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Stall stories

Mon 18 July 2016, 10:54 am

Changing shopping habits are seeing traditional markets superseded by internet retailing and pound shops. To survive and thrive, they are having to adapt and diversify their offer, and in Enfield, Ruth McKee finds success in their approach

Live music is part of the entertainment at The Sidings

As a busker gently plucks a classical guitar, the smells of cooking bacon and brewing coffee waft along The Sidings, a strip of railway land sandwiched between a station and the gardens of suburban north London. With families, dog walkers, Sunday morning cyclists and joggers mingling beside the Bike Boutique’s coffee stall and Dee’s Pies, it is hard to imagine that The Sidings, seemingly a quintessential farmers’ market, only launched 16 months ago.

Market manager Trevor Flack explains that when he and his team heard the lease was up on the Winchmore Hill plot, off Station Road, they leapt at the chance to take it over. Although they were not quite sure what they could do with the land, they immediately saw its potential.

“The first thing we did was to talk to people in the neighbourhood,” he says. “And we started thinking what the possibilities were, and that’s when we came up with the idea of a farmers’ market.”

The market has gone from strength to strength in recent months, but with changing shopping patterns seeing many people turn their backs on the high street in favour of the internet, what is the secret of its success?

The answer could lie in the groundwork Flack and his team did before even setting up the first stall.

“We communicated – big time – with residents, and so we knew there was a bit of a calling for something like this in the area. People nowadays do enjoy nicer food and so that’s the direction we went in,” he explains.

As well as tapping into foodie trends, the manager knew that a successful market is about more than just a fruit and veg stall and some nice bread.

Looking at the groups of people clustered around the stalls, catching up, while dog leads and children get tangled up between legs and tables, he tells Opportunity Enfield that to make a market work, you have to make it a comfortable, welcoming environment.

“People can come down and meet their neighbours here, meet old friends they haven’t seen in a while, and obviously they buy the ingredients that they might take home and cook later,” he says. Above Feeding the foodies, who are attracted to the farmers’ market at The Sidings. Opposite Musicians are encouraged to use the bandstand at Enfield Town market.

While The Sidings looks bustling and thriving now, Flack is all too aware that running a market can be financially risky and he reveals that in the fi rst few months the management found it challenging to build up a group of regular pitches.

“A lot of these stallholders are sole traders so if they have problems, we feel it. If they have family commitments, or are sick, we lose a stall that day,” he says.

“We are fuller now – there are always hiccups but we have had the chance to expand one or two stalls and put an extra one up.”

So what was it that saw them become so established, with regulars turning up half an hour before opening time to queue at their favourite bread stall?

“The calibre of the stallholders,” he responds at once. Pointing to the chocolatier who has been doing a brisk trade all morning, he continues: “This guy really does know his product, he knows all the history. All these guys know their products.”

This flexibility, and an emphasis on sourcing quality produce, is reflected in the revamped Enfield Town market just a few miles north of The Sidings. The market holds a charter dating back 700 years and is run by the Old Enfield Charitable Trust, the owner of the market square. It is unique in that profits from the rents paid by stallholders are ploughed back into the local community, through grants to those in need in the borough.

A longer version of this article appears in the latest issue of Opportunity Enfield.

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