Fears for Swaffham market’s future amid falling stall numbers

Swaffham Market 800th Anniversary celebrations,'tour of the market LtoR, Swaffham Mayor Cllr. Anne Thorp, Deputy Mayor Paul Darby, Elizabeth Truss, Gillian Shephard, and stall owner Stephen Ward from Wards Nurseries at Ringstead. ANL-150720-081241009
Swaffham Market 800th Anniversary celebrations,'tour of the market LtoR, Swaffham Mayor Cllr. Anne Thorp, Deputy Mayor Paul Darby, Elizabeth Truss, Gillian Shephard, and stall owner Stephen Ward from Wards Nurseries at Ringstead. ANL-150720-081241009
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Doubts have been cast over the future of Swaffham’s market, only months after eight centuries of the tradition were celebrated.

Thousands flocked to the town last July for a medieval weekend held to mark the 800th anniversary of the earliest written reference to a market in the town.

That was part of a programme of events held throughout 2015 to commemorate the milestone.

But a budget report presented to town councillors last night admitted there was a “downward trend” on the market, both in terms of stall numbers and the amount of space the traders that do go there occupy.

The report said there had been a net loss of four stalls in the past year, while some of the newer stalls had replaced larger ones, causing a further drop in the space used.

It warned the market would have to be consolidated to one central area of the town if the trend continued.

And deputy mayor Paul Darby expressed worries for the future of the trade against newer shopping choices.

He said: “People are buying on the internet. It’s a different animal now. Markets are a dying thing. We’ve got to not be blinkered on that.”

Former mayor Shirley Matthews also suggested the market was seen as “expensive” by town residents.

Councillors agreed a plan to increase rents by two per cent from April, adding around 50p to the cost of a casual stall.

Town clerk Richard Bishop said the proposal was intended to give the council’s market committee, which oversees the trade, some “ammunition” to turn things around.

The meeting was also told that there were currently no plans to hold either farmers and craft markets or evening events, though they may be reinstated in the future.

Mr Darby said: “We have got to try to get more from that and I don’t know how we do it.

“Some of the traders are very territorial and we need to push against that barrier.”