Friday, 22 March 2013

Sunderland Farmers Market

I recently discovered that Sunderland is to start holding its own farmers market. The first one is today I believe, which leads me to the point that has prompted the rant that you are about to find yourself on the receiving end of. Why on this wholly lumpy green earth would you put such a thing on on a Friday!?

I've been making quite an effort lately to support home grown business and buy local, and have thought that a farmers market would be an excellent resource in doing this. It would be the sort of thing that would draw me into the town centre on a more regular basis, as the thoroughly sorry collection of pound shops, cash generators and discount sports clothing stores that we currently enjoy aren't much of an attraction... We have a ridiculous amount of supermarkets in the city (5 massive ones and 4 smaller ones at the last count, and more on the way apparently), but virtually nothing in the way of local businesses away from the town centre. All of the clumps of local green grocers, butchers, etc. that you see in other cities have disappeared in all but a couple of the outlying village areas, forcing you into the supermarkets, who obviously stock their shelves from that cheapest source, I.E. foreign imports.

So, I emailed the council. I asked why they had decided to run the market on a Friday. I pointed out that Farmers markets are very nice things, but they are rarely a cheaper option. This means that they really need to be aimed at those who have at least a little bit of disposable income. That being those that work. Running it on a week day means that it's almost inevitable that it will cease to operate fairly quickly due to lack of use. This in turn means that, apart from anything else, the money put into this venture by way of advertising and administration costs will have been wasted (wasting money is something that Sunderland council is astoundingly, breath-takingly good at already). This wasted money will be council money. Money at least partially taken from council taxes. Council taxes THAT ARE PAID BY THOSE THAT WORK!!! And Sunderland will be without its farmers market, and future requests for such will be met with "we tried it but no one came".

After quite some time (It'd actually reached the point where I suspected that my questions had been ignored and had ceased expecting to hear anything) I got the following email back from a council representative:

"I am sorry to hear about your disappointment regarding the decision to hold the Sunderland Farmers Market on a Friday.
The Farmers Market was initially held in Park Lane for a trial period and Markets were held on both Fridays and Saturdays. During this time regular market research was carried out on site Also taken into consideration was the extensive experience of local traders and the calendar of other markets taking place in the region.With this information the following decisions were made.Following a successful trial period a Farmers Market would be held on the 4th Friday of the month at 9.30am – 3.00pmThe Market would move from Park Lane to Market Square this would reduce costs as a Road Closure was necessary in Park Lane.Market Square also provides greater footfall being part of the Bridges Shopping Centre and a larger space should the Market expand in the future.
Sunderland City Council has organised the markets as part of a campaign to encourage people to support local businesses by shopping in Sunderland."

Really. I asked my wife, who is in the town centre far more often than me whether she'd seen any of this. She thought she might have seen something vaguely resembling a farmers market once. I asked my wife's very large locally based family. None of them had seen any of this, and neither had anyone else I'd asked. Nobody at all has seen anyone doing any market research. Nobody was aware of anything to do with a farmers market until the banner adverts started going up announcing that it was to be held on a Friday.

So, who exactly was the target of this research? A couple of pensioners and the odd wandering pigeon? Maybe some of the delightful alcoholics that throng the city's less salubrious drinking spots during the day spending their hard earned benefit money before tootling up to A&E to try and blag a bed for the night? (Before anyone starts lambasting me on that one for stereotyping, I worked in one of these pubs for several years and have extensive first hand experience of dealing with these delightful drains on society). My point here being that I seriously doubt that they managed to speak to a useful cross section of the intended target audience.

I'm really not sure where to go with this next. I really don't think I have the strength to keep trying to get the council to see reason. Past experience has taught me that this is likely to be very similar to standing and bashing my own face against a wall. Doing so would probably get better results to be honest. I suppose I could try writing to the local paper, but again, not sure what good it would do. Sunderland has an absolutely dreadful reputation, and frankly in a lot of cases it deserves it. The council is so totally and utterly out of touch with what needs to doing to make the city a more attractive place to both local people and outside visitors alike that it's almost comical. At least it would be if I didn't live here.

Support your local businesses indeed! I'd love to. Look here for more information on something that you probably can't use if you have a job.