The stallholders was dropping off as the rents was getting too much and there were cheap shops opening like IKEA where you could get your pots and pans. It was a gradual thing really, it didn’t just suddenly happen.
The main draw of Sneinton was Jim Wilson’s sweet stall. Cadbury’s used to ring him and say, “We’ve got some short-dated chocolates, ten pallets.” That was the level he was working at. He was very down to earth, insisted on unloading vans and lorries himself. Sneinton was going quite well at that point. Then the council decided that, in order to save money, they didn’t want to erect council stalls, and at that point made it a self-erect market. You had to bring your stall and put it up and take it down yourself. Jim Wilson used to bring in stuff palletised on lorries and unload it with a forklift truck. The council said, “You’ve got to put your own stall up.” He’d probably got about six girls working for him at the time, and he said, “They aren’t capable of putting stalls up. If you make me put a stall up, I’ll leave.” The council still insisted, so he left. That signalled the decline of Sneinton Market. If that hadn’t happened, I think Sneinton would have survived in its present form today.
The stalls erected by Nottingham City Council survived in all weathers. They were made out of tubular steel, very heavy, but very strong, they lasted years and years. A team of City Council employees used to erect and dismantle the stalls. Thinner contraptions, pop up ones, are nothing like as strong, particularly in the wind. When the council stopped putting the stalls up, that spelt the end of Sneinton Market.
Traditionally markets were cheap. It was only when the economy started suffering that the local authority realised they’d got a cash cow. As far as they were concerned, there were very few income generation bodies. You’ve got car parks, markets, crematoria, all earn income, so therefore if council tax or whatever is squeezed, the first reaction is to try and raise in that area. That effectively forced rents up and it got to the stage where you’d need to take a great deal of money in order to exist before you made a profit. That forced quite a few people off markets.
At one time, people used to park on Gedling Street, do their shopping, clear off and that was fine. Then the council decided to introduce a parking blitz to prevent anyone parking for any length of time. You actually had parking attendants standing there, waiting for people to come on to Gedling Street to issue tickets! Quite honestly, once someone had got a ticket they’d turn round to you and say, “Look, no way am I coming back here again. I was only on the market ten minutes!”
I was part of a consultative body that included councillors and the market’s management – we met to discuss various issues. I remember one woman saying that her ideal was to have a market on the end of each road in Nottingham. She said, “These poor people, they have to pay for a taxi to take the stuff home which doesn’t seem very fair, because the money should be spent on food, not taxis.” Obviously that went down like a ton of bricks with the market traders!
The council would never leave things alone – the classic one for me was a man who was director level – I used to have drinks with him in his office in Lawrence House and we used to get on really well. He’d got an MBA from Henley Business School, but he didn’t know much about markets. One time he called me and said, “I’ve got this brilliant idea Mike. Instead of having a Market Superintendent go round to collect the rent, why don’t we get the market people to pay their own rent through a machine? We could use one of the car parks machines. What do you think?” I says, “Nah, it won’t work. You’ve got to have somebody come round and check that it’s right.” He says, “I’ll get someone to give us a demonstration.” The following week, some guy wheeled this heavy machine into the office. He’d mounted it on a trolley and he was really struggling with it. The director says, “This will work Mike, won’t it?” I said, “No chance.” He said, “If we got the traders to put pound coins in to cover the rent and we did spot checks?” I said, “That won’t last long. The traders will wipe that out in ten minutes.” The director says, “No, these machines are tamper proof.” I said, “I could disable that machine in ten minutes.” And he says, “Mike you try, you try!” I said, “Alright. Have you got a paperclip?” I bent this paperclip and pushed it in the pound slot, preventing you from getting another pound in, and you ought to have seen his face! Needless to say, the machine was never introduced!
In 1996 a woman approached the market, asking to run it. I’d been considering doing that too, so the Market Manager said, “Why don’t you run it together?” We formed a company, both of us as shareholders – that was how Sneinton Market became a private market. The social enterprise element came along when Colin Haynes introduced me to Tony Holmes who worked for the Renewal Trust and was part of a Local Alchemy project from the New Economic Foundation. Our original idea was that the traders would run the market but when we actually chatted to them they weren’t interested – basically they just wanted to pay their rent and go home. So I said I would be willing to collect the rents but I would have to employ someone else to look after my stall. I applied for funding through Local Alchemy and obtained about twelve thousand pounds, which paid for stalls, and we got another tranche of money after that which we invested in promotions and a PA system. All went well, but we gradually started losing footfall, mainly because of the aforementioned parking problems and the fact that the buses used to pass along Bath Street, but were rerouted.
A Business Forum grew out of Alchemy in Sneinton. Originally it included the market units, which were still fairly heavily occupied at the time with a rich variety of traders. It was a nice setup, but the council wouldn’t offer leases to the traders so they’d got no protection. The council were very reluctant to spend any money on the units – some of them had leaking roofs and the traders moved out.