Croydon Council’s boast of investing half a million pounds to rejuvenate the flagging fortunes of Surrey Street Market so far shows few signs of being backed up with actions, as its Sunday market brainchild struggles to establish itself.
The Sunday trading scheme was imposed on businesses and residents based close to the 750-year-old market with little real consultation. Existing stall-holders, some of whom have run their family pitches for generations, were deliberately barred by the council from taking up a Sunday pitch at £15 per week.
This seemed to fit with the council’s gentrifying agenda under senior cabinet councillor Mark Watson, who in meetings had suggested a personal disliking for established Surrey Street shops such as Iceland. According to Watson’s “vision”, the Sunday markets would be bustling full of artisan bakers, street food vendors and arts and crafts stalls.
Except that has not happened.
With the Sunday market set to begin on September 4, Croydon Council’s propaganda department had claimed: “As part of a £500,000 package of improvements the council has opened the street to seven-day trading… The first Sunday market day featured a wide range of street food, as well as a variety of clothing and handmade gifts.
“Over coming months the street will see the council spending money on upgrading the pavements and road surface, introducing better signage and public art, free WiFi and creating a space where people can stop to relax and enjoy an outdoor meal or some street entertainment.”
Except, six Sunday markets later, and little, if any, of that has happened, either.
Even the artisan baker – whose good loaves cost considerably less than the £6 price tags seen at places such as trendy Borough Market – failed to show up for the first couple of weeks of Sunday trading on Surrey Street. An English tea stall was set up, except there was no where for any customers it might have attracted to sit down comfortably to enjoy their scones and jam. Not much has been seen of a stall selling overpriced cup cakes which was on Surrey Street for the first couple of weeks.
There has been the promised live music, but not every week. Residents have expressed some relief that the initial position for the sound system – right beneath one block of flats – has not been used since. Last week there were three different music acts, mostly performing at the same time, as if typifying the council’s “co-ordination”.
By last Sunday, the number of stalls and vans congregating at the Church Street end of the market had reached 26, the most yet seen. Previous weeks had attracted only around 20.
The majority of those are of types of street food, with goat curry competing alongside rice and beans or Ethiopian vegan dishes for the attention, and money, of the few passers-by. Few traders have enjoyed booming business on Sundays, with stalls seen to be packing up soon after 2pm because of the lack of customers.
And there’s nothing to suggest that any of this has had any kind of positive impact on the state of trading on Surrey Street on the other six days of the week, which long-term traders have been pleading for help with for years.
The enthusiasm of the Sunday newcomers has waned quickly. “There’s no signs up on North End or anywhere else to say that there is a market here on Sundays,” one Sunday trader told Inside Croydon. “It is not very busy.”
Another also expressed disappointment. “The other week, there was a street market on in North End at the same time. No one told us they were putting that on.”
The council’s failure to provide the promised signage to direct people to the market may be a disappointment for traders. But it has also failed to promote the market in other ways: there’s nothing mentioned of the Surrey Street Sunday market on the council’s own website, nor has any of that £500,000 budgeted lolly been spent on advertising the Sunday market in the latest edition of the local snoozepaper.
The autumn weather so far has been relatively benign, kind for the traders and not off-putting for casual shoppers. Whether the Sunday market will have established itself robustly enough before the clocks go back and winter sets in seems unlikely, raising further questions about the misdirection of yet more public money on ill-considered schemes for Surrey Street.
And the opening of rival outlet Boozepark, backed with millions of pounds from our own council, is only a fortnight away.
Back in April, when announcing the investment plans for Surrey Street, Watson had said, “Our ambition is for Surrey Street to rival the best street markets in London.
“The council sees the market as a real priority because it adds a huge amount of unique character to Croydon as a whole… We want to see the market become a truly vibrant, buzzing, seven-days-a-week venue at which people can eat, view art, meet up with friends and, of course, do some great-value shopping.”
Watson, part of the clique which controls Croydon’s Labour group, must be hoping that the “buzzing” Sunday market is a “slow burn”. He certainly can’t claim it has been an instant success.
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