I’m not generally a fan of reality television. What you usually get is a condensed version of events, following a story arc which goes something like: stage 1. Presenter meets people with a problem. 2. Conflict, personality clashes, things start going badly (ad break) 3. Recap – presenter worries that he/she can’t turn things round this time 4. Presenter comes up with plan to turn things round – will it work? (ad break) 5. Plan works. 6. Final triumph, admissions all round that it was worth the heartache along the way. 7. End credits
But even knowing all that. Even with my most cynical head on, I can’t help hoping really hard that the magical Mary Portas effect will somehow be able to help the Roman Road.
One upon a time on the Roman Road…
The Roman Road, used to be one of the attractions of living in this part of the east end. You could do your everyday shopping in the supermarket then mooch up and down the Road and along the market where you could get everything from children’s toys to vinyl records, a wrought iron table to a photograph album, a packet of pins to a table lamp. There were 38 fruit and veg stalls on the Roman Road market twenty years ago – I know this because Paul, who owns one of the last two still there told me so this afternoon, when he announced that he’s packing up and leaving the market at Christmas.
Most people think that the market started to decline when the supermarket shut down and people had to go elsewhere to buy the basics. Now what you can mainly get on the Roman Road is cheap stuff and expensive credit. Half a dozen pawnbrokers have opened up, there are several pound shops, some payday loan companies and a couple of betting shops. There are some signs of life even now and some great new shops bucking the trend, but generally it’s a sad shadow of what it used to be. Enter Mary P…
A ray of hope?
A small team of volunteers (which I’ve recently joined) put in a bid to be one of the so-called Portas Pilots – a scheme to revitalise the nation’s declining high streets. They didn’t get the money, but they have won a smaller sum as one of DCLG’s Town Teams. There are modest plans for events to promote the market and the shops in the Road in the run up to Christmas and, hopefully, that will build some momentum and things will keep going next year. Meanwhile, Mary Portas seems to have taken an interest in the Roman and has been spotted several times, filming for a project she’s working on for next year.
Let’s hope it works. There are lots of examples of how markets can support their local neighbourhoods – Broadway Market is one local example, Brixton Market seems to be going from strength to strength, Columbia Road is on the mainstream tourist trail these days. But they need to be cherished or they fall into disrepair – I hope we’re not too late.