Call to use market ‘right on the fringe’

A social enterprise has blamed low footfall at a market for the closure of a venture aimed at helping vulnerable people to turn their lives around.

The Waste Not Want Not project opened a stall in Stevenage Indoor Market in March, selling plants grown at its Rabley Heath nursery by volunteers, including the long-term unemployed and those recovering from life crises.

But despite a �500 start-up grant from Stevenage Borough Council which runs the market, and help from market traders, the stall was unable to generate enough revenue to cover its costs, and shut up shop after just six weeks.

Isobel Barnes, project leader of the not-for-profit organisation, said: “Sadly, the footfall presently in the market has not justified our continuance.

“The problem was that we were sort of isolated there and one Saturday we had two customers.

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“I think that you’ve got to find some way to make the market more accessible. They’ve got to find some way through. I think it’s a question of the access to it. It used to be through Boots and Woolworths. Now people have got to find it.

“They have got some super stalls and so many things that you can do at a reduced cost. I’m a pretty busy person and I think markets are super. There are so many different things on sale. I had my mobile phone fixed and my glasses and hair done, and at a low cost. We don’t want to lose it.

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“Markets used to be a community. It was a centre of the community. It seems to me that Stevenage Market is right on the fringe. I think it should be a vibrant, spirited place. It’s how long people can survive.”

A spokesman for the borough council said due to a general downturn in the retail sector, footfall has fallen everywhere, but staff were working hard to improve the situation at the market.

“We are putting new management arrangements in place to ensure that customers and traders receive an excellent service, and we have been working closely with the traders’ committee in areas such as advertising and promotions.

“The local Business Enterprise Agency (Wenta) is currently developing new logos and signage and a better website, and will be carrying out a customer survey at the end of May. This will give us a better understanding of our customers and of what new trades and services we need to attract to the market.

“It is obviously regrettable when any business is not successful in the Indoor Market but we should also look at the 50 traders there who continue to provide excellent customer service, value for money and, in many cases, goods and services that are not readily available elsewhere in the town.”

“A number of new traders who have come into the market over the last couple of years have been very successful and business support and advice is now available to new and existing traders, through business advisors from Wenta.”

He added that anyone interested in setting up a stall should contact the council on 01438 242416.

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