31 March 2000

Support group digs deep to rescue Thame market

By Simon Wragg

FARMERS have raised almost £500,000 in just 10 days to prevent the closure of Thame market, Oxon and Winslow market, Bucks, the counties last remaining livestock centres.

Over 500 supporters attended a recent meeting to discuss the buy-out and 300 pledged their support. Cheques worth £484,000 followed quickly. According to Peter Bailey, chairman of the Friends of Thame Livestock Market, that is sufficient to meet the £300,000 price tag and secure nearly £200,000 of working capital to avoid "being beholden to a bank".

The move follows discussions with the markets operator, Guildford-based South East Marts, which intends to withdraw from the sector.

"The possibility of taking over the site from SEM was aired a year or so ago and a support group has been standing by to spring into action. It now offers farmers the security of having an auction without which we would be left to travel greater distances to remaining markets," said Mr Bailey.

Thame is a medium-sized market selling about 120 prime cattle and 1400 prime sheep weekly, and a number of store stock; Winslow is a smaller operation.

The farmers action has widespread support. Paul Ibbott, manager of NFU corporate – which represents farmer-controlled business – said producers needed to invest further up the chain "to achieve great scale and control".

"It is right that farmers should invest in their future. Like any business, success will depend on sound financial backing and the right management," added Mr Ibbott.

Bucks-based beef and sheep farmer Brian Lloyd of Camp Farm, near Aylesbury, said: "I would be left to take stock to Northampton, a difficult 45 mile journey. I will sleep a lot better when the signature is on the dotted line and the market is ours." &#42

Support group chairman, Peter Bailey (right), and John Ovens of Lightfoot Solicitors hope to sign the deal with SEM within days.