I have made big predictions for the rise of community markets in 2016 and with the support of the Mayor’s High Street Fund, it is great to hear about many new community inspired markets being launched. Roman Road Yard Market is one of them. I speak to Tabitha Stapely, from the Roman Road Trust who discusses their ambitions to revive East London’s Roman Road. 

Roman-Road-Makers-Market-row-stalls (2)What motivated you to create a new market for Roman Road?

Our two key motivations are to improve the public realm on Roman Road, and to help attract more footfall to the high street.

We’ve undertaken a series of community events in different areas of public realm along Roman Road. The aim was to identify underused spaces that would lend themselves to community events and social gathering. The car park, situated on the junction of Roman Road and St Stephen’s Road is at the heart of the Roman Road, with high footfall and visibility. It lends itself perfectly to becoming a social hub and to connecting both ends of the high street.

We also wanted to create a specialist market that adds to the current offering of Roman Road’s existing traditional street market. This will cater to many local residents who don’t feel the existing market is catering to their needs. It will also help attract visitors from the wider catchment of eastern Tower Hamlets, currently under-serviced in terms of street markets.


How will the market be run and funded?

The market will be run by Roman Road Trust, a not-for-profit community development trust. The Roman Road Trust has raised grants to help fund the launch of the market and thereafter we will meet the running costs from the pitch fees we earn. Any profits will go into adding workshops and other experiential content to the market.


Why should people visit the market, what are its unique selling points?

It’s Brick Lane without the tourists! Lots of vintage and unique designer-maker products but with the added benefit of featuring only local stall holders, and having a proper East End street market with pie and mash shop right next to it. Roman Road Yard Market will have a real community vibe to it.

It also enjoys an incredible location encircled by the multi-cultural communities of Bethnal Green, Mile End, Poplar to the west and south; Hackney’s affluent Victoria Park Village to the north; the artist districts of Fish Island and Hackney Wick to the north-east; and the burgeoning economic centre of the Olympic village to the east.


Did you conduct any research to ascertain what type of market you should launch?

Yes, we held four previous pilot markets at our annual Roman Road Festival, and collected feedback forms. A lot of feedback indicated that while our designer-maker market was popular it was considered too expensive. That’s why we’ve mixed this up with vintage and also asked all designer-makers to feature more affordable products as well as their top end wares.
Roman-Road-Festival-2015-Natasha-Quarmby92 (2)

Is Tower Hamlets Council involved in supporting the Roman Road Yard Market?  

We are working very closely with the local authority. This is part of a two-pronged campaign to help invigorate the existing street market, in particular to attract fresh produce sellers. We are one prong!

Both the Roman Road Trust and the local authority believe that fresh produce is a vital part of a traditional market. The local authority is failing to attract fresh produce sellers to the existing fashion market as fresh produce sellers feel isolated and unpublicised.

With our prong we can offer branding, publicity, stall curation, and extra ‘experiential’ content, from buskers to trader-led workshops, attracting more footfall and a different type of shopper.

While we are busy attracting new shoppers and new traders, the local authority is working to free up a block of pitches in order to attract fresh produce to the existing market.


Do you think traditional street markets like Roman Road have a future within London’s changing landscape?

Yes, they must! Communities are losing meeting spaces all the time – pubs, working men’s clubs, town halls, libraries, are being converted into residential land.


“The street market has now become a very important place for local residents to experience human interaction, to mix with other cultures and to feel connected to the local area.”

Markets are also a crucial way to encourage the local economy. With property prices and business rents soaring in these developer’s hot spots, a market stall is an affordable way to test a concept and develop business skills.


What have been the biggest challenges so far?

Finding interesting stalls selling interesting products from local people, who want to trade EVERY weekend! A lot of designer-makers can’t make product fast enough to sell every week. But this challenge has become an opportunity. We now offer stalls on a bi-monthly basis and this has lent itself to a Designer Saturday and a Vintage Saturday. This gives traders a breather (or opportunity to sell at another market/fair) and also keeps the interest of the shoppers who know that if they come back two weeks in a row, they will find completely new stall holders.


What do you think are the most important ingredients in operating a successful market?

Curation. It’s important to make sure your overall offering is unique and won’t be seen at other markets. I go to Columbia Road Market for plants, Broadway Market for organic British food, Ridley Road Market for nose-to-tail butchers, and Roman Road market for affordable designer-maker and vintage!

Publicity is also vital. We insist our stall holders are on Twitter at least and we get as many nice images of their stock as possible so we can publicise them. If as many of our stall holders can be encouraged to publicise themselves on social media, that amplifies our own publicity thirty-fold! It helps create a buzz and reach the current generation of shoppers.

If you could have one wish for London’s Street Markets what would it be?

I wish they would all be embedded in the local community, offering a unique offer that reflects local heritage and supports local people and localism.

“Many markets run too commercially. Tourists replace local people and the markets lose their specialness. “


What advice would you give to anyone thinking about starting up their own community market?

Do it! It is fun. It will help you bring together all elements of the community, and however small it is, you will be an important pioneer of localism, which makes it worthwhile.

I’d recommend starting a conversation with your local authority as early as possible, even if you’re not doing this on their land. They will be an important source of expertise in terms of health and safety, traffic and parking and strategy.

For more information visit, http://romanroadlondon.com/yard-market/

The market will be held every Saturday on the car park at the junction between Roman Road and St Stephen’s Road.