date have shown the potential.   But what we have delivered so far has been on shoestring budget driven by the few enthusiastic few – imagine if local businesses and the community got involved too.

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“A community is like a ship; everyone ought to be prepared to take the helm.”
Henrik Ibsen

The town centre cannot compete against the superstore developments but it can offer and alternative way to shop, and enjoy our community.

I have written previously on my personal vision. I would like to see the town centre completely pedestrianised, I would like to see a bandstand installed to provide a focal point for civic events in particular, I would like to see cafes and shops encouraged to move tables and chairs and stalls into the street, and I want to see the people back.

Above is a summary of my proposals, I accept they are stripped down so they can be easily digested. Each suggestion will require hard work, innovation and above all else for the community to dig in.

My proposals:

Immediate
1. Introduce a market diary which controls which stalls are available, including agreed closing time.
2. Plan and promote special seasonal markets.
3. Summer Night Markets
4. Plan and promote entertainment and demonstrations
5. Invest in removable stage set for performances
6. Address any legal issues and encourage traders to use (marked areas) outside premises

Long Term
1. Pedestrianisation
2. Encourage all traders to use outside area for displays and seating etc
3. Provision of a “Bandstand” like structure
4. Invest in bespoke market stalls and/or coverings to promote Wisbech identity

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