Friday, 25 October 2013

Assembly Rooms: Council outlines past promotion, clarifies 'tea room' option

The Council is considering changes to Lancaster's Assembly Rooms which might see a change of use from a Collectors' Market to a tea rooms, despite the number of existing commercial cafes in town and the precarious nature of the services sector, evidenced by recent restaurant and other closures (see news story).

The Assembly Rooms has been a Collectors Market since 1984, when traders who originally had stalls on the old Lancaster Market balcony moved into the building after the disastrous fire.

After talking to traders in the Assembly Rooms and reading the report that will be presented to City Cabinet on 5th November proposing a variety of alternative uses for the lower floor of the listed building, virtual-lancaster asked the Council about promotion for the existing Collectors' Market.

virtual-lancaster: How much has been spent directly on marketing the Assembly Rooms as a single entity over the past 18 months?

Lancaster City Council: It is difficult to quantify an exact figure as the Assembly Rooms has been marketed as part of the wider Lancaster ‘offer’ and alongside other facilities (such as the Charter Market) rather than individually. To achieve the greatest value for money the council's existing communications channels are prioritised, alongside the use of 'free' media (as referred to below).

A range of marketing activity has been undertaken, using the existing council marketing channels.  The main cost of this is officer time.

Examples include press releases, a feature and mentions in issues of District Matters, the council magazine (distributed to approx 58, 000 households), promotion at student events such as this year’s fresher's fair ( a student discount offer runs throughout October)

We've also promoted via improved dedicated website page - and via various tourism marketing channels such as the tourism site -

The Assembly Rooms has also been promoted via social media. A Facebook page for the market is currently being set up and the Assembly Rooms will feature in the district’s 2014 accommodation guide.

We have also encouraged traders to engage in the council’s Visit Card incentive scheme.

However, whilst the council provides markets in terms of space and environment and promotes their existence, it is also the nature and quality of the individual businesses which determine the success of a market.

virtual-lancaster: Can you explain for our readers the concerns the Council has about the existing offering?

Lancaster City Council: The current offer at the Assembly Rooms is a confused one with no clear customer profile or target market.  It is for this reason,  on reviewing its market provision,  that the council commissioned research to be done on the current offer and identify any other options and opportunities.

virtual-lancaster: Has the Council marketed the Assembly Rooms as a 'Collectors Market' to specialist web sites, specialist press etc?

Lancaster City Council: Yes - The Assembly Rooms has been advertised on the Antiques, Collectables and Memorabilia website.  The Assembly Rooms is also advertised in the Market Trader Year Book  and listed on the Visit Lancashire website.

virtual-lancaster: Regarding the consultation on the building's current state and possible change of use, we don't recall this being the subject of online consultation. Was it?

Lancaster City Council: The exercise carried out evaluated the existing usage of the Assembly Rooms, by talking to shoppers and consumers in and around the Assembly Rooms. This included opportunities for research participants to consider what alternative uses the building might employ, including suggestions of a tea-room, food market, arts and craft gallery, collectables market, and living Georgian Museum.

This led to the concept of a food emporium, which was subsequently tested in a second phase of the research, again with shoppers and consumers in Lancaster. This identified the resulting proposal, including a high quality tearooms which celebrates the history and heritage of both the building and Lancaster, along with a high quality food delicatessen, with possible opportunity for a small range of local quality gifts.

Based on this exercise, we have a sound basis to consider developing the proposal.  However, it does appear from your article that you have misrepresented this point.

We're not quite sure what the Council's spokesperson means by their last comment.

We stand by the concerns we've raised as regards the feasibility of a tea rooms and feel current traders have raised valid concerns about the consultation's findings.

The agenda for Cabinet on Tuesday, 5th November 2013 at 10.00 a.m is here

Future of the Assembly Room Report (PDF)

Future of the Assembly Room - Consultation Document outlining various alternative proposals and issues for the existing Market (PDF)

We are happy to clarify our original reporting on refurbishment works which took place in March on the Assembly Rooms which the Council argues was "factually incorrect".

"The council did undertake refurbishment works in March to repair the ceiling of the building," says the Council's spokesperson, "but at the same time decided to make some aesthetic improvements including repainting the interior of the ground floor of the building which significantly improved the appearance of it for the benefit of traders and customers as well as significantly adding to the cost of the works."

We are happy to make this clear and have amended our earlier story to include a note of this work.


Natalie said...

In keeping with the comic stall, the jewellery stall, and Malcolm's magnificent vintage shop, there is a niche in Lancaster for an Alternative market. Like a small version of Quiggins in Liverpool or Affleck's Palace in Manchester.
Stalls selling "hippie" goods, band tshirts, "alternative" clothing for teens and young adults.
This would allow the cafe to re-open as well and could be a hangout for teenagers, which is especially important in Winter.
Where is there currently?

Mark Braithwaite said...

In all the years there I have never heard anyone say they found the Assmnbly Rooms thanks to District Matters or the Antiques Site, but I have had plenty saying they found the Assembly Rooms thanks to the @findacomicshop service (