London Markets Matter

Alison Partridge

By Alison Partridge, on July 25th, 2014

> Read Alison Partridge's articles

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License   by  [Duncan] 
Walking into a meeting room is not always an exciting and stimulating experience. London’s Sustainable Urban Markets consultation workshop early in July was a rare pleasure in this respect – hosted by London and Partners at their stunning river front offices near Tower Bridge, the view was quite simply breathtaking. The sun was shining over central London; what a setting for a discussion on London’s initial proposals for their Local Action Plan. And, as if this wasn’t enough, the session kicked off with the inspiring story of Wayne Hemingway who used a series of great photos to plot his rags-to-riches journey from trader at Camden Market to globally renowned designer.


At a very young age Wayne and his childhood sweetheart (now his wife) Gerardine visited London from their home town – Morecombe – in the North of England. They decided to empty their wardrobe and take the contents to sell on Camden Market: “It was £6 rent for the stall and we took £80 the first day. It just took off from there”. They did so well that by the end of the year they had 16 stalls at the market and were shipping second-hand clothing and footwear from all over the world. It was at this point that they realised that money could be made from fashion and by 1983, they had opened a shop in fashionable Kensington, London and founded Red or Dead which they subsequently built into a label that received global acclaim. Having sold Red or Dead, they now run Hemingway Design which specialises in affordable and social design and is built on the philosophy that design is about improving things that matter in life”. 

The messages which I took away were that what Wayne calls ‘hipster led regeneration’ is creating value where governments and cities have failed; and that having what he referred to as ‘the eye’ is what has enabled him to ‘spot things and live well without very much money’. The ‘eye’ might be something we are born with but it may also be connected to the experiences we are exposed to as young people and throughout our lives. Perhaps both of these ‘takeaways’ are things to reflect upon when considering the future of cities.

All of this provided a great backdrop for the workshop, convened by Cross River Partnership, who lead the London end of the URBACT Markets project. The workshop set out to explore the initial proposals for London’s Local Action Plan and to invite industry stakeholders and practitioners to help them test, develop and refine their draft proposals for improving markets in London.

London Markets Really Do Matter

The starting point for the Local Action Plan is that London’s markets really do matter. They provide a hub for community activity, attract visitors, provide vibrancy, theatre and opportunities to touch, feel and smell. They can be places to dwell, soak up and hang out. Critically, they provide jobs and early self employment opportunities – in London a recent report estimated that the city’s 160 markets directly support about 7500 full time jobs and account for more than 1% of total retail spent in the capital. As places they are generally environmentally friendly with a small carbon footprint – energy use is low, waste and recycling is increasing, and journeys to and from markets are made on foot, by bike or on public transport 9 times out of 10.

But not all London markets are thriving and London’s URBACT Local Support Group (which includes representatives from the Greater London Authority; Southwark, Lambeth, Camden and Westminster Councils, as well as the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea and City of London Corporation; Better Bankside, Vauxhall ONE, Victoria and Waterloo BIDs; New Covent Garden; Brixton, Camden Lock and Borough Markets) has been exploring a range of options to optimise opportunity, employment and local growth, and reinvigorate markets and high streets as well as places. The emerging Local Action Plan proposals are covered by 4 themed sub-headings: legal and regulatory; town centres and high streets; enterprise and entrepreneurship; and low carbon and sustainability.

Stakeholders Keen on Reviewing Legislation to Refresh Investment Strategies

One of the main areas of focus is the London Local Authorities Act. The London Local Support Group is keen to see the legislation reviewed. Parliament, the former London Development Agency, local authorities and others have all agreed that it is no longer ‘fit for purpose’ in its current form – the current system disincentivises local authorities from making the kind of capital investment that is required to refresh and revive and maximise the economic and employment potential of the city’s markets. This has played a part in encouraging some authorities to concentrate on licensing and enforcement at the expense of investment and development. That is reflected in markets management residing anywhere and everywhere in authorities from environmental services to waste management. That is not to say that some do not take a more progressive approach and have achieved successes as a result. The city now needs to take stock of its legislative framework.

Discounted Pitch Fees for New, Young Entrepreneurs

Stakeholders at the July workshop were also keen to see how markets can be woven through the work the Mayor is undertaking now to improve town centres and high streets and provide opportunity. Despite being at the centre of high streets, for too long markets have been on the periphery of discussions about reinvigorating the places that we visit and the places where we shop most frequently. The idea of setting up a ‘First Pitch London’ programme for new traders also went down well. This builds upon an existing national initiative which encourages young people to start up and run a market business, offers discounted pitch fees and mentoring from a retail expert as well as free membership of the National Market Traders Federation. It also fits well with the Mayor’s Jobs and Growth plan and London’s European Structural and Investment Fund Strategy. Of course, there was not always agreement (this is London, after all….) and many stakeholders discussing the Low Carbon agenda were sceptical about plans to pilot an inter-market waste management and recycling initiative. There was however broad consensus on the need to better pool expertise and share experiences both within London and with other European cities. URBACT III seems to provide opportunities to do this and structured networking and opportunities for regular discussion and dialogue were seen to be appropriate vehicles for this sort of work. There was also support for a Market of Markets festival to celebrate, support and provide opportunity for the sector by offering test trade pitches, showcasing supply chain opportunities, promoting local markets and demonstrating innovative approaches.

This was all great food for thought for the URBACT Local Support Group (ULSG) Coordinator Owain Jones who plans to use the event to inform the draft Local Action Plan which will be produced over the summer period with a view to launching at the National Association of British Market Authorities (NAMBA) national conference in London on 24 September 2014. As Owain said at the end of the workshop:

It was inspiring to hear from Wayne today – someone who started out market trading, took risks and through hard work has developed award winning businesses. Markets are flexible and affordable places for established retail to test products, for entrepreneurs to get going, and for independent on-line retails to market their wares – it’s not all washing up bowls and discount clothing. More than that, markets can enliven our identikit high streets and help to create places that people want to shop and hang out. The input from practitioners and stakeholders at the workshop has been terrific. It will help us refine our proposals for improving London’s street and covered markets.” Owain Jones, Place Making Project Manager, Cross River Partnership and ULSG Coordinator for London URBACT Markets.

For more information on URBACT Markets visit the Cross River Partnership projects page.


Alison Partridge – Thematic Expert for URBACT Markets

Follow her on Twitter!

Leave a Reply