Context 165 - August 2020

14 C O N T E X T 1 6 5 : A U G U S T 2 0 2 0 their local authority owners, who are commonly accused of increasing rents and making their businesses unviable. This has long been the case at Oxford Covered Market, where the traders faced rent hikes of 50 per cent in 2012, and 25 per cent in 2016. But more recently, mutual trust has returned: Oxford City Council is investing £3.1 million in repairs to the fabric of the market building, which dates back to the 1780s, and is preparing a masterplan to increase footfall, improve the trading environment and turn it into a cultural as well as a trading hub. The project has the support of the Market Tenants’ Association, sur- rounding landlords, Oxford Preservation Society and the Oxford Civic Society. The rise of the farmers’ market movement, which developed as a reaction to the decline of municipal markets, has connected producers and consumers directly. The markets provide outlets for small local farms that typically sell organic foods and spend less on land, equipment and transport than the large agro-industrial businesses. Most vendors at farmers’ markets, if not the farmers themselves, are self-employed, maybe doing more than one job, and operating within the gig economy. Especially in London, they have spawned the creation of pop-up markets, all based on the groundswell of interest in developing artisan food businesses. 3 An early example was the takeover of Borough Market in Southwark in the late 1990s by a group of artisan traders who started by holding ‘ware- house sales’. At that time the cast-iron-and-glass market buildings, dating from the 1850s and 60s, were threatened by widening of the Thameslink rail viaduct. Now the market is a charitable trust administered by volunteer trustees who have to live in the area, although the traders come from across the UK and Europe. Another spin-off is the street-food movement: artisan food carts and vans, typically seen at music festivals, have shown there is a big demand for alternatives to hamburger vans. KERB, which started up at Kings Cross and now has several venues across London, has traders with enticing names such as Utter Waffle, Smoke and Bones, Greedy Khao, Baba Dhaba and Mother Clucker. One advantage of street food is that in most cases the trader can ‘move on’ should a particular pitch prove to be unsuccessful. Yet another change in market operation is the arrival of night markets with a focus on food. In London there are several, including POP Brixton, Dinerama Shoreditch and the all Italian Mercato Metropolitano on Newington Causeway; and in Manchester there is Hatch, a brightly-coloured jumble of shipping containers under the Mancunian Way flyover. They offer the experience of communal eating with innova- tive street food while enjoying entertainment, theatre and music. These and other speciality markets cater to a growing population of discerning customers who want better value and more variety, and who enjoy talking about food in the way that Italians do.Thus markets may be returning closer to their origins. Before the 19th century, the market place was not only the retail centre, but also the social and commercial hub of the town, providing a gathering place and helping to build community identity. Perhaps, once the coronavirus crisis has receded, the availability of fresh, healthy, afford- able food and diets will take their rightful place once again in the ‘new normal’. The revival of markets could make a big contribution. Peter de Figueiredo, reviews editor, Context ³ Greater London Authority (2017) Understanding London’s Markets files/gla_markets_ report_web.pdf Borough Market was taken over by artisan traders in the face of a threat by a rail scheme (Photo: Wikimedia)