Well Street market's £83,000 relaunch ends in frustration as traders' group hands in notice
PUBLISHED: 12:45 13 December 2017 | UPDATED: 14:00 13 December 2017
It was a flagship project for Sadiq Khan's fundraising platform. But since its relaunch, Well Street Market has been plagued by problems. Now the traders' association has quit and the market is going back to its original once-a-month timetable in an effort to salvage footfall. Sam Gelder reports.
The Well Street traders’ association has dramatically quit en masse amid a row over how the market has been run, and what £83,000 of fundraising money was spent on.
Stalls returned to the historic market street in December 2016 after eight years away. Well Street Market Traders Association (Westra) raised the cash to restart it through Sadiq Khan’s Crowdfund London project on Spacehive.
Among other things, that paid for a market manager, a student makers’ market and a £5,000 beehive project.
But shopkeepers in Well Street, where Tesco’s founder Jack Cohen began trading in 1919, say footfall has gone down since the relaunch a year ago – and have accused Westra of wasting the money.
Now seems the five people on Westra’s board have had enough. In a shocking move last week they stepped down, accusing the council’s market team of not acknowledging the work they had done over the year. They said they’d expected more of a say over the running of the market, including who could set up stalls.
Their strongly worded resignation letter, seen by the Gazette, says Westra “overdelivered” on its promise of 12 monthly markets by hosting 29 thanks to the decision to go weekly in the summer. The Gazette understands that increasing the frequency of the market, which failed to bring in the expected surge in customer numbers, is now thought to have been a mistake by people on both sides of the debate – and from January it will run only on the first Saturday of each month.
“We believe that our contribution remains unacknowledged by the Hackney Markets Team,” Westra’s letter reads.
“We also feel the current position – where Westra has raised and invested over £83,000 into the launch, development and running of the market, and plays a significant role in the week to week management of the market without compensation, while the Hackney Market Team benefits from 100 per cent of the income generated by market rents – is inequitable. The team would not have this income stream were it not for the activities of Westra.
“It is not the place of an elected council to take financial advantage from its relationship with a democratic community organisation, and thereby undermine its ability to become an autonomous self-sufficient organisation.”
Hackney Council, which has plunged £75,000 of its own money into the market’s relaunch, is not taking the accusations lying down. It is preparing a full response to the seven-page letter, in which chiefs are expected to say they made it clear to Westra at the start that the council would be running the market – which is a requirement under the London Local Authorities Act.
Business chief Cllr Guy Nicholson added: “The council has worked extremely hard with Westra to relaunch Well Street Market and it is an inaccuracy for anyone to suggest otherwise.
“We invested in new stalls, funded the road closure process to close the road to traffic, paid for targeted local and borough-wide advertising and provided on-the-ground markets team support.
“The council remains committed to Well Street and is keen to support the whole business community – both street traders and local shops – and have a closer relationship than has been the case to date so everyone running a business in the street can prosper from a re-established market and the customers it attracts.”
Spacehive said it did not wish to comment on Westra’s resignation.
Westra treasurer Luca Bertali told the Gazette he was shocked the council disputed what he had to say in the letter and says officers only informed Westra they would be running the market themselves after his group had done “all the hard work”.
“That’s when it got taken away from us,” he said. “It’s really disappointing we couldn’t get the same support we thought we were going to get. But what we set out to do, we delivered on.”
Westra has been plagued by controversy since it raised the cash. Founder Cllr Ian Rathbone quit the group in January after a row with newer members.
Luca is hoping another group can take over Westra’s role and continue its work. That could be the Well Street Shopkeepers’ Alliance that formed in the summer with Cllr Rathbone’s involvement to try and transform the dwindling footfall.
Member Kevin Jones, who runs the NuDawn cafe in the street, said traders were disappointed by what Well Street had to show for the £83,000 – not least the thousands that went on a beehive intended to bring in money by selling honey on the market.
Referring to disappointment over the relaunch, he said: “The people of Well Street have been sold a Yorkshire Terrier disguised as a pedigree Great Dane.”