Traditional town and city centre markets could play a key role in the nation’s economic and social recovery from the Coronavirus pandemic, according to new research.
A team, led by the University of Leeds' School of Geography, interviewed hundreds of customers at markets in Bury, Newcastle and East London and found that, instead of being a lingering feature of a nostalgic high street, they are capable of boosting economic development, public health and social inclusion.
The research calls for traditional retail markets to be part of a strategy for inclusive, community-focused and sustainable towns and cities but warns that many are in fact under threat of gentrification.
When markets serve older people, low-income communities, migrants and black and minority ethnic groups, this should be celebrated and strategically supported.
The study, which is the first of its kind, was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and looked at Bury Market, Grainger Market in Newcastle and Queen’s Market in Newham. Researchers interviewed 500 customers at each of them, as well as market traders and council representatives.
Social and cultural benefits
Co-author of the three reports, Dr Myfanwy Taylor, from the School of Geography, said: “When markets serve older people, low-income communities, migrants and black and minority ethnic groups, this should be celebrated and strategically supported to bring benefits to economic development, public health and social inclusion.
“The evidence contained in these reports about the wide-ranging economic, social and cultural benefits of traditional markets not only makes the case for a dedicated support package for them, it also shows us that they should be repositioned as community hubs for more inclusive economies as the nation emerges from the COVID-19 lockdowns.”
The research points to markets being particularly important to lower-income communities because they provide affordable food and other goods when compared with prices in supermarkets and local stores.
In the case of Bury Market, 55% of customers live in the 30% most deprived neighbourhoods in England and the researchers found that only 10% of those they interviewed shopped online for food and drink.
The researchers say their findings also demonstrate the crucial role markets should play in supporting residents and businesses to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic.
The reports’ co-author, Dr Sara González, said: “As household budgets come under continued pressure, our markets’ roles as access points for affordable and quality fresh food is as important as ever.
“And their role in facilitating social interaction and as a space where users feel safe, less lonely, welcome and like they belong is even more relevant now that traditional retail uses are struggling in city centres.”
The reports were carried out in liaison with the National Market Traders Federation, which says councils need to look at the wider benefits to the community.
Joe Harrison, Chief Executive of NMTF, said: “The market in any town or city should be of benefit to all its residents, not just a fashionable few. The real need for councils to consider the social inclusion factors and the benefits to all of the community cannot be stressed more strongly.”
The team hopes its findings will be taken on board by councils and may help persuade them that markets could provide new possibilities for them to engage with and meet the needs of their residents.
The reports are published on the Markets4People website.
Image of Bury Market, courtesy of Bury Council.
For media enquiries, email University of Leeds Press Officer Kersti Mitchell at email@example.com.