Reopening street markets, all over again!

Last year, when it looked like Covid-19 lockdowns were a thing of the past, we interviewed Damian Patchell, Markets Manager for the London Borough of Tower Hamlets as he prepared to reopen some of London’s most well-known markets including Petticoat Lane, Brick Lane, Roman Road and Columbia Road.

The borough is located on the fringes of the City of London and Canary Wharf and has approximately 2,500 pitches located in 12 markets and on street pitches.

Little did we know that last summer was only a temporary suspension of the pandemic restrictions.

Since 20 December 2020, many of the markets have been closed (as they don’t sell essential goods) and others have had a very low number of traders in place, mainly selling food. On the government’s roadmap, non-essential traders can start trading again from 12 April 2021 and we caught up with Damian as he prepares for reopening all over again.

What’s it like having to prepare for reopening again?

There’s been a real sense of deja vu this month as we set about creating another 61 market plans to reopen 10 markets across the borough in multiple locations.

Are you doing anything differently this time around?

We are planning additional interventions at Chrisp Street and Watney Street with plans to create a one-way system for visitors to ensure they feel comfortable visiting the markets with Covid-19 restrictions still in place.

Columbia Road made headlines back in March 2020 due to how crowded it was, how can you ensure there isn’t a repeat this year?

Our famous Sunday flower market featured heavily on social media the day before the first lockdown was announced. No advice or guidance had been provided by the government, as we weren’t in lockdown, so the market was operating as usual at this point but other places had closed meaning that those that were open suddenly had more people visiting that usual.

We successfully reopened in summer 2020 with several changes but have been closed since December due to flowers not being considered essential goods.

Columbia Road will, once again operate with controls in place on reopening. These include road closures around the market and an entry and exit point to limit the number of visitors in the market at any one time.

We couldn’t have done this without the support of the residents and businesses on and around Columbia Road who are being inconvenienced by these changes.

How can you ensure your markets remain safe to visit?

I’m hopeful that when visitors return in greater numbers they will be coming out to use their local neighbourhoods and to support the traders.

Whilst markets provide great social spaces, while we are still in the restrictions easing phase I hope that people won’t be congregating there. This will help us to keep everyone safe as we work towards a more normal set-up from June onwards (roadmap permitting).

Do you have other responsibilities beyond markets?

Yes, we also cover pavement licences, so this has been an area of demand that has grown. Everyday we get new applications for pavement licences for businesses to bring their customers out onto the street some in weird and wonderful spaces!

We are really aware that enabling businesses to have tables and chairs outside could be the difference between them surviving this really tough time. Unfortunately, it’s not always possible to meet all requests but we are being as flexible as we can be while balancing this with ensuring a Covid-secure environment.

What are you looking forward to the most about reopening?

I’m really looking forward to seeing all of our traders return. For some, this will have been the longest time they have ever been away from their stall.

What have you learnt over the past 12 months?

In some locations we’ve found that the revised market plan (layout) works better than the one that was in place before. Particularly at Columbia Road where we have had feedback from visitors that the more linear layout of the market has been excellent. Many people told us they had returned to the market because they feel much more comfortable with the new layout than they did before when it was two-way and often became very crowded.

We’ve also been working more closely with colleagues particularly in our town centres team with whom we have been identifying new areas across the borough that can be animated with tables and chairs.

What are you most proud of over the past year?

I’m hugely proud of my markets team given the huge number of markets we are responsible for alongside street trading licences. It’s also been great to see market teams across the country sharing best practice and adapting quickly to the many changing circumstances they’ve encountered over the past 12 months and continue to do so.


You can read the original post on Tower Hamlet’s market reopening plans during summer 2020 here.

We’ve worked with several local authorities over the years running consultations on their markets, writing strategies and carrying out reviews. We’ve continued this work through the pandemic, finding new ways to engage and planning for what might come next. If we can help you take a fresh look at your markets, please get in touch.