Date of release: Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Struggling town centres should turn to their local markets as a source of distinctiveness and identity, according to new research from the University of Greenwich.

The GO TRADE project survey continues to deliver research results and insights from markets and their host town centres in England and France. Over 3,700 people have taken part in this study so far. They include market traders, customers, nearby local businesses and town centre visitors.

High street expert Assoc. Prof. Andres Coca-Stefaniak, pictured, is co-investigator on the GO TRADE project. He says: "A vibrant market can be a game changer to the viability and attractiveness of its host town centre and its visitor economy.

"Traditional markets have a clear economic value for smaller towns but also offer a key social binding element for communities in larger cities. On the other hand, attractive but transitory Christmas markets can be soon forgotten after Boxing Day."

Shanaaz Carroll, of NMTF (formerly the National Market Traders' Federation), which represents about 20,000 traders, adds: "Markets are part of our social fabric, our communities. They bring economic and social value, they have a rhythm. Shopping at a market is energising.

"Markets have roots going back hundreds of years, providing vital access to affordable products as well as places for social interaction. While the rising number of street food markets are welcome and have their place in busy office locations it would be far better to see such traders integrated within existing traditional markets."

Professor Petros Ieromonachou, who leads the GO TRADE project, says: "Early findings from the data show that, although car parking near the market is important to market traders, this was seen as less of an issue by market customers.

"They gave a higher level of importance to issues such as the ease for visitors to move around the market, opening hours, the overall service quality offered by the market, and safety."

The study also shows that traders and visitors to traditional markets in England and France tend to agree that markets are generally not making the best of the visitor economy.

Customers, nearby businesses and stall holders were consulted as part of the study. Issues include not capitalising on the town centre's evening economy, the ability to deliver a unique experience to visitors and tourists, attractiveness and the variety of events and entertainment offered by markets.

Visitors to markets were generally found to be satisfied with local shops in the proximity of the market and their overall service quality. In turn, local business owners and managers saw collaboration between local shops and market traders as the single factor with the highest impact on their business, though this same issue was deemed to be of much less importance by market traders.

Dr Fanny Paschek and Dr Claire Papaix recently presented some of the survey's preliminary findings to the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Markets at the Houses of Parliament.

They warned that town centre visitors shunning markets pointed to their lack of variety of produce along with poor accessibility and lack of attractiveness as the main reasons.

Over the next two years the GO TRADE project will be developing business support packages for market traders to enhance their competitiveness and service offer, but also encourage the use of markets as incubators for entrepreneurship and innovative business practices.

GO TRADE is a four-year €5.4 million project, which began in July 2017, and aims to increase visitor numbers to markets in England and France. The GO TRADE project is co-funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) through the Interreg VA crossborder (England- France) programme.