Beyond Mary Portas – An Introduction to the Open Market

Many months have passed sine the publication of the Mary Portas Revirew on the state of Britain’s High Street. Following on from that in recent days we have heard reports of the possible demise of three big UK High Street brands, namely, Blockbusters, HMV and Jessops.

This is part of a trend that in recent years seen an increase in financial hardship for many people. Whether rightly or wrongly the blame is often directed at the banks, government policy, multinational corporations or work-shy citizens. Whatever the root cause our research as shown that the underlying issues always seem to revolve around three key areas; currency, contracts and markets.

i. Currency: From the Far East, to Southern Africa, to South America. In recent years citizens of different countries in these regions and beyond have been plunged into poverty as a direct result of currency manipulation and speculation by outsiders. In most cases these economies have never recovered and the ordinary people continue to suffer the consequences.

ii. Contracts:  Whether simple financial contracts or agreements to do with the exploitation of natural resources, the recent trend has been heavily stacked in favour of multinationals and major corporations as opposed to individuals, local governments or small traders & producers. In the UK, organisations and movements such as the Plain English Campaign have recognised that both the small print and also the general wording of many consumer credit agreements has left many ordinary consumers completely bewildered and thus vulnerable to some very exploitative and unjust contracts.

iii.  Markets:  For many producers, growers and traders access to the market place is much more important than pricing policies or issue of fairtrade. If producers and traders are empowered to get their produce in front of the consumers or end users then they can negotiate an acceptable price and equitable terms. Cutting out unnecessary third parties ensures more money for producers who are then able to make their own decisions concerning issues of health, education and other important matters for themselves and those they may be responsible for. This is true both in the UK and abroad

UK supermarkets have not only dealt a death blow to many small shopkeepers but have also impacted adversely on farmers as well as severely restricting the possibilities of success for many small or independent traders. All this in a time of increasing unemployment and cut backs in public services and expenditure. A major factor deemed necessary in redressing these problems is to create vibrant free and trading spaces that give everyone in society the opportunity to make a living from trading, free of charge. An opportunity that will give producers direct access to end users and consumers. We call this concept the Open Market

The concept of the Open Market can radically change and regenerate communities and society in general for the better, and in doing so directly tackle issues of poverty, isolation and unemployment. The Open Market can cater for 2,000 independent traders in less space than a shopping centre currently catering for just 100 shops. The Open Market will be able offer greater choice and lower prices, naturally support local producers, support existing businesses and be a hive of social activity and interaction.

Many reports point to the beneficial effect of markets in general on the population.

 Markets as social spaces  
Joseph Rowntree Foundation (2006)

“..The team found that:
Markets were important sites of social interaction for all groups in the community,but most significantly for older people, especially women. Markets also represented important social spaces for mothers with young children, young people, and families with children, particularly at weekends.Markets had a significant social inclusion role, as places to linger, particularly for older people and young mothers. Some markets also appeared to be inclusive of disabled people, although in other places this was less evident.The social life of traders played a significant role in creating a vibrant atmosphere in markets,and in forging social bonds and links in the trading community as well as with shoppers.n-centre regeneration and healthy eating.”
(2) The Portas Review – An independent review into the future of our high streets
Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (2011)

Points four and five in the executive summary recommend the following actions:
“Establish a new “National Market Day” where budding shopkeepers can try their hand at operating a low-cost retail businessMake it easier for people to become market traders by removing unnecessary regulations so that anyone can trade on the high street unless there is a valid reason why not.”

The World on a Plate: Queens Market – The Economic and social value of London’s most ethnically diverse street market New Economics Foundation (2006)

“The report finds that:A ‘shopping basket’ exercise found that items bought at the market were on average 53 per cent cheaper than at a local ASDA Wal-Mart supermarket. Moreover, the market offers particular benefits to low- income customers not available at supermarkets. They can use the bargaining and haggling culture to achieve substantial discounts. This process reaches a climax at the end of the market day where produce is reduced to clear or given away free rather than left to waste. “

These are just a few of many examples of research that supports our vision of an Open Market.

More recently, and much closer to home for us, has been the example of West Norfolk council working in Kings Lynn. They recently offered  and facilitated free market spaces for local traders in order to revitalise the town centre. By all accounts, although on a small scale, the results were tremendous as shown in this BBC news report ( We see no reason why this cannot in some ways be duplicated on a much bigger scale. Indeed our own experience in running market projects as produced similar results in terms of the participation of both new and experienced traders.

Over several years we have had the privilege of being able to practically put some of the concepts involved in establishing an Open Market to the test through involvement in different innovative and sometimes themed market events both in the UK and abroad. Surrounding these events has always also included a lot of work delivering training, support and teaching in strategic areas that include:

  1. business skills,
  2. enterprise support,
  3. using multimedia.
  4. fundraising & capacity building,
  5. dealing with issues of diversity & equalities, and
  6. dealing with self-employment.

We feel that now is most certainly the time to build what we feel will be a compelling case for support  and to make alliances with strategic partners in order to move this ambitious project forward. Please join us.

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