New challenges in the Scottish Borders

Hawick (pronounced Hoik) is a beautiful mill town situated in the heart of the Scottish Borders. It was and still is an important wool manufacturing area and is marketed as being the centre of the Textile Trail. Tweed and cashmere are still produced in the town today, providing vital employment for the townsfolk for hundreds of years.

The town has a number of impressive sandstone buildings, blackened over the years by industry and latterly from traffic pollution, that dominant the landscape. Their grandiose bearing belies the declining town centre which, is struggling to suppress the omnipresence of charity shops and takeaways.

Approximately 10 miles from Jedburgh and Selkirk, Hawick is one of the furthest towns from the sea in Scotland and since the closing of its railway station, it is claimed to be the furthest large town from a railway station in the UK. That said, its close proximity to Carlisle and Edinburgh makes it an ideal trading centre for retailers from both England and Scotland.

There has been a Saturday market and car boot in Hawick for over forty years and approximately a month ago, Groupe Geraud took over the dwindling market which had been managed by the local council following the closure of the previous market management company.

Linda Close upI headed over the borders to meet the team heading this up, to find out how they plan to improve the market for both customers and traders.

Unfortunately, the day I chose to visit, I was greeted with torrential rain resulting in some of the regular traders and most of the car booters staying away. This meant, that the market, which is situated towards one end of the town’s large, free car park was not at full capacity but it didn’t stop the local’s making their regular purchases.

John Cooke is the market’s new manager and this is also a new role for him. He joined Groupe Geraud twelve months ago and is one of their ‘Management Trainee’ success stories. He started at the company as a cleaner, helping on some of their international markets and large festivals, such as the River Festival and Three Queens in Liverpool earlier this year.

The company have shown their commitment to John by enrolling him in the NABMA Diploma in Markets Administration, a one year study course which he will commence in February. Despite only having managed the market for a few weeks, John has already built up a rapport with traders and this was evident during my visit. He commented, ‘I have been talking to everybody and we have some great plans for the market, we are just waiting for the council to mark out the designated area as promised and we can begin with our first stage.’

JackJohn travels up from Newcastle each week and brings with him, Brian, an unemployed friend who is cutting his teeth on the market in much the same way as John did, helping with setup and break down and clearing the site of rubbish. He is doing this on a voluntary basis and if his trial is successful, the company hope to employ him. Groupe Geraud have signed a five year contract for the management of the market and their initial plan is to grow it from its current standing of eighteen traders to thirty in the first year.

The trading area will have three ’legs’ and the company are waiting for the council to mark out the designated area as agreed when they signed the contract. This is causing delays with the progression of their plans and some frustration amongst all involved.

Large banners, promoting the market, will be placed along the entrances to the car park and additional signage will be placed around the town. They are working with the Tourist Information Office in the town centre, where a Farmer’s Market is held on the 3rd Saturday of the month and it is hoped that these two markets can be integrated.

Christopher Mcilroy, one of Groupe Geraud’s Market Managers for the North East has contacts at the local radio station and is looking at ways to promote the market to their listeners.

Within the next few weeks, they will be acquiring twenty pop up stalls from their award winning Keswick market. These gazebo style awnings will offer a clean, uniform retail area and will be stored in an on-site secure storage unit, saving valuable erection and disassembly time.

JT CateringUtilising products and services from their other established markets will help to grow the one at Hawick and their extensive database of traders means that they are able to source retailers of specific products. Some markets, such as Keswick, have large waiting lists and the team are trying to encourage them to consider other areas. By doing this, they have secured a fresh meat wholesaler, e-cigarette stall and fruiterer, who will begin trading imminently.

There are a number of long serving traders at Hawick who have seen it in its heyday and are mostly optimistic of the plans that Groupe Geraud have for the market. They are mindful that little can be expected to have been achieved in the short time that the company have had it, but have been made aware of the impending improvements. They have also been advised that rents have been frozen for a year and this has been particularly well received.

I spoke with David, of DW Trading, who I had met previously at Errol. He has been trading at Hawick for a few months, selling pet bedding and accessories. He said that the bad weather doesn’t help trade but with some promotion and a few more traders, ‘some new life could be injected in to the market’.

Alongside him is Denholm Petfoods. They were trading from a couple of tables and because of the weather, much of their stock was still in the back of the van. Linda Denholm, who owns the business, said that the gazebos will be really welcome.

She started trading at Hawick in June when Kelso Sunday market closed. She has bought a number of her customers with her but has also picked up new regulars. Living in Edinburgh, it takes her an hour and a half on a good run, but she commented, ‘It’s worth my while doing. We are doing okay. There is a nice atmosphere here and everybody is really friendly.’ There is a pet shop in town but she said that the location of the market is great for passing trade as many people use it as a cut through on their way to town and stop and purchase.

The longest serving retailer is Caledonian Foods, based in Dalkeith just under an hour away. This is their 41st year of trading and Michelle Naysmith is the third generation in the family business. Her father used to bring her in her pram and now, aged 21, she runs the stall. She showed me a picture of her with her father as a little girl at the market.

They source local produce which they sell under their own brand. Their bacon and pork comes from Ayrshire and their bread and bakery items from Hunters in the town.

Trade was constant and it was clear they had a regular, repeat customer base. Always one to try something new, I purchased a haggis loaf – it’s great for beans on toast and with vegetable soup!

JT Catering stafOpposite Michelle, and a long standing trader of eighteen years is Jane Tweddle of JT Catering. Whilst I was there, one of her regular customers was purchasing a sausage for his dog! Jane’s food trailer sells a range of fast food, including hot dogs, breakfast baps, burgers (the Greedy Burger being a double cheeseburger!) and hot and cold drinks. They kept me supplied in tea which was most welcome.

Eddie Collins has been selling wet fish at Hawick for the same time as Jane. He is based in Eyemouth, 55 miles away and can been found at several weekly and farmers markets through out Scotland.

His speciality is his hot smoked salmon which he smokes himself and he has a number of recipes which he has devised over the years, including; rum and raisin, honey and mustard sweet chilli and vinegar and peppercorn. I was presented with several samples to try, all of which were delicious and I bought some of the peppercorn one, along with some other produce, to take home with me. Much to the chagrin of one of his neighbouring traders, who accused me of taking his lunch, Eddie gave me a pot of the flaked salmon with the last of his tomatoes and a splash of white vinegar – it was delicious!

Eddie has a regular stream of loyal customers and he is happy with the trade at Hawick.

Colin, whose lunch I stole, sells leisure wear, military clothing and hi-vis vests and jackets. He has been trading for seventeen years and can also be found at Bathgate on a Wednesday. The adverse weather can really affect his trade and when I first arrived on site, only a small percentage of his stock was displayed. He is really enthusiastic about the new pop up stalls as he hopes that it will help to keep his stock dry during bad weather.

The stall with the largest frontage belongs to Bessan Trading who had three fronts. William White, who trades alongside Linda Bessan, explained that they normally have 70 feet but because of the weather, they had condensed it. They designed the stalls themselves and won’t need to take advantage of the new Gazebos.

They stock a huge range of hardware items, household goods, vacuum cleaner accessories and stationery items and of all the markets they trade at, William commented that ‘ this is one of our best markets. We live in Newcastle and trade mostly down that end. Even though it can take between an hour and a half and two hours to get here, our customers will still come out, even if it’s raining.’

Fortunately, they don’t think that they have any shops in town to compete with and they have a good, regular trade.

Jack is one of the market’s characters. He could be found wandering around chatting to other traders and always had a story to tell and a twinkle in his eye. He claims to be retired now and it is Rose that runs his stall, but she wasn’t there during my visit. He operates at four other markets, selling a range of packaged food stuffs that are close to their shelf life. He said, ‘this one is our best market, particularly when it is dry.’

Michelle closeupHe had no shortage of customers and much of this can be attributed to the fact that his stock is constantly changing and he has been trading here since 1994, originally selling second hand goods.

Jack is hopeful that by Groupe Geraud introducing more traders, it will in turn bring more people to the market and ‘put a smile back on people’s faces’.

Completing the line up on the day was Douglas Cowan who sells bedding for both pets and humans! From Cumbria, he has been trading on and off at Hawick for fifteen years and has seen a number of changes. One thing that has helped him is the improved access on the roads in to the town from where he lives, which is an hour and a half’s journey.

As I mentioned, a few traders were missing during my visit, and these included retailers selling plants, CDs and DVDs, hosiery and air fresheners.

Craig Taylor comments that since becoming aware of the market tender we could see the potential an improved market in such a rich-historic location would bring to the community, as well as the benefits our hopeful success will bring to the overall markets community. I am extremely proud that I was able to help Geraud to acquire the contract.

Although there is no doubt it is currently an ailing market, its location in the picturesque town and the markets well known history amongst many of the market traders I have spoken with from across my regions, gave me and my team the very real ‘want’ and ‘drive’ to prevent another market disappearing from the heart of a community. We want to look to the future, not the past, it is an all too familiar situation with many markets, but hope that through partnership our plan do our utmost to achieve success in revitalising the market becomes a reality by promoting, evolving, and integrating the market into the community to attempt to maintain its sustainability and future.

Utilising our national trader database as part of our revitalisation plans we hope to secure another well deserving market and community asset, which is one of the core values of not only our Company, but is the passion for this industry that myself and all of our employee’s have for markets and the community they create within them, and what they bring to the communities they serve and through innovation hope to make sure that not only Hawick market, but all markets we currently operate, and those we are continually looking to invest in, continue to adapt and evolve to secure their fundamental importance to our communities.

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