Shropshire Star

Markets 'must attract young traders to survive' says leader of national body

Markets, the heartbeat of many towns, must attract young traders if they are to survive.

Right, David Preston NABMA chief executive with Oswestry Mayor Olly Rose

That is the message from the head of the national body representing British markets as the industry, he says, faces a make or break year.

Shropshire's David Preston, who himself helped on a market stall at the age of 14, is chief executive of the National Association of British Market Authorities (NABMA).

As the country celebrated Love Your Local Market, he praised markets across the county for the work they do to promote their importance and attract new traders.

This year Love Your Local Market has never been more important. A national survey last year highlighted the challenges facing markets coming out of Covid.

Oswestry School ran a Balkan food stall at Oswestry Market

The survey showed that a third of market traders and the majority of market operators received little or no support from government.

"Since then stall occupancy has dropped, some long established businesses have collapsed and only 40 per cent of markets operate with a profit for their operators," Mr Preston said.

"Across Britain only eight per cent of markets have stallholders under the age of 40."

A stall run by North Shropshire College

As many reach retirement age more must be done to ensure young traders step up.

Thankfully this is already happening at local venues including Shrewsbury Market - voted Britain's favourite this year - and in Oswestry where two young entrepreneurs say their stalls are perfect for their businesses.

Facilities Manager Kate Gittins and traders celebrating Shrewsbury Market being named Britain's favourite market

Mr Preston said he had visited several markets during the fortnight including in his home town, Oswestry.

"The fortnight is a worldwide celebration of the importance of markets as the heartbeat of our communities," he said.

"It has been brilliant to see markets offering start-up and welcome packages as well as young people and teenage markets.

A stall run by North Shropshire College

"Our markets are vital in terms of helping tourism and start-up businesses. The also help the environment by promoting local food with less packaging and less food miles.

"One of the staggering facts that came out of our survey is that only eight per cent of markets have traders under 40 years of age. This has let to a campaign by NABMA to create a national discussion and vision for the future of markets with priorities including retaining exiting traders and attracting new blood into the industry.

"We are working closely with government as markets are recognised to be in the top 25 factors for vibrant town centres and have key roles in the tourism leisure, retail and hospitality industries as well as in start up businesses."

He said that despite a backdrop of worrying statistics there was still huge optimism about the future of markets.

"Shropshire has an excellent reputation for its markets and indeed, Shrewsbury market is currently Britain's Favourite Market. Oswestry has also won awards in the past."

Chloe-Ann Thomas runs not one but two stalls on Oswestry's indoor market, one selling new and used baby and children's items, the second sweet treats and hampers.

Chloe-Ann Thomas at Oswestry Market

The 25-year-old, who did a business course in college, realised there was scope for her baby items business when she looked for a present for a friend who had just become a mum.

"I could not believe how expensive new items are," she said.

"I started selling used items from home and then the stall became available.

"That was so successful that when a second stall was free I also went into sweet treats. Now I can separate my business and home life better. Oswestry market has its own Wi-fi and so I can do administration and online using the unit both as my stall and my office."

Cosmetics expert Laura Richards has her stall on the balcony of the Oswestry Indoor Market.

White Wolf Cosmetics specialises in bath bombs, wax melts and other items that Laura makes at home.

"I began the business when I was on maternity leave in lockdown," she said.

"It was really hard to work at home with my young son there and so now he goes to nursery on market days and I come in and package and sell items in the unit.

Oswestry Town Council, which runs both the town's indoor and outdoor markets, held a youth market as part of its ‘Love Your Local Market’ fortnight.

Oswestry town mayor, Councillor Olly Rose, who visited the youth market to encourage traders, said it was a great way for young people to gain some retailing experience and learn customer service skills.

The stalls run by students from Oswestry School and North Shropshire College offered a wide range of products including Balkan food, cakes, local honey, lavender bags, homemade soaps, hair products, unique comics by J Webber and bric-a-brac.

Councillor Rose said: “It was great to see young people learning new skills, having fun and raising money for local charities - maybe we have some future market traders in the making”.