9 March 2001

How Hexham got started & grew & grew

IT ALL began with an advert. Northumberland farmers and market traders Ian and Victoria Byatt became involved in the formation of Hexham farmers market when they answered a newspaper advert inviting farmers to contact local hill farmer Julie Charlton.

Although Mrs Charlton has no interest in selling at the market, she is interested in food matters and thought there was a demand for fresh local produce in the area. Together with farmers and other local people who thought the idea would benefit the town, they formed a committee of seven.

The Farm Retail Association provided advice and with grant aid for advertising from the local council, a successful Christmas market with 20 stalls was held in 1999. Now there are up to 55 stalls selling vegetables, meat, eggs, cheese, ice-cream, preserves and crafts at the market which is held on the second Saturday of each month. It is one of the few producer-run markets in the country and a member of the National Farmers Markets Association.

"Farmers markets have different rules and some are stricter than others," says Mr Byatt. "There is no point having too many people selling the same product, that makes it even harder to judge how much you might sell."

Most markets charge according to the size of stall but at Hexham the rental charge is linked to turnover. "We have now bought our own stalls, which we rent out to other people, and prices range from about £12-21 a day. If a newcomer wants to rent a stall, we feel it is fairer to leave the decision to a sub-committee of non-traders."

Advertising is the biggest cost but its essential to create year-round interest. "The market was not set up to make money but we have to cover our advertising costs in the local paper and the leaflets which we hand out," says Mr Byatt. When a market first opens, there is a lot of free coverage from local press and radio but that soon dies down. Thats when the real job of market promotion begins, he says.

STARTING A MARKET

&#8226 Research grant aid.

&#8226 Include local people in decision-making.

&#8226 Advertising budget.

&#8226 Non-sellers decide on new entrants.