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Sunday, September 20, 2009

'Use it or Lose it' Warning

Ponteland residents have been warned that their farmers' market is under threat of immediate closure.

And they have been urged to 'use it or lose it' if it is given a stay of execution for the next few months, with numbers falling sharply over the last two years.

Chairman of the Morpeth Markets Forum — which includes the monthly Ponteland and Morpeth farmers' markets and the weekly Wednesday stalls in Morpeth — Nic Best spoke of its critical condition at a meeting of Ponteland Town Council

"The most amount of people we have had at the Ponteland Farmers' Market at any one time is about 400 and this has fallen to around 200 and 100 in the last couple of years," he said.

"At the last one in August, where we had eight stalls, in the three-and-a-half hours it was on there was a total of only 50 customers.

"The opening of Waitrose was the last straw for some producers and those remaining have said that if the numbers continue to be low then they will pull out.

"We are hoping to keep it going until Christmas and see if things can pick up, but it's looking very dodgy."

At the latest meeting of the Forum, which took place on Wednesday night, members including representatives from people involved in the markets, Northumberland County Council, town councils and traders groups, discussed the Ponteland situation.

The two options on the table are closing the market now or keeping it going for a short period and a recommendation was made to the County Council, which will make the final decision.
Ponteland Town councillor Joyce Butcher said: "I hope the market continues, but if it does the public needs to get the message that if you don't use it, you will lose it."

Fellow member Alan Chilton said: "This comes down to marketing. The farmers are in a competitive market and they have got to provide produce that the supermarkets don't."

Ponteland Farmers' Market, which operates at the Memorial Hall on Darras Road, began in May 2000 and meats such as beef, lamb and pork, vegetables, jams, fruits, eggs and ice creams are among the items available.

When asked why it was struggling, Coun Best said: "We have done leaflet drops, there is regular media coverage letting people know when it's on, celebrity chefs have appeared sometimes and we have even had goats going round Ponteland to advertise it.

"But the numbers haven't been the same as at other markets such as Morpeth and Hexham and I think this is mainly down to those two being held in the middle of their shopping centres so people can go to the shops and the market in one visit.

"At Ponteland, people will just be going to the market.

"There is a clash with one of Hexham's markets as well which also doesn't help."

He added that if it could survive, the market would get some of the funding allocated to the North East of England Farmers' Markets group for discounted events and workshops.

Source: Morpeth Herald