Thursday, 14 February 2008

What are the markets for?

The responses to the Morpeth Herald article (7th Feb) on my concerns for the future of the markets were better than I expected. Morpeth Town Council is seriously looking at taking over the Market Charter, and the Chairman of Ponteland Parish Council has privately told me they are interested in looking at the Ponteland Farmers’ Market. And even the quote from NCC ‘local markets and farmers’ markets are vital parts of the community’ is positive if non-committal. I note that ‘markets’ are briefly mentioned in the blueprint for the new Unitary Authority.

However the real challenge comes in the letter in the Herald (14th Feb) from my old friend Norman Bateman: who effectively asks ‘what and who is a market for these days?’ – and this is something I’d really like feedback on.

It’s easier with farmers’ markets
i) they do support local businesses – I know several businesses that have restructured or built themselves up through farmers’ markets, and a significant number of jobs have been created or safeguarded through our farmers’ markets
ii) they do supply fresh, local food – reducing food miles and bringing people back in touch with food production and seasonality

The Wednesday market is more difficult: for some, the fact that it dates back to 1199 and is key to Morpeth’s heritage as a market town. But Norman Bateman is right – there are few if any traditional market towns, and Morpeth is more commuter town or business centre than market town. The Council’s strategy says the market is run to attract people into the town. Certainly the Chamber of Trade-sponsored bi-annual continental market does that. There’s also an argument that markets can meet a demand for lower cost produce, though maybe not when there’s a Primark or Matalan.

In fact the Morpeth Weds Market is more than half a farmers market – with local producers (Jimmy Bell, Nick Craig, Muriel Brown, Tony from DeliFarm and Janet from Northumbrian Muffins) selling (mostly) their own produce – while others, like Nicky Wall are launching a new local business through the market. Perhaps this is a way forward.

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