Debating the value of traditional retail markets

One of the first tasks for our project is to understand and analyse the national debate around traditional retail markets and their value in the UK. We want to identify the key actors shaping the debate, and to explore their perspectives on the economic, social and cultural value of markets, including how markets are changing, how their value or performance can be measured and how it can be enhanced. To do this, we are reviewing the academic and policy literature, interviewing around 25 experts shaping the national debate and getting into more specific cases through workshops with market managers, traders and campaigners. We’ll be blogging regularly about our emerging findings over the next year, ultimately feeding into an academic paper and various other outputs.

So far, we’ve begun to delve into research commissioned or carried out by the markets sector, including NABMA and NMTF national surveys of market traders and managers, tools for measuring the economic performance of individual markets developed by ROI Team, and growing evidence about the impact of markets on local economies, in particular high streets and town centres. We’ll be featuring some of this material in the Autumn in an early policy briefing on tools for measuring the value of markets which we are working on with one of our Co-Investigators, New Economics Foundation.

Alongside our own research we will be highlighting other examples, such as the social value of Levenshulme Market Community Interest Company and the community planning network Just Space’s bottom-up approach to social impact assessment. Learning about these various approaches and methods for measuring the value of markets and other social or community assets will also help us to design our own customer survey on community value to use in three ‘case study markets’. Many thanks to ROI Team, Levenshulme Market CIC, Just Space and all others who have spoken to us about your work so far!

During June and July, we conducted several interviews with representatives of influential markets (La Boqueria, Altrincham Market/Mackie Mayor) and major private sector market operators and consultants (Market Place, Market Asset Management, ROI Team and The Retail Group). After the summer, we turn our attention to some of the key policy and public sector actors, including the All Party Parliamentary Markets Group, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, the Greater London Authority and the National Association of British Market Authorities (NABMA). We also have a series of interviews lined up with the Executive Board, senior staff and field officers of our Co-Investigator, NMTF.

These interviews are already revealing different perspectives on the value of markets and the relevance of traditional retail markets today, something we hope to explore further through workshops with market managers, traders and campaigners. We have been particularly interested to learn more about how tools such as health checks, improvement plans, business plans and options appraisals shape ways of thinking about markets and their future, and have begun to explore with market managers and others how such thinking might be informed by a broader perspective on the economic, social and cultural functions of markets. We are also gathering many examples of markets’ community value, including offering free space to charities and community groups, building links with local schools around education, training and work experience and partnering with public health organisations on campaigns relating to dementia, cancer, obesity and smoking.

We have been particularly struck by the strategic and holistic approach of the Alexandra Rose Charity’s Rose Vouchers scheme, which focuses on markets because of their potential to tackle food poverty, support healthy eating and build sustainable supply chains. Later on in the project, we will be exploring, with key actors in the sector, how we might turn some of our emerging findings into policy reports, toolkits and best practice examples aimed at enhancing the community value of markets, as well as contributing to academic debates in critical urban studies and retail geography.

Image: Max Pixel via CC0