During the early weeks of COVID-19 in the UK, there was an obsessive focus on supermarkets and how they were handling the pandemic. It was as if traditional retail markets and small shops didn't exist. Many markets and traders, however, continued to provide essential goods and services during the lockdown, sometimes responding quicker and in more creative ways than larger stores.
On June 15, indoor as well as outdoor markets can reopen, but it is unclear how the sector will pull through this difficult time. Research by the markets sector has found that during lockdown only around a third of markets remained even partially open and just 50% of traders expected to be able to access any of the government support for businesses.
About 40% of operators feared they would not be able to open again. But we believe that markets need to be—more than they ever have been—at the centre of local communities. And for this to happen, they will need support.
Throughout the country, markets are a vital cornerstone of town and city centres. Their impact is enormous. There are 1,173 markets in Britain, including traditional and specialist markets, with a collective turnover of £3.1 billion in 2017-18. Pre-crisis, there were 32,400 market traders and 9,000 events traders employing 24,000 staff.
But the importance of markets takes in much broader horizons. They provide affordable, fresh and healthy food and other products and services. They are also entry points into the job market for many and spaces for people to develop entrepreneurial skills.