There are two things Walthamstow does not lack, markets and opinions. If you are the kind of person to wear a hat, and you were to take that hat off and throw it up in the air, it would probably land in a market. And no doubt, you, and the rest of us in E17, would have an opinion about the place in which your hat had settled. There’s the regular Market on the High Street, full of shouts of pound a bowl, Blackhorse Market, Farmers Market, Village Market, Designers Market, and if you count the indoor type, there is also The Georgian Village and Wood Street Market. What’s the collective noun for lots of markets? a baggage? well a new kid joined the baggage of Walthamstow markets this week, The Twilight Market. I went along to have a look, and whilst I didn’t see any hats being thrown, I certainly saw lots of opinions flying around.
Before I get on to what the market was actually like, I probably need to go in to a bit of background. A very passionate local resident pitched an idea to the council to run a Sunday Market, an idea the council discussed at great length, but ultimately turned down. At around about the same time as turning down this idea, they announced that the Twilight Market would be run by Street Concepts, a company that grew out out of the Brixton Night Market. The combination of these factors has led to a a bit of unrest amongst the natives, as it appears the council is not supporting local ventures, but instead favouring businesses from the other end of the Victoria Line. The fact that opening night featured few or no local traders only fanned the flames, though I’ll come on to this later. Whilst I completely understand and share the concerns voiced by many about the Twilight market not supporting local business, I would say this. If there are issues with the way the council engaged with the community about this and other potential schemes, those issues lie with the council and not with the organisers of the Twilight Market. Whether you agree with the selection of Street Concepts or not, they should at least be given a chance to prove what they can do.
I’m a crap shopper, going to somewhere like Westfield is my idea of utter unending hell, but I don’t mind markets so much. I like the idea of lots of small traders being in one place, small traders instead of massive faceless corporations. I also like food, I started running because I’m almost incapable of stuffing my face if food is offered to me. The Twilight Market, based on Town Square, promised both independent traders and food, so when it opened on Thursday, I was there with bells on. My first port of call on Thursday was the small cocktail bar that had been set up in front of the big screen. I had something called a Passionate Collin, I think it had gin in it, and presumably passion fruit, what ever it was, it and the one that followed went down very well. With drink in hand we wandered around the market stalls, all of which on this occasion where food based. Burgers, chips and calamari, paella and Jamaican food were all on offer.
We started off by sharing a portion of chips and calamari, then a little later we ordered a couple of burgers from burger and beyond. I had a cheese burger which was £6 and my other half had the hot mess which was £7. I don’t eat burgers that often, but I’m really fussy about them when I have them, and these didn’t disappoint. They were cooked to perfection, rare and juicy with the just the right amount of toppings and sauce. We sat eating said amazing burgers in the covered seating area on the Nat West side of the Town Square. We watched as the steam from the paella curled up in to the Walthamstow night. We left the market about eight pm and it was still pretty busy, OK, it wasn’t packed to the rafters (if there were rafters), but there was a good number of people milling around.
The organisers were on site and we had a good chat with a couple of them. They explained that they wanted to open the market in October, but had been asked to open early by the council. The early opening had been a bit of a rush which is why there were fewer stalls, all of which were food. The lack of time they had to arrange the first date was also the reason there was a lack of local traders, the organisers reached out to traders they already had a relationship with to make sure there were stalls at the opening night. They told us they want local traders to get involved, and that in the long term they also want to recruit a local market manager. Of course they could have been telling us what we wanted to hear, but I saw no reason not to believe them.
It seems to me like a night market is a pretty good idea, especially when it gets up to full speed and has stalls selling things other than food. Yes the first night was small, and perhaps the organisers haven’t yet connected with the local community as much as they should have done, but this new market could be a good thing. Whilst we have lots of markets, this is our only night market, it brings something to Walthamstow that we don’t currently have. Yes the organisers are from Brixton, but it could give local traders a starting place. I’d like to see a link up with the soup kitchen, customers could be encouraged to buy an extra dish which then gets donated to people using the soup the kitchen down the road. There are lots of possibilities and options here, but to make this new market work, I think we need to engage with it, as much as the organisers need to engage with us. If you want to know more, or would be interested in trading at the market, visit the Street Concepts web site.