Wolverhampton market has recently undergone quite a transformation. Following a substantial regeneration programme, the indoor and outdoor markets have become one.
There has been a market in Wolverhampton for around 800 years, with a royal charter being granted by King Henry III in 1254 to hold one each Wednesday.
The city prospered and became well known as a centre for the wool trade and the need for a bigger, covered market was realised. In the 1850s an indoor market was built which was considered at the time to be one of the most prominent in the country. The building remained in use for over a century when it was replaced. Over fifty years later, the market hall has closed for good and several of the traders have joined the outdoor market.
The site of the indoor market will provide parking to the area in the interim, once it is demolished, and a large Sainsbury’s has just opened near where the market is located, bringing new customers to the Westside part of the city.
The combining of the two markets has seen a reduction in the number of pitches, but both the City Council and the trader representatives believe that this will provide a higher quality offering in terms of both trader and goods as they compete for a space.
The official launch of the market took place in the beginning of May, slightly behind schedule, but it was important that the transition from indoor to outdoor was seamless and that no trading days were lost.
The former indoor traders have been provided with purpose built steel ‘cabins’ that have been adapted and fitted out to their specifications, whether it is by providing storage facilities, refrigeration or counter space. Each of these units has been brightly painted and hanging signage has been provided to assist customers, which helps them look less like storage containers.
The sixteen cabins are positioned around the outside of the existing outside market trading area, where they are joined by 46 licensed outdoor stalls. These have also benefited from new bright orange and blue canopies and the overall effect is a bright and cheery shopping experience.
Certainly the vibe on launch day was a very positive one. Plenty of people were about, live cookery demonstrations using market produce took place throughout the day and Signal 107, Wolverhampton’s local radio station, were broadcasting live. Free linen shoppers were handed out advertising the market and the city’s Mayor performed the official opening ceremony.
Ian Brookfield is the outgoing Mayor of Wolverhampton and despite being originally from Liverpool, he is clearly passionate about Wolverhampton and in particular the market. He was keen to talk and listen to residents and told me, ‘There has been a market in Wolverhampton for 800 years and we will keep it for another 800. We need to invest in the market and we will continue to. This is the first phase, we will be adding toilets, more parking and we hope to eventually provide covering for it. The market is here to stay.’
City of Wolverhampton Council Service Director for City Environment, Ross Cook, said, ‘The new cabins bring the existing indoor and outdoor markets together to enhance the customer experience. It will provide vitality and important footfall to this area of the city and is another example of the regeneration of Wolverhampton. We’d like to thank traders and customers for their patience during the works and hope they enjoy their new-look market.’
Market Square is one of three markets in Wolverhampton, with Bilston and Wednesfield markets also popular places to shop. It operates four days a week and there is a good selection of goods on offer, particularly strong is the fresh produce section and I met up with a number of the traders to find out how they view the new market.
Poultry specialists Farmhouse Poultry have their own farm where their meat comes from. Dud Malik is one of three brothers involved in the business and he is also Chairman of the Market Traders Association; he has been involved in the consultation process between the council and the traders. Working in a more confined space has it’s challenges and they don’t have the space to display their usual range, but as Dud explained, it’s business as usual and we just need to communicate to our customers that if they can’t see what they want, just ask. He said of the unit, ‘the council have provided everything for us. The standard of equipment is very high and the units are very well equipped. That’s the compromise and we have had to make adjustments but it’s all working very well.’ He continued by saying, ‘ these modern, colourful units are very attractive. It has been very well promoted and this is exactly what we needed. We gained some new customers in our first week of being relocated and we are very happy.’
Phil Lee butchers are one of several of the indoor traders that have embraced the new market. Phil has recently retired and his wife Annie now runs the business after forty years of being in the old market building. She explained how it was a big change but as the longest standing trader, she had first choice as to where they wanted to be. Now a few weeks in, despite concerns that her customers wouldn’t find her, business is good. They have a large Afro-Caribbean customer base and sell some rather unusual meat such as goat belly, cow snouts, pigs heads and tripe. She has a fantastic relationship with her customers who are very loyal and often share recipes with her. She likes the new environment and is adapting well to it.
Continuing with fresh meat, Eric Quinton and Son is another butcher to have joined the outside traders. Eric junior is the third generation of butchers, specialising in all English home killed meats. His grandfather started the business and his father was involved until he was 75. Eric commented, ‘It is a lot busier here, there was a lot of standing around in the indoor market. The council have bent over backwards to support us. Business has improved a lot and we are already doing better. We are very optimistic.’
The final butcher that I spoke with was Compton Butchers. Katie Compton has been a butcher for 23 years, following in her father’s footsteps, he had been in the indoor market for 34 years. They specialise in joints and she claims her scotch beef is the best in the world, she added ‘You don’t need teeth to enjoy my meat!’ She also sells a range of cooked meats and cheeses and her regular customers have had no problem locating them outside. She added, ‘I love it outside. It’s been really good and trade has been fantastic. It’s been much busier.’
The Catch is one of two fishmongers on the market and the name is new to coincide with the new location. Run by the Wassell sisters, they have had a few teething problems and they need more counter space. This has all been passed on to the Council and they are working together to provide them with what they need. On the day I visited they were very busy and soon sold out of a number of lines. Having bought some fish from them, I can vouch for the quality. They had twelve years in the indoor market and have a loyal customer base including local restaurants with customers coming from all over the West Midlands to purchase their fish which they buy in fresh every day.
Richie Dollar is the other wet fish provider with fourteen years in the indoor market. They are also trying to make the most of the reduced space and have also found a need for a larger counter area. Their customers are mostly Afro-Caribbean and their fish offering reflects this, selling fish heads for the Jamaican speciality ‘Fish Tea’. Richie commented that they too had gained new customers and some different ones. They will take orders and deliver throughout Wolverhampton and even as far afield as Telford.
A number of cookery demonstrations took place throughout the day and it is hoped that this will be a regular feature on event days. Mike Whitehouse of Takefood is a local outside caterer and private dinner party chef. The dishes he cooked were simple to prepare but more importantly, used fresh, local ingredients that had been sourced from the market traders.
Julie Emery’s family have been involved in Wolverhampton market since 1918 when her grandmother started selling flowers. She set up her own stall and her husband gave up his plumbing job to join her in 1935. Margaret, Julie’s Mum now manages the family fruit and veg stall, which Julie also helps to run as well as her bag stall which is placed behind it so that she can jump in and give her Mum a break. Julie explained that she also had an online business selling bags and this was a sideline to the family business that she set up because she loves them! She said that she was sad to see the indoor market close but there were younger people taking more of an interest in the market and that the bright cabins and new orange canopies were really attractive. She hopes that the momentum of the first few weeks would continue and that the council had other events planned to keep the market busy.
Julie’s Mum, Margaret is the last of the Emery family on the fruit and veg stall and at 69, said ‘ it’s hard work sometimes, very hard work, but it is a way of life and I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. We’re a family business and our customers have become like family over the years.’ She commented that markets still seem to be popular with new people replacing the old ones.
Another long serving trader, specialising in vegetables, salad items and eggs is Bradleys. Brian Bradley’s Grandfather started the business in 1927 and Brian has been on the market for 55 years. They used to grow as well but now just sell where possible, local produce. His parsnips were probably the biggest I had ever seen.
There were of course other fresh produce sellers, but as with any market, it is impossible to mention them all. Whether you wanted bargains in a bowl, locally grown produce or specialist items such as yams, hot peppers and herbs, Wolverhampton seemed to have the lot and the fact that they were all busy is indicative that the number available was sustainable because they all had slightly different offerings.
Tracey Hollinshead and her partner Kevin own K&T Markets, selling £1 household items. Tracey had 18 years outside before transferring to the indoor market where she remained for 13 years. They have opted for a traditional stall as opposed to one of the new cabins as people need to be able to pick things up. Although they have had to considerably reduce their lines and take into account set up and break down each day, Tracey is delighted with business as she has picked up lots of new customers whilst retaining her old ones. They trade just two days and love the hustle and bustle and banter of an outdoor market, which they feel, was missing inside.
Grewal Fabrics had 29 years indoors and are adjusting to their new cabin. They have had to reduce stock and space is tight, but a loyal customer was delighted to find that they had relocated outdoors. Mr Grewal commented that it will take a while for people to know where we are but hopes that business will continue to be strong and is adapting to the new environment.
The new market at Wolverhampton is in its first phase of redevelopment, but the relationship between the Council and traders seems strong, as does customer support and I believe they have the foundations for a successful market for the future.