Saturday, 18 May 2013

Love Your Local Market campaign launches, our markets not involved?

Almost every market across the North West is taking part in a fortnight of events backed by the Government to promote local markets... all, that is, except for Lancaster's own Charter Market, Assembly Rooms and the Morecambe Festival Market, both strangely absent from the list of participants on

Local Growth Minister Mark Prisk urged people across the country to back their local markets earlier this week, during a dedicated fortnight of activity designed to help budding entrepreneurs to trade, and get residents back on their high streets.

The first Love Your Local Market fortnight ran last summer and over 400 markets took part, with 2,000 traders taking up a stall for the first time - and 200 of these are still trading today.

This year’s campaign will involve over 650 markets across England, with over 3,000 special events designed to showcase the best of local produce, design and innovation, with tastings, music concerts, treasure hunts and other events to celebrate great local food and shopping.

Running until 29th May, the event will also give budding traders a chance to tout their wares with 3,000 free or subsidised stalls available to those who want to try trading for the first time in a low-cost, low-risk retail environment.

We were a bit puzzled, however, by our local markets' absence from the list of participating markets, particularly since other key Lancashire operations, run by other local councils, including Accrington, Bolton, Burnley, Fleetwood, Kendal, Preston and Poulton are listed as participants. (Garstang's Street Market is also absent).

“Markets can be the beating heart of their communities and a force for good in the local economy," said Minister Mark Prisk said of the campaign. "We have seen examples across the country of markets bringing people back to the high street, nurturing new traders and spreading the benefits to all surrounding businesses.

“That's why we're backing the Love Your Local Market fortnight. It is a great opportunity for town centres and for aspiring business owners to give trading a go."

It would appear Lancaster City Council chose not to particpate in this nationwide campaign - although it has this week promoted a 'Bake Off' event at Morecambe's Festival Market in July - and it wasn't simply matter of an oversight on somebody's part.

"Rather than just focusing all our efforts on just one event it is more important this year to focus our limited resources on improving the district's overall markets offer," Mark Davies, Head of Environmental Services, told virtual-lancaster "and provide opportunities for local people and visitors alike to both enjoy and take pride in our Charter, Assembly Rooms and Festival Market all year round."

It was, perhaps, not because someone at the council didn't know about the scheme until we drew it to their attention? That despite the organisers also being involved in trying to find a way forward for Lancaster Market before it closed, they had lost their contact list for Lancaster City Council? (After all, the member of staff who presided over the Market's closure has left their employ some time ago. Perhaps no-one is checking email to her old address).

"To ensure the organisers know that we have an ongoing project for our three markets, we have now registered our markets," Mr Davies acknowledges. So, hopefully, our markets will be involved should there be a third Love Your Market campaign next year.

To be fair to the Council, they are doing their best, in a difficult environment and with limited resource, to promote our remaining Markets.

"Lancaster City Council does love its local markets and in recognising that markets are valuable community assets," Mark Davies says, "as well as visitor attractions and of great benefit to the local economy is committed to providing a positive market shopping experience in both Lancaster and Morecambe. 

"As such, one of the council's Cabinet members has specific responsibilities for markets and a cross service officer working group has been set up to look at what improvements need to be made to enhance this experience."

This is of course John Barry, who has been wrestling with the market issues for some time now, including the unwelcome closure of Lancaster Market, a building still lying empty and costing local taxpayers money (but not, we're told by the Council, for much longer).

 "This year besides the internal works that have already been done to the Assembly Rooms an additional £50,000 is being spent by the  council in making  improvements to all three markets, Mr Davies points out. (The Assembly Rooms refurbishment was completed in March).

"In addition to this, much work is being done through the Square Routes Project in Lancaster and via the Morecambe Area Action Plan to ensure our local markets are sustainable, prosperous and at the very heart of the city and town."

As for the old Lancaster Market building, it would also appear that sorry saga - one peppered with so much inept bungling and obfuscation, chiefly by former council staff, that it's perhaps fortunate the Government is on course to abolish the Audit Commission, which might have one or two things to say about how the whole matter had been handled - is finally drawing to close and will no longer be a drain on the City Council's purse.

"We are in the process of transferring the lease back to the landlord," Mr Davies "and this will be completed soon."

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