The community benefit of markets

With the upcoming closure of Beaumont Leys market in Leicester, we look at how the local community will miss out.

Beaumont Market © Leicester City Council

On 27 July, Leicester City Council announced that the historic Beaumont Leys market would close. In a statement, they blamed changing shopping habits and "fewer stallholders" and initially set a date for 3 September. 

After a petition by Symone Cooper, a fruit and vegetable vendor who has traded for three decades, the council announced stall owners will have until the end of the year to shut up shop.

In their original statement, Leicester City Council left the future of the Beaumont Leys market vague, simply saying: "The council is looking at options for selling the land on which the market operates, next to Beaumont Leys Shopping Centre".

Residents in Beaumont Leys will miss out on the many benefits of local markets. When speaking to BBC News, Cooper remarked how "[the council] said we could trade in Leicester possibly, but all these people don't want to go to Leicester, our customers are here".

Fresh, local produce and affordable products are certainly a draw for local customers, but how else do markets benefit the community? And, in turn, what will the people of Beaumont Leys miss out on when their market closes? 

Author and professor Eric Kleinenberg wrote in their book on social infrastructure that community gathering places, like markets, underpin our social lives. They promote civic engagement and social interactions within a community and the wider area. 

Through a series of workshops with market traders in 2019, Dr. Myfanwy Taylor echoed Kleinenberg's statements. Over 30 traders across the UK took part in the workshops to discuss the social and commercial benefits of local markets. Taylor heard that markets contribute to social interactions and inclusion in local communities, providing a place for gatherings and events. The market traders took on the role of social workers, listening to the hardships of their customers. For elderly patrons, a friendly face could reduce loneliness and improve mental health. 

Taylor defined markets as "community hubs, community spaces and 'people's places'" which are crucial parts of the community. Many workshop participants compared markets to pubs, where customers from different identities and backgrounds could feel a sense of belonging and pride. 

The traders also highlighted "value, quality and customer service" as defining features of the humble market. Unlike nationwide retail stores, market sellers are independent business owners who take time to "share their knowledge, expertise and passion" with customers. 

In 2006, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation published a paper on the importance of markets for social interactions. In the report, Sophie Watson and David Studdert described market spaces as hubs of "connection, interconnections and social interactions". They also urged the possibilities for economic growth that go hand-in-hand with local markets and the opportunities they provide for people from all backgrounds to mingle in a public space.

Aside from the social benefits, a review from the Institute of Place Management published in 2015 found that local markets can increase footfall by 25% for town centres and generate turnover worth £10.5 billion to the UK economy. 

Considering the ongoing cost of living crisis, customers may be even more willing to visit their local market to save a couple of pounds on their food shop. 

In 1980, Beaumont Leys shopping centre boasted upwards of 60 traders. That number has declined to roughly 15 stall holders in recent years. 

With more investment in local markets and a push to support local businesses, places like Beaumont Market can continue to benefit the community. 

As Kleinenberg urges in their book: "All social infrastructure requires investment... and when we fail to build and maintain it, the material foundations of our social and civic life erode". The council's plans to renovate Beaumont Market are promising. 

Still, time will tell whether the community will benefit from their local market again.

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