Last week we were lucky enough to be joined by residents of Levenshulme and beyond with an interest in the Market for our first ever forum event. First of all, a massive THANK YOU to everyone to who came – we didn’t expect so many people to come out on such a cold and miserable evening and we were really delighted. Secondly – BRACE YOURSELVES – this post is loooong – we have had had so many messages from many of you who are interested in what went on but couldn’t make it so we have decided to write up our account of what went on in this ‘ere blog post. A lot was said, so we’re bound to miss something though – if you were there and we have left something out please email us and we’ll make sure it’s added!
The three directors of the Market – Brenda, Neil and Helen – welcomed everyone and began by setting the scene with a summary of why we were hosting the Forum, a short history of the Market to date (including the story of how we ended up running this beast, how things have worked over the last 12 months and an overview of our aims as a social enterprise) and our plans for the future.
Oh yes, the future! the thing about running a market is that you have a flip load of stakeholders to consult before you announce a big change so the majority of people in the room were aware but casual visitors to this website may not be that as of Saturday 29th March 2014 Levenshulme Market will become a weekly market.
Obviously we knew that we had some fairly pressing questions to answer – namely:
If you have visited the market in 2013 we hope you will recognise that it has been something of…ahem a success! We are a very busy market and have feedback from both traders and customers that we are one of the best – in terms of trader mix, footfall, spend…all sorts of good things. We think that there is a gap in the market in Manchester for a street market that sells goods at a quality you can’t get from chain stores in a setting that gives visitors an enjoyable, sociable shopping experience. Testament to that is the fact that we are – without being boasty – a bit overwhelmed with people wanting to trade at Levenshulme Market – just under 350 traders at the last count, and we’ve only got 50 gazebos to go round!
Running in parallel to that is the impact that expanding our operation will have financially and – because we are a social enterprise – the impact that will have on our community. By going weekly we expect to bring in a profit next year of at least £10,000. Again, that’s not us showing off and we’re not going to be sailing off to Rio with that cash – as a social enterprise we are committed to reinvesting all of that money back into improving the prospects of the high street and the people of Levenshulme. To us, the prospect of being able to raise an amount of money that could really improve our community for the better is simply too important to turn down.
So we have the trader interest and we have customers who will come once a month but we also know that that’s not enough! We know that those customers aren’t necessarily going to change with us – not everyone wants to come every week; it won’t be as much of an “occasion” when it’s weekly and not everyone can afford to buy market goods every week. So we have a few tricks up our sleeve to make sure the market stays as vibrant as it has been:
- Marketing. Shed loads of it. More marketing than anyone ever.
- THEMES! Every market in 2014 will have a range of core produce and be supported by a theme. What this means is that just under half of the traders at every market will be selling produce – food, plants, drink, yer staples basically – with a good selection of street food traders to keep the oils wheeled and the remainder of stalls will fit under the following themes:
- 1st Saturday of the month – Handmade and Home – crafty gifts and goodies for the home and for giving
- 2nd Saturday of the month – Food and Drink – the very best local produce and producers with all things yum
- 3rd Saturday of the month – Fashion and Flea – vintage clothes and homewares, fashion and accessories
- 4th Saturday of the month – Levy Market – an un-themed free-for-all with all the best traders you’ve come to expect from us
- 5th FRIDAY of the month – Levy Nights! – night markets extraordinaire – these are our specialist special-est events – since they will be once in a blue moon – they will be themed according to what’s going on (just like our first ever night market in June 2013 – a massive street food market) and have amazing entertainment and a full bar to keep the crowds happy.
(We know that’s a lot to take in, by the way, so we’ve done a helpful handy guide to upcoming market dates and their themes which can be found here)
- Time – without playing our tiny violins too vociferously it’s worth pointing out that all the work we have done on the market for the last year has been in our spare time (and all of us have our own full time jobs and businesses) and for free (it’s worth pointing out here that most Community Interest Company directors draw a salary – we haven’t although as our profits increase and as we look towards 2015 that is something we may consider for the future if we can balance it against the money we want to use in the community). However, because of the work we have been doing and the fact that we are pretty blooming unique (the only market operating as a CIC in the UK, doncha know) UnLtd, the UK’s leading funding body for social entrepreneurs, has very kindly agreed to fund Helen to work on the market for a year – to the extent that she will be able to dedicate at least two and half working days to the market every week. Plus, because there is an added amount of paperwork being done and we are going to be putting our staff onto payroll, Neil will be being paid from our funds to look after our accounts. So if we did all that last year with no time, imagine what we can do now!
All that covered it was time to turn the floor over to our assembled audience for their thoughts and questions. You know that awkward thing where no one is brave enough to put their hand up? That didn’t happen. We spent about 45 minutes taking questions and this is where our lack of note taking really lets us down. Here is a summary of some of the key points raised but, again, if you were there and we’ve missed something, please feel free to comment below:
- Diversity/representation – some very salient points were raised about how representative the market is of the residents of the community of Levenshulme. We are happy to hold our hands up to this point and say that, yes, there is significant room for improvement in this area. When we first started we put flyers in local mosques and had translations to Urdu put on our banners but it is fair to say that the stallholder and shopper profile does not currently represent the ethnically diverse nature of the area we are lucky enough to operate in and that is a significant shortfall in our provision. In 2014 we will explore a number of ways to address this – one of which was suggested at the meeting; a night market with an international/cultural theme…watch this space on this and other projects to address this issue.
- Trader consultation – some traders voiced concerns that they felt they had not been properly consulted on the change to weekly. In response to this we are now committing to quarterly meetings for all traders to discuss their experience of the market and for us to discuss any upcoming developments.
- What is a social enterprise/Community Interest Company – several attendees were unsure where – as a social enterprise – our remit to serve the community began and ended. A good article on what a CIC is and how social enterprises operate can be found here but the basic summary is that a CIC is a business that operates in more or less the same way as any other limited company but exists to benefit the community it serves rather than private shareholders. We make ourselves accountable to the community by being open about our aims and activities but that is more to do with our personal ethics than anything that our operative model expects us to do. As with any limited company the decisions on the running of the business are taken by the directors of the company – although we like to think we try hard to take into account the needs of all our stakeholders which not all companies do!
- Parking – as a monthly market we have occupied half of the car park in Farm Side Place once a month but our traders more-or-less filled the other half with their cars and vans full of lovely stock. Obviously a weekly market means that this will happen more or less every Saturday and concerns were raised about this. We have done a lot of consultation with the high street trader community about this as we are very keen not to negatively impact the high street trading environment in Levenshulme (as a social enterprise designed to reinvigorate the high street it would be pretty counter-intuitive really!). One the whole the high street traders have been immensely supportive of the move – with many citing the increased footfall and trade they’ve seen on market days in 2013 as being an important growth factor for their businesses (and we will be working with them to make sure they continue to see the same benefits, if not more this year). However, there are some businesses (notable Al Waalis restaurant) that rely on the car park for either staff or customer parking and we are working with them on solutions for this (see below). We are also immensely grateful that the manager of Tesco on Stockport Road has agreed that market patrons can use the car park adjacent to the store for parking. It’s also worth noting that we intend to do a lot of work to encourage our customers to use public or sustainable transport to reach the market (have you seen our market in a minute video – there’s more of those coming for other transport methods!). The important thing to note is that we are working hard to build a market that complements the high street, and doesn’t compete with it and the high street traders of Levenshulme recognise this.
- Planning application and location – if you spend your time looking at Manchester City Council’s planning portal (don’t be ashamed, we do too) you may have noticed that we have put in a planning application for the market. This is a council requirement for a weekly market – there was some concern that the planning app meant we were planning to expand. We’re not – the application ties us to our current location and to change that we would need to apply again. That said, in the application we have applied for permission to trade on the “village green” in Levenshulme (here). This is not for additional stalls but to relocate some existing stalls on occasion to allow more parking space for local businesses in the car park on market days or for special occasions. However, as one attendee quite rightly pointed out the road crossing provision at that point on the A6 is poor and we suspect that we won’t get permission to have the market on both sides of the road for that reason…only time will tell.
- Other comments – as well as worries about the viability of the weekly operation (which we hope we addressed with the above) we also had a number of supportive and positive comments about the market, as well as a number of offers of support or ideas for fun things we can do (acoustic stages! guest DJs!).
As our time was coming to a close we ended the formal proceedings and a number of the assembled crowd came to share their thoughts with us in person.
So there you go – a fairly long winded account of the meeting that hopefully gives you a sense of just some of the things we think about! Of course we will keep sharing news here as March approaches (trust us – you won’t be able to miss us!) and please do email us with thoughts and idea but for now…well, thanks for reading this far!