I had so many different idea's when I started the market, so many things I wanted to do, right from the beginning, but I knew that I had to go against all of my instincts to plough straight into it all in excitement, and instead, take everything step by step to build a good base from which to grow.
So I started by gathering together people I knew who made crafts and those I knew would grow with the market. I had about eight stallholders to start with and added stalls I knew we needed to make our market a complete shopping experience. The initially chosen stallholders have stayed with us but we have had quite a turnover of additional stallholders. For some the market was too new to sustain them in their business...they didn't have the back up of larger markets or a personal customer base to sustain them as we grew our new market. It was important that the market was obtainable to anyone who wanted to trade with us so we only charged (and still do) £5 for a table to trade from. We knew when a new stallholder came, in the first week, if they would stay or go. The ones who were right for the market stayed and those who came solely to make money and either couldn't see or didn't wish to engage in the community spirit set out in front of them, left.
From the early days we bartered our goods with each other between stalls. I looked into the LETS scheme (Local Exchange Trading System) with a view to starting it when we were ready. I looked into the possibility of running workshops, engaging with the local primary school and pre-school next door, we started school holiday fun days for all the family with children's entertainment and gradually the market has grown. There were many weeks when the market was dead when I wanted to give up, but the camaraderie and friendship between the regular stallholders just grew and grew and none of us want to lose the relationships we have formed. Many of us have mental health difficulties, disabilities, lack of confidence and other issues that exclude us from what people see as 'normal' everyday living, but at the market we have become a family. We trust each other, talk about our worries and fears and support each other through the tough times. Importantly, we also laugh a lot!
The market has truly grown into a 'community' market. Some of our regular customers are lonely and enjoy the company they get when dropping in for lunch at our cafe. We have some workmen from a local company who come every week to support the market and sit together for lunch. We now have people coming from surrounding equally isolated and rural villages regularly....some travel quite a way to come to the market for the company of the regular stallholders and regular customers who embrace the true meaning of 'community'.
We continue to grow. We now have a wonderful fully qualified counselor available weekly, a monthly nail & beauty therapist and a monthly hairdresser for trims for all the family. We have weekly stalls selling meat, fruit & vegetables, cakes and bakery produce, eggs, cheese, flowers, toiletries, greetings cards and gift wrap, books both new and pre-loved and a wealth of crafts that are perfect to buy for that unusual gift or as a treat for yourself. We will be having a board with local voluntary opportunities up at the market shortly, we post local jobs on our facebook page, we raise money for charities (so far Childhood Eye Cancer, Macmillan Nurses, Time To Change mental health discrimintion, PAC-Pathfield Activity Club for children with disabilities in Barnstaple, we sponsor a child who has severe disabilities in Panama and we have other charity stalls booked up to join us to raise funds. We also have workshops starting, giving our stallholders the opportunity to gain confidence in what they do by showing other people how to learn their crafts and at the same time making a little extra income. 'Unite Community Membership' is helping us by providing a backbone of support with the projects we want to build, including providing the use of computers for anyone to access computer skills, improve their English & Maths, some other language opportunities and further education courses.
The most important and largest step forward since we started the market is that we have now established ourselves as a non-profit making organisation with a constitution and a committee. We run the market as a group, now calling ourselves the Merton Meal & Market Action Group (MAG). This takes the pressure away from me as an individual. It means that the different tasks in running a market can be shared and different ideas from different members can be implemented.
If you have a passion to set up any community organisation please get in touch. I have previously set up a childminders support group, youth clubs, a children's summer holiday club, craft markets, a mental health support group, workshops etc and would be happy to support you in your venture. To read more about our progress as a community market as it happens, check out this website in more detail and 'like' our facebook page Merton Meal & Market.