In this instance, C is for community and in London there appears to be a growing community market scene. As someone who spends a lot of time frequenting markets, both for business and pleasure, the C-word is a breath of fresh air for the market industry.  In times of austerity, markets seem to be fighting back and it’s great to see an uprising in community spirited roots at markets and beyond.

Community is traditionally at the heart of the market experience, yet it’s something that market operators fail to prioritise, maintain and nurture. Markets can be very successful commercial businesses, but the desire to make money can supersede the desire to build something that will truly unite and impact a local community.

To truly honour the spirit of markets, I believe engaging and involving local communities should be compulsory when deciding market strategy. If you want longstanding success for your market, it’s essential. Now, it’s not an easy task, but if you can create or unite a community who share your market vision, you can have a remarkable impact. Often this takes just one person with a passion and a vision.  A market maverick, heroic trader, or local influencer. Whoever this person is, they just have to care.

In the first of this two-part “community vision,” I interviewed Lucy Hamer-Hodges, Brand & Communications Volunteer at the West Norwood Feast in Lambeth, South London. Known locally as Feast, it is one of the most inspiring community success stories, which we can all learn from.

  1. How long has the WNF been running?

Feast first launched in April 2011 and continues to operate the first Sunday of each month April – December. Feast is like no other market.

“It is run entirely by a group of volunteers made up of local residents and local business owners, all united by one vision; to make West Norwood an even better place to live.”

  1. Why did you decide to start the WNF?

Fresh off the back of their success of Brixton Village, Space Makers were asked by Lambeth council, specifically championed by Gail Rowe at Lambeth, to look at other neighbourhoods which could benefit from positive intervention and inspire communities to unite in the common cause of making something fun, vibrant and positive to happen on their doorstep.

The vision behind Feast, was to create a frame work and infrastructure, that brought people out of their houses, got them chatting to their neighbours, and to showcase the talent and skills we have in the population of West Norwood and surrounding areas.

norwoodfeast-What type of Market is The Feast?

The Feast is a monthly market, overlaid with free entertainment, live music and free kids activities. It is a great way to get neighbours to come together to enjoy a monthly pop up market on their doorstep. The majority of our stall holders are local to West Norwood, which showcases the depth of talent and entrepreneurial skills in the area. The market comprises of five hubs all located outdoors across various locations up and down the high street.”

How does the structure of the market work?

By locating the hubs at multiple sites the length and breadth of the high street, it encourages footfall across the town centre, and for Feast attendees to visit local independent shops on the way to each hub.

“Feast is a big champion of supporting our local High Street and the network of independent businesses that help weave our town’s personality together.”

  1. What are the biggest challenges in organising a community market?

We are only as strong as the army of volunteers we have at our disposal. As it is voluntary, it can sometimes be a challenge to retain the interest of volunteers to remain a consistent help to Feast as other aspects of their life takes up their time.   The majority of volunteers are local residents, predominantly women with full time jobs, some with children leading busy lives, but they want to be part of something positive happening on their doorstep.

  1. What are the key ingredients needed to run a successful community market?

Enthusiastic and committed volunteers . An eclectic, curated range of traders, offering something for everyone: from kids to the elderly. We try to cater for the whole community to bring people together. You also need an injection of new ideas to keep things fresh. A diverse entertainment schedule including music, dance and kids activities. Lots of publicity both on and offline. Foster an active, engaged community through our own social channels. And having the best popcorn stall in South London!

  1. What impact has the West Norwood Feast had on the local community?

Feast has become an institution amongst locals – an initiative we can all be proud of that helps differentiate our neighbourhood. Many people have mentioned they moved to the area because of Feast. Estate Agents talk about the market to prospective buyers and we have managed to extend the relevance of Feast beyond the monthly market. Other Feast initiatives include Feast Film Nights, Feast Food Week, Feast Winter Lights. Feast was also the driving force behind the inaugural Small Business Saturday.

“All these initiatives share the same purpose – to encourage locals to reappraise their neighbourhood and enjoy the attractions and amenities on their doorstep. We like to think of it as “Live Local, Love Local”.”

feastWhat advice would you give to other communities who are thinking of starting a community market?
To do it with no fear of failure. When we first started out, we had our first meeting in January to decide we were going to start a market and we launched three months later in April. In that time, we managed to secure licenses, organise road closures, create a brand and marketing materials, secure site space, procure stalls and equipment, recruit and curate stall holders and bond as a voluntary group with a shared purpose.  We were surprised by our own achievements. I remember Dougald Hine from Space Makers saying that we have nothing to lose. There are no expectations, as it didn’t exist before and to have faith in bringing people together.

Why has West Norwood Feast proved to be so successful?
We now enjoy approx. 5000 psychical visitors. We have 5,400 Twitter followers and over 3,000 Facebook fans – which is a reflection of the strong community we have built around Feast.

“The Feast comes from a pure place. It’s honest, real and human. Feast is not a commercial endeavour – we are not motivated by profits.”

Our traders often say that it’s one of the friendliest markets they have been to. We all want to be there and it’s a positive thing to be part of for volunteers, visitors and traders.
Find out more about the West Norwood Feast,

Next month I’ll be showcasing more great community markets in London.
Follow me on twitter @ilovemarkets