Making a difference: Bradford and Plymouth

I’ve been excited to meet and talk to individuals working against the odds in their towns to make a positive difference to their towns and small cities.

Artists Jean McEwan and Chemaine Cooke of Wur Bradford (see June 18 blog post) are seeking to bring local shoppers and traders together to discuss issues around the decline of the high street in the centre of Bradford.

At a Power 2 Change Learning Camp recently I met entrepreneurs and creatives based in Plymouth working with RIO (which stand for Real Ideas Organisation) whose mission is ‘to deliver real and lasting change through social enterprise’. One of which was Martyn Ellison who is co-running a micro-brewery called Billy Ruffian’s Brewing Co (in partnership with RIO), where some of the beer is made out of left-over bread. I’m very interested in how their business is part of a co-ordinated effort to work towards a strong local economy in Plymouth, by making use of under-used resources to prevent money from leaking out of the area.

Billy Ruffian's Beer

Image credit: Billy Ruffian’s Brewing Co

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Making a difference: Newcastle under Lyme and the 6 Potteries Towns

Following on from October’s blog, I’ve recently been listening to a couple of podcasts addressing issues relating to towns:

Weekly Economics Podcast (from New Economics Foundation): Is it the end of the Road for the High Street?

& Ed Miliband and Geoff Lloyd’s Reason to be Cheerful Podcast: Won’t you take me to Funky Town: power and prosperity in towns, featuring Lisa Nandy (Wigan MP).

Both of these raise some interesting questions around how people living and working in a neighbourhood can take greater control over designing and building their local economy. I’ve been meeting with people who are testing out ways to tackle the challenges face by local communities trying to do this. Including the social and economic regeneration company Hometown Plus, who are working in partnership with a strong team of collaborators in Newcastle under Lyme and the 6 potteries towns of Stoke on Trent, Burslem, Fenton, Hanley, Longley, Stoke on Trent and Tunstall.

Its fascinating to watch the great progress of their innovative CounterCoin programme – a volunteer and business reward scheme, which is inspiring individuals, community groups, arts organisations and independent businesses to work together to bring life back to their high streets.2nd Edition CC

Image credit: CounterCoin –


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Making a difference in Plymouth, Newcastle Under Lyme, Bradford

This next couple of blog posts are some very early musings on the current relationship between towns and cities and highlights some learning and thinking I’ve been doing about this. As an adult I’ve always lived in big cities (Sheffield, Leeds and now Manchester – sometimes considered the Core Cities ). But increasingly I’ve become interested in and aware of, issues arising out of the relationship between the UK’s big cities and its smaller cities and towns.

Economic development in the UK has focused on, gathering resources around these largest 11 cities (Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool, London, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham,  Sheffield), drawing in highly skilled workers to these places and concentrating energy, ideas and expenditure on for example infrastructure in these places*. This has been backed up by the idea that the prosperity of these cities will trickle down to elsewhere… however, it’s clear that within these 11 cities, that prosperity hasn’t even been trickling down within those cities, let alone beyond to neighbouring smaller cities or towns. There will be more on this in my next posts.

My attention has recently been drawn to a number of community-led, social and economic activities taking place in three smaller cities and towns: Plymouth, Newcastle Under Lyme and Bradford. The following posts will outline some of the people and projects I’ve come across.


Image credit: Sarah Spanton, of Cultural Squatters Cafe, York Place, Newcastle Under Lyme

* – accessed 17.12.14

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Musings on Markets #4: How to find ways to solve issues of gentrification?

Following directly on from my previous post on street food and artisan markets – this post considers their relationship to the traditional market.

These new food halls and artisan markets aren’t delivering what the traditional market does. They are considered by many to be part of a gentrification process, defined by Gonzalez and Swanson as ‘… a concept often used to describe and criticise changes in the social make-up of a neighbourhood. Simply put, it can be seen as the replacement of a working class and/or low income population by middle class as dwellers, consumers, or both.’[1]

Gonzalez and Swanson point out the differences in what they call a gentrified market and a traditional market in this table.


They have strong concerns that affordable, essential goods are no longer available to those who need them and that the strong cultural tradition of markets is being lost, to something that may well be a passing retail trend. ‘This functional shift – from amenity to destination – changes the presentation of the market from a practical, necessary site of affordable goods to a more exclusive, niche and (possibly) temporary place of entertainment and variety.’[2]

I’m interested in finding ways to support the revitalisation of town centres and local neighbourhoods, without throwing the baby out with the bathwater. How can different communities of interest work together to support a genuine ‘local’ economy where the money remains circulating locally for longer (and isn’t sucked away at speed through national chains)? How can local independent retailers/businesses continue to be supported in this era of Amazon and other online shopping?

Is there a way that some of the new ideas around food halls and artisan produce can be weaved into a traditional market, making something that brings new people into the market to experience and shop there, whilst retaining the values, affordability and customers who’ve been shopping in the traditional market for generations?

I have visited a couple of markets that are trying to do things differently and trying to resist the gentrification trend. A recent holiday to the town of Lagos in Portugal (the regional main town), I visited two linked local markets. Both were bringing in tourists, and both also had local people shopping at them. The first is a municipal market building featuring fish, fruit and vegetables and local delicacies. And the second Saturday farmers’ market in an open warehouse, where around 30 local farmers sold olives, peppers, fruit, nuts etc (often sitting on a crate, with just one or two crates of produce). Both markets were for local traders to sell their own produce at affordable prices.

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Lagos farmers market

The second is Levenshulme Market (Manchester), which began in 2013, a social enterprise which takes place on Saturday, and on a Friday evening, once a month. It has a mix of basic essential food produce (cheese, fruit and veg, bread, meats), street food, live music, also artisan craft stalls, vintage stalls, occasionally voluntary groups have a stall. Whilst not priced at the lower end of the scale, prices are not set too high. It has supported small businesses to start-up through their presence on the market and is actively seeking to make stronger links with retailers on the local high street (see their recent social value report).

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Anne Findlay and Leigh Sparkes (in Town and Country Planning Journal May/June 2018) have recently commented that ‘… retailing is not independent of economy, society or place, but is rather a reflection of what we value as consumers and society.’ I concur with this statement which strongly links the social and the economy. They also point out that the problems dogging the retail sector of late might be better resolved if a place-based approach is taken; ‘If you conceive the issue as being a retail one, then retail solutions get proposed and are often doomed to fail. If the problem is framed as place or town centre based, then the breadth of the problems is great, but the breadth of potential solutions is greater too. Towns are so much more than retailing.’

As I said at the outset of these last four posts on markets, I don’t have any concrete answers to the issues in relation to markets (yet!). But I do know we need to work together across public, private and social sectors, borrow approaches from other cultures, share ideas with each other and experiment, take risks and try to find ways to do things differently. In so doing we will support the resilience of our town and neighbourhood centres, make our local economies more prosperous, support all parts of our community, including those that need those essential and affordable goods provided by traditional markets and in so doing we can find ways to act to retain all that is valuable and worthwhile in the traditional market.

[1], [2] ‘Traditional Markets Under Threat: why it’s happening and what traders and customers can do’ by Dr Sara Gonzalez & Gloria Dawson 2015.

Image credits:

1 Sara Gonzalez and Gloria Swanson

2 & 3 Sarah Spanton


5 Sarah Spanton

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Musings on Markets #3: markets as destinations and social spaces

Over the last few years a new trend in markets has been very popular; artisan, craft and street food markets have been springing up in cities and towns across the country and in Europe. These are seen by those managing town centres as bringing new people into a town and are part of rebranding areas where retail has been struggling. They are providing desirable places to hang out and socialise, whilst providing quickly turned around food options (often street foods), creating a destination, which enables people to experience a town differently, stay for longer and perhaps do shopping elsewhere.

Like most of us, I’ve visited a few of these ‘new’ markets, including Altrincham Market and Copenhagen Street Food Market. Altrincham Market was a traditional market that was seen as struggling to retain shoppers. The attractive building was conserved and original stall holders moved to an undercover area outside the main hall. It is now a ‘foodie destination’, visitors share large tables in a central area and can choose what to eat from around 10 different food and drink outlets, including sourdough pizzas, artisan chocolates, steak, wine and beer. This market has been curated, the retailers are hand-picked, each offering a different type of fayre. Whilst retailers are in competition, they each provide something different, offering the visitor variety. One group of friends may buy from 5 or 6 of the different stalls, spreading the cash around.

However, my first visit was in 2015, when it had only recently opened, although not cheap, prices were just about what you’d call affordable. By my second visit in 2018 it was noticeably pricier. Also I found that the original market holders (now outside) had dwindled away, replaced by high-end boutique shopping.



Copenhagen Street Food, on PapierØen (Paper Island), was set up in a former paper warehouse on a temporary site, one of the islands forming part of Copenhagen. It became both a local and tourist destination, with a funky, bohemian design and layout,  and around 60 stalls. It’s temporary lease expired in December 2017, and the market has recently been re-opened on a new site.



The final market in this blog post is the Mackie Mayor, in Manchester’s Northern Quarter. On my MSc in Urban Regeneration and Development (at UoM in 2015), I was part of a group project tasked with finding a financially-viable solution to repurposing this now-empty building. Opened in 1858, the Mackie Mayor had been constructed and was managed for many years as a market. In more recent years it had been a garden centre and a youth project and was in a state of disrepair. Muse Development were tasked with its redevelopment by Manchester City Council. Our student project recommended its redevelopment as a food and drink-based destination market. And in 2017 it re-opened as such, bohemian in style, retaining some graffitied walls (from its youth project days), taking a similar to Altrincham curated-approach, with large central tables to share food and socialise around.


Mackie M #1



My next post will explore some of the issues arising around the changing nature of markets and issues of gentrification.

Image credits:

Altrincham 1 & 2: Sarah Spanton

Copenhagen Street Food 3 & 4: Sarah Spanton

Mackie Mayor 5 & 6: Manchester Libraries

7 Sarah Spanton &

8 Muse Development (left) and Sarah Spanton (right)

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Musings on markets #2: traditional markets, traders stories & opportunities to explore

In Sara Gonzalez and Gloria Dawson’s report ‘Traditional Markets under threat – why it’s happening and what traders and customers can do[1], which researches and reports on current issues for traditional markets. They define a traditional market as:

‘A traditional retail market can be characterised as one which has a long history in a particular place, low-cost or medium-cost goods, and usually a mixture of food, clothes, and household items.’

I recently met with artist Jean McEwan and Chemaine Cooke of Wur Bradford, discussing their recent work in traditional markets, which began in Kirkgate Market Bradford. They they’ve recently undertaken a 6-month residency in Oastler Market (part of St John’s Centre), culminating in final events in April 2018 – entitled ‘We Are Here’.


The artists saw this as a collaboration with the market’s traders, with the key goals of documenting traders stories and providing opportunities for people to explore the market. The Oastler Market traders were keen to collaborate, perhaps due to the uncertainty induced by the pending closure of their current site and relocation.

The resulting programme of guided walks, performance, a djing programme, a zine of traders stories and an exhibition (at Kala Sangam’s gallery). This was well received by traders and customers alike and increased the positive spirit in the market and traders pride in their trade and the market itself. The residency revealed the valuable role artists can have in facilitating dialogue, building and strengthening  relationships and communicating stories, issues and ideas.

Wb #5 Wb credit

I was particularly interested in the need to invite potential new customers into the market. To introduce traditional markets to those who didn’t feel it was their natural territory (young people, visitors to Bradford etc), who needed support to experience the opportunities there – such as diverse and affordable produce.

wb-3-jenny-ramsden.jpgBearing all this in mind, I’m wondering can the valuable qualities of traditional markets where they ‘… appeal to and attract a huge range of customers… are most important to middle and lower-class shoppers, older people and those from minority backgrounds because of their affordability, accessibility and variety of produce’ [2], be retained whilst developing new approaches to markets?

Image Credits:

1. & 3. Wur Bradford

2. @JennyRamsden1

[1] & [2] ‘Traditional Markets Under Threat: why it’s happening and what traders and customers can do’ by Dr Sara Gonzalez & Gloria Dawson 2015.

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Musings on markets #1

This blog aims to be an online sketch book, where I am able to ponder out loud on ideas and issues that have been coming up within my practice. For me, the process of blog post-writing is more about throwing up a series of thoughts in order to think through ideas and issues, than coming up with fixed answers.

This next series of posts will be a wander through my thinking about markets, both traditional and artisan or specialist.

I like markets. I like all sorts of markets. I feel comfortable in the traditional sort, as my Mum regularly used to take us to Roots Hall Market in Southend in the 1970s. I remember the throngs of people, the noise of market traders calling out, groups of people gathered around particular stalls, whilst the wares were paraded and knock-down prices announced, the entertainment of it all.


Roots Hall by Saxon Essex

Then I regularly used the flea market in Sheffield as a student (in the late 80s), and for 20 years I often used Kirkgate Market in Leeds, for fabric, haberdashery items, amongst other things – it was my go-to place for anything unusual that you couldn’t buy in the rest of the increasingly homogenised offer from the national and international retail brands in Leeds’ shopping centres and high street.

I find Kirkgate Market architecturally very interesting, with the front of the market having a high ironwork and glass ceiling, with intricate wooden details. It has recently been refurbished and rebranded (more of this in following posts).




Image Credits: 1. From @SUFC_History (possibly a newspaper cutting) – 1970s.

2. From – this site has a wealth of great Southend and nearby images, many from the 70s and 80s. This image is more recent, a date wasn’t given.

3, 4, 5. Sarah Spanton

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