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Changing perceptions of street markets

Street markets are now being recognised by national and local government as key sites for social interaction and community-building, thanks to research by The Open University.

Key aspects of this research

  • highlights the unrecognised benefits of markets to key government policy agendas including community cohesion, health, economic innovation and environment
  • influenced the launch of the Love Your Markets Campaign and provided the impetus for the regeneration of local markets
  • provided key evidence to House of Commons Traditional Retail Markets Inquiry
  • informed the London Development Agency's policy on London’s street markets

Fruit market

The study, Markets as Sites for Social Interaction, was funded by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and investigated eight markets in different parts of Britain.A seminal study by Sophie Watson, Professor of Sociology at The Open University, has highlighted the importance of traditional street markets as sites of social interaction and community building and challenged the prevailing view that their decline is inevitable.

It found that markets are important sites for vibrant social encounters and social inclusion, and they support a range of other key government policy agendas including opportunities for business start-ups, better eating habits and reduced car journeys.

The research also revealed how the decline of local markets could be reversed by coherent strategies to tackle failings in investment, management and strategic thinking.

It led to an influential report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation providing recommendations for the successful operation of street markets across a variety of sites and sectors, including local authority, privately run and farmers’ markets.

The research was immediately picked up by the National Association of British Market Authorities (NABMA), which is the leading organisation for local authority street markets across the UK.

Sophie Watson was really the first person to undertake research on the social impact of markets. The research was of great significance because it led to a more detailed consideration of the way markets interact with their local communities. Sophie’s research was also one of the catalysts for the Communities and Local Government's Committee Inquiry into Retail Markets which produced a detailed agenda for the markets industry to address.

Graham Wilson, Chief Executive of NABMA

The research has been further taken up in a variety of policy and academic arenas, including the House of Commons Communities and Local Government committee final report Market Failure: can the traditional markets survive? in 2009, and the National British Market Authorities' local market strategy across the UK.

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