As traders’ concerns over the future of Grantham Market grow, Journal deputy editor Marie Bond looks at the issues it faces and asks South Kesteven District Council what action is being taken.
Twenty years ago, Grantham’s Saturday Market was the heart of the town. Shoppers could find all they needed, from groceries and clothing to tools and plants for the garden.
The market today paints a very different picture. Many traders have disappeared, and along with them many market shoppers.
It is clear when listening to the traders’ perspectives that there is no single reason for the market’s decline. However, what is clear throughout is a divide between traders and South Kesteven District Council, which runs it.
Several stallholders told the Journal why they feel the council is failing them. However, SKDC’s venues and facilities manager, Paul Stokes, has stressed that action is being taken and promises that the local authority will work more closely with traders to come up with solutions.
This special report follows a story in the December 26 edition of the Journal. We told how, after 48 years, Sam Tomlinson decided to pack up his fruit and veg stall for good. He told the Journal a disinterest from SKDC was behind his decision.
He said: “They’re just not interested. They’re not trying to help us, not trying to do anything.
“I’ve been going since I was six years old and my dad had the stall. I’ve seen some big changes, but not for the better.
“I think it’s too late for the market, it’s dying.”
These thoughts were echoed on Saturday by several traders who are persevering at Grantham.
One trader of 17 years, who asked not to be named, referred to meetings where SKDC and traders get around a table to talk issues through.
She said: “What’s the point? You give up your time and go and nothing changes. The council wants to get rid of the market, that’s what everyone thinks.
“It has no atmosphere. A one-day-a-week market should be heaving with traders and it should be heaving with people, and it’s not.
“It’s too late for the market, it’s gone too far to bring it back. It’s unredeemable.”
However, one trader who can see the problems it faces but does not believe the end is nigh is Paul Eaton, of Ruskington-based Wilcox Bakery. He has worked the market for 18 years, since he was aged 12, although the bakery has had a presence on the market for many years more.
Comparing the market of 18 years ago to today, Paul said: “It’s completely different. We had two members of staff up front and I used to be at the back boxing eggs up. We’ve gone from three people full-time to me doing it on my own. I’ve seen how it’s dropped off.”
Paul also feels the uneasiness in the air, the feeling that there is a rift between stallholders and SKDC. He said: “I do get the impresson most traders feel the council doesn’t want us here.”
He has several theories on why the market has gone downhill. But he can pinpoint the moment when the situation took a turn for the worse, and that was the start of work to regenerate the Market Place and Westgate.
Paul said: “We were moved several times and we did lose trade. People get out of the routine of where they were shopping. I know people who were going to Newark instead because of the work. That then becomes their routine.”
The anonymous trader agreed, saying: “While the work was taking place it absolutely shot the market to pieces. Traders left and never came back because they couldn’t make a living. The council cut us off completely and it’s never been the same since.”
The council’s efforts to bring more people into town during the market have not gone unnoticed. Although trade did not rocket during the recent Music in the Market Place and Halloween Spooktacular event, Paul believes new customers were gained on the back of drawing them in to see what the market is all about. He added: “We need something to pull people in. Something once a month, like was promised.”
Seemingly caught in the middle is market supervisor Gary Taylor, who is employed by SKDC.
While this reporter was interviewing Paul Eaton, Gary arrived and gave a frank account of the troubles the market faces.
He believes the way to save the market is to condense it into Wide Westgate, where it is busier than Market Place and more likely to create a bustling atmosphere to draw in the crowds.
He said: “Rome wasn’t built in a day. We’re not going to suddenly get a surge of traders embracing Grantham. But if it’s condensed it will bring people in and create an atmosphere.”
In agreement is the anonymous trader, although she believes the market should be in Market Place. She said: “What they need to do is get the miserable gits down the other end to move, and condense it into the Market Place and make it a proper market. Those down that end don’t want to come up here.”
One trader “down that end” is cheerful Denis O’Dowd, owner of Denis’s Butchers. He admits he does not want to move but says it is because a street market should remain as such, lining the street and benefiting those with shop premises along Westgate and into Market Place.
Denis, who has been present at the Saturday market for 20 years, said: “Condensing it will not work. People like to walk down the street. And the market and the shops complement each other.”
Asked whether he thinks the market has a bright future, he shook his head and said: “I don’t think anything can be done. Every year it seems to be getting smaller and smaller.”
* SKDC: ‘We will listen and we will work with traders to resolve any issues’
Paul Stokes, SKDC’s venues and facilities manager, said steps are being taken to boost the market.
He told the Journal: “We are trialling alternative layouts of the markets in the coming weeks and will assess traders’ feedback.
“This will be in conjunction with events throughout the year with local partners such as Grantham Business Club and Grantham Carnival and Events Group.
“Events in the market place and town centre in the last six months, including August’s Music in the Market and Spooky Spectacular Halloween events, were well received by traders and drove extra footfall to the market.
“We give traders the opportunity to engage with us through our on market presence each week, quarterly newsletters and the traders’ annual AGM which is again held this spring. This is another ideal opportunity for traders to give us their views. Two regular traders are also members of the Market Traders’ Federation Committee.
“We are committed to growing the economy including Grantham market and all markets in South Kesteven.
“We’re disappointed some traders do not feel supported but we will listen and work with any business to help resolve any issues they raise.
“In recent times we have also liaised with schools to drive parents and children to the market through competitions, endorsed the national Love Your Local Market campaign, introduced Enterprise Week last March and support charity stalls when they request to trade.
“The most recent survey showed footfall in Westgate almost triples on a market Saturday compared to a non-market Thursday.”
* Let us know what you think about the market and what some of the traders have had to say. There are a variety of ways to get in touch.
Grantham Journal, St Peter’s House, St Peter’s Hill, Grantham, NG31 6QB