The future of Milton Keynes Market is bright – or at least it could be if a little time and money was put into it.
That is the message from market traders fresh from their victory over twin powerhouses thecentre:mk and Primark.
Traders are now set to launch their own branch of the Market Traders’ Federation and are hopeful talks with shopping centre supremo Robert Hall will follow shortly afterwards.
And they believe that if simple things such as new shutters painted by city schoolkids, a lick of paint for Secklow Gate Bridge and the addition of hanging baskets were implemented the market would really flourish.
Talk has even turned to ideas of expansion, indoor markets and a roof.
It is a far cry from the situation little more than a month ago when they were in the final throes of a battle to save the market from re-location and, in their view, ruin.
A planning application from clothing giant Primark, which would have seen the market moved and Secklow Gate Bridge destroyed, was only withdrawn days before Milton Keynes Council’s development control committee had been due to discuss it.
By that point market traders had already raised a 20,000 signature petition opposing the move.
So what makes the market so special for traders?
Gary Eaton, who works on The Phone Doctor stall, told the Citizen the market is, quite simply, “my livelihood” – one he has been making in the same place for a successful 13 years.
“For people round here it offers a place where they can get goods and services that they can’t get elsewhere in MK.”
Steve Tucker, from Este Jewellery, another long term stall holder, agreed.
“What makes it so special is that you have very many individual units that make it unique, against the shopping centres which are all the same throughout the country and really don’t give a personal service,” he said.
“Only small retailers - like market traders - can give that service.
“I have been here 25 years and for me to have survived that long is because of the personal service I give.
“The point is it was a great victory for us because it saved people’s livelihoods and jobs.
“Even if the market had been situated somewhere else it would have naturally died.”
And Elizabeth Hobbs, who runs Hobbs Crazy Books, added: “I think the biggest thing is the community spirit from all the traders and the way residents and the public enjoy being here.
“When it is really busy the place hums. It is a nice place to be.
“The market is supposed to be at the heart of Central Milton Keynes. The shopping centre, the market, the bridge, it all works together really well.
“What we should be thinking of is not getting rid of the market, or moving it, but actually investing in it; making it look better, talking to traders and operators and working together to try and find a way of keeping it and expanding it.”
It is that desire to improve that has helped provide the impetus for the formation of an MK branch of the Market Traders’ Federation.
The planned launch of the branch in mid-April could be followed by talks with thecentre:mk.
Traders said Mr Hall visited the market shortly after the collapse of the Primark plans to offer a meeting once the local federation is in place.
They would also like to see the market operators, Bray Associates, invest more in it.
Mr Eaton said: “It needs tidying up. It would be nice to have it covered over in some form. Perhaps some shutters that face the centre rather than these silly sheets. They could be painted by school children so it looks better when we are shut.”
Other ideas include the introduction of hanging baskets and planters, painting the underside of Secklow Gate Bridge and even adding underfloor lighting.
“It would be a brighter place to walk through when all the shutters are down,” Mrs Hobbs said.
“These are all little things that could be done that would make a huge, huge difference.
“We should be looking at improving and asking about extensions rather than thinking about shifting somewhere else.”
Mr Tucker added: “I would like to see the council getting involved in helping re-invigorate the market cosmetically; better lighting, just giving it a lot of promotion.
“It is an integral part of MK. It has been here, I believe, since the beginning and it serves a lot of people. I think 20,000 people showed how important it is.
“It is up to thecentre:mk to realise how important we are, to talk to us and treat us as individuals.”
With so many ideas buzzing around, it seems the threat of Primark has had a galvanising effect on the market.
“It certainly could end up being a good thing,” Mr Eaton said.
“Everybody has realised how important the market is. Before it was just a market to be destroyed or moved.
“Now people have to listen to us.”