Romford market is steeped in tradition and a market has been held in the east London town for over 750 years. The market is owned and operated by the London Borough of Havering and as part of a Town Centre Development programme, the council have invested £2.6m, a large proportion of which will go specifically on the redevelopment and improvement of the existing market.
Currently operating three days a week, they are looking to establish a Sunday Market fairly soon. This will be located towards the South Street end, giving access for parking towards the Tollgate House area of the market. It is hoped that a car boot sale will eventually compliment the Sunday Market, which is proposed to operate from spring through to autumn.
As part of the new improvements, they plan to introduce a designated food and drink area at the bottom end of the market, by St Edward the Confessor’s church. A dedicated seating area will be provided and they hope to include a children’s play area.
The new footprint for the trading area is still under review and Matt Steele, Market Manager, explained that the traders have been ‘involved in the journey’, saying, ‘it is important that we get it right.’
The site of the market currently covers a vast area and because they sub contract the erection of the stalls out, during ‘ kipper’ season, if traders are absent, there can often be large expanses of the market unoccupied which could give the appearance of a sparse shopping experience. The new proposals would seek to condense the market during quieter periods and keep some of the parking area. The council are also looking at purchasing new stalls and in particular, those with lockable fixings, which would be incorporated into the new street design. 12v electricity is provided free of charge but those traders requiring 230n pay for what they use.
The idea is to create a longer dwell time and a marketing budget has been set aside to promote visitors to the market, including incentives for coach parties. There is plenty of parking within Romford and the market is well served by public transport, with bus stops either side of the square, dedicated coach parking and the train station a few minutes walk away. With Crossrail coming soon, there is a huge scope for increased visitor numbers.
As part of the redevelopment process a big re-branding programme is in place. The council will be actively promoting the market and a number of marketing campaigns have been planned both locally and nationally. Their commitment to marketing is already apparent as they have an informative section on the council’s website and participation in social media is encouraged, with traders helping other traders to learn the basics and cross promote each other.
The town was bustling with local brass bands, both junior and senior, performing and marching through the market place. George crosses were flying and bunting bedecked the walkway between the stalls, flapping happily in the wind. There was also street entertainers and live music from local artists, including the recent winner of ‘Romford’s Got Talent’, a local 13 year old lad called Aaron Floyd who I was told also made it on to Britain’s Got Talent, but as I don’t watch TV, you’ll have to let me know how he did! Whichever part of the market you were on, there was something happening. I heard one customer say, ‘Ooh, isn’t this lovely’, then thirty seconds later… ‘You can’t hear yourself think.’ That, unfortunately, is what they were up against, but the atmosphere was definitely a positive one with the feel of a quintessentially English street party feeling about it.
St George’s Day isn’t the only event that the market runs. They are big advocates for Love Your Local Market fortnight, all the stalls are branded and they have invested in some promotional T-shirts to help get the message across. By way of encouraging and retaining new traders, they have introduced a three-month new trader incentive, with some very advantageous, introductory rates. Existing traders already receive discounts if they trade on all three days and they have been making contact with local colleges to encourage new and younger entrepreneurs. Matt is also considering the prospect of hosting a Teenage Market and these are all proposals that are to be confirmed.
Mother’s Day is always a big pull at Romford and Matt commented that ‘this is the only place I know that does it so passionately.’
They have two International Markets planned, one in May and the other at the beginning of September. These are external markets introduced by Groupe Geraud, but they will be integrating the existing market within this.
Last year they introduced a Christmas Market, which ran for three weeks throughout December and was also operated by Groupe Geraud. This year, they hope to tie it in with the lights switch on in December. They have looked at what they did well and not so well last year and promise to make 2016 bigger and better; trader spaces are already filling up so get in quick is the message from the organisers.
The next big event is the Queen’s 90th birthday in June and they are still finalising plans but they are working in conjunction with Romford Shopping Hall who will be attempting a Guinness World Record attempt to get the most princesses in one place. There will be live entertainment in the market place and union flags and bunting galore! Cross promotion with other shopping areas within the town and indeed the promotion of the town in its entirety is actively encouraged and the linen shopping bags that were being handed out to customers on the day were promoting Romford Shopping as a whole.
The market was busy and there was a great buzz around the place. The irony of the Councillors of the ‘Leave the EU’ campaign being present on St George’s day wasn’t lost on me and they seemed to be gathering plenty of support. On average the market has between 90 and 100 permanent traders and during high season and key events, casuals can be up to 40. They were all really getting in to the spirit of St Georges Day and I met with a number of them.
Graham Gibbons has been running Penny’s (named after his daughter) for 24 years, selling toiletries and household goods. He started life as a casual, which he remained for 15 years before the opportunity arose to buy someone out on the market who was selling giftware. Graham is completely surrounded by discount shops and in fact, a huge B&M store was positioned directly in front of him and a Poundland behind, but this does not seem to have perturbed his customers. He told me ‘We have a really high turnover here, I have lots of repeat customers and business is always good. I love this market, it is always busy and we should continue to fly the flag for it.’
Tony Geary of MGM fashions is the chair of the trader’s association and he had just celebrated his 10th anniversary on the day I visited. Prior to starting up himself, he worked for another trader for three years. He has been liaising with the council over the new market plans and is optimistic about them saying that changes need to be happen in order for the market to continue to succeed. He explained how each of the traders are licensed to sell a particular line to prevent repetition and protection from competition.
Karen Webb is also an active member of the traders association and a friendly face around the market. She has run the family’s children’s wear stall for 18 years of the 48 years of trading. Her grandparents first came to Romford Market selling flowers. She explained that the way people buy now has changed and that she has had to adapt to survive. Her customers have become grandparents and even great grandparents and so loyalty is strong at the market and as she explained, ‘people still but from people, but you have to work a bit harder these days.’ She has her own Facebook page and also takes card payments, which she thinks is essential these days. Karen is a great ambassador for Romford Market saying, ‘it is at the heart of our community. We need to work with the history of our town and push tourism – get the coaches in.’
Due to the size of the market, Wickenden Meats have two stalls, one at either end. They have been at the market for almost thirty years and have a shop in Brighton and an online business. They only do Romford Market because as Mark explained, ‘Romford Market is like doing a week’s worth of markets, we’re always busy.’ They also take cards and promote themselves through social media. 90% of their clientele is repeat business and they carry seasonal lines to update their offering.
Matt has been heading Romford Market for three years and it is apparent that he has a good relationship with the traders as everyone seemed to know him. He said of Havering Borough Council, ‘we get great council support. They really care about their market because it is such an important part of the town’s history.’ He added, ‘we have a thriving market and passionate traders, the market is the heart of our town, it doesn’t have to be in the centre.’
Romford Market has a great range of products and produce but most importantly, it is a vibrant and friendly place to shop. The townsfolk clearly support the market and the traders love being there. The town centre development, I believe, can only be a good thing for the market and I look forward to being invited back once everything is in place.
For details visit: www.havering.gov.uk/romfordmarket