The Future of London’s Street Markets conference

Sara Gonzalez

On the 24th of June, Myfanwy Taylor and myself attended the Future of London’s Street Markets at Brixton Community Base. The conference was organised by Saif Osmani from Friends of Queens Marke, Mama D from Community Centred Knowledge, and Just Space with some support from Markets4People and the University of Leeds. In a previous post, we explained the links between this conference and our project. If you want to know more about this initiative get in touch with streetmarketsuk@gmail.com.

The conference was very well attended, with around 70 people coming from market campaigns, resident and community groups, universities and local authorities. In comparison to many other market events that we attend in the UK, this conference stood out as much more diverse in terms of age, ethnicity and race. There were representatives from several markets across London: Seven Sisters, Shepherds Bush, Elephant and Castle, Brixton, Lambeth, City of Westminster, Islington, Queens Market in Newham, Lewisham, Acton Market (West London) and Chatsworth Road Market. Crucially, however, the conference did not only involve people working directly on markets (whether in campaigns, as traders or operators) but also market users and community groups that are passionate but also concerned about the future of street markets in London.

The gathering was introduced by Saif and Mama D who briefly explained the rationale for the conference and mentioned the different spaces in London where markets are discussed, such as the London Markets Board, the International Public Markets conference that took place recently in London, or the London Plan. However, they explained, it is often challenging to participate in these spaces and marginalised voices are drowned. This Street markets conference hoped to be an inclusive space for all voices.

The day was organised around 6 short workshops (3 in the morning and 3 in the afternoon) through which all participants rotated. The workshops and their facilitators were: Street markets history, endurance and resilience’ (Natalia Perez with Saif Osmani); Regeneration, Gentrification, financialisation and street markets (Sara Gonzalez with Tony Cealy); Street markets in the community (Mama D with Katasi Kironde); Stakeholder power and progress (Santiago Peluffo with Katasi Kironde); Planning the local and global (Myfanwy Taylor with Mama D); and Practical action, networks and resources (Saif Osmani with Tony Cealey). Notetakers prepared beautiful posters (see photo) that were pinned on the walls. Around the room, conference attendants were encouraged to write notes in answer to questions that had been put up on the walls such as “What do you see that indicates there is recent and rapid change in the local market?” or “What are your feelings about street markets, the local community and spaces?”. Some answers to these questions were: “Lack of traders. Empty pitches.” Or “Lifestyles with little time push people towards prepared food in supermarkets”; “10 minutes spent in the market are at least 10 nice chats or interactions with people” or “Street markets are one of life’s greatest levellers”.

In between the workshops there was a lunch break with brilliant food from Saba’s Taste of Ethiopia, from Brixton Market.

After the workshops there was a final session where participants sat around in a circle and shared what they thought were key learnings and next steps after this conference. The majority of participants expressed the need to organise and connect the different markets and their customers across London. Many for whom markets were not their main working or campaigning space explained that the day had been an important learning experience and that they had been surprised by how markets connected to so many issues; the general feeling was that of concern for markets but also hope from the coming together of so many different people around similar ideas about the value of street markets in London. The conference ended with a walk around Brixton market.

My own reflection regarding this conference was that it was very different to the meetings and events generally organised by the markets’ industry (NABMA or NMTF). The focus of this day was to openly explore and analyse the threats that street markets are facing but crucially there was not only focus on the change of shopping habits or lack of younger traders but we also discussed the housing crisis, developer-led regeneration projects that destroy social housing and markets, austerity and the disconnection between market users, traders and, importantly, market operators. A very different but hopeful message emerged, that markets are definitely not a relic of the past that needs to transform or perish, but in fact a space for fairer forms of living, towards which we need to move to overcome social, economic and environmental crises.

The conference was not a one-off event and there is still funding to organise two more events and produce a report, all of which will take place from September. For more information get in touch with streetmarketsuk@gmail.com and follow our updates via twitter @markets4people