Future 'still bright' for Doncaster market as traders move with the times

Ryan Davis, president of Doncaster market traders federation
Ryan Davis, president of Doncaster market traders federation

It's one of the biggest employers in Doncaster - and it's got a history of over 800 years of continuous trade.

It may have changed over the years, but Donaster Market is still trading in the digital age.

Tricia O'Connor and Pam Ryall, of Med at the Market at Doncaster Market

Tricia O'Connor and Pam Ryall, of Med at the Market at Doncaster Market

At present, the site in the town centre is undergoing the latest transformation to take place in its long history. It has has existed in its current town-centre location since AD43 and was granted its first market charter in 1193 by King Richard I.

By the end of the latest work, the wool market will have been transformed, and work to repair the fabric and the roof of the Victorian Doncaster Corn Exchange will have been completed.

Some have found it hard while the work is ongoing - but traders believe that the market still has a solid future.

Ryan Davis has been trading on the market for 12 years. He's aged 27, and his family have been working there for 30 years. They also trade on the market in Rotherham, and the family goes back 80 years in markets in other part of the country.

Andy Fowler at his art stall on Doncaster Market

Andy Fowler at his art stall on Doncaster Market

They run the KD Davis and Son fruit and vegetables stalls, which employ 20 people across both sites.

Ryan is now also the president of the Doncaster Market Traders Federation.

He said: "The great thing is the variety of people that that you meet every day trading on the market - it is just a massive cross-section of society in the centre of the town, people from all walks of life.

"I think it really is a good place to start a business, because it's in the centre of the town. A five year lease on a shop, with all the cost of fittings can be a large outlay. With the market you can test a product out, and use it to get started. Look at Marks and Spencer. They started on a market, and look where they are now.

"And we've got a lot going on here at the moment. We've had the Delicious Doncaster food festival this year, and we've got Doncaster Youth Market. I'm a big fan of the youth market."

Doncaster Youth Market was held at the start of May, offering youngsters the chance to try their hand at trading, as part of the food festival. Ryan is pleased to see something to give youngsters a chance to try their hand at enterprise.

"We need to encourage youth into our market," he said. "Not just as traders, but to show them the quality of shopping that you can get on the market.

"There has been a decline in markets across the country, but it is about how you shape up. We're very active on social media and share new produce that we're getting on there. We've actually seen an increase in customers this year.

"It is quality and value and service that people want, and its what markets provide. It does not matter if something is the cheapest price if it not good quality. People don't think about how much they paid for something if they're putting it in the bin.

"We pride ourselves on providing the best quality at the right price. The market still has a bright future - the council would not be investing it if they didn't think it had a future."

He said traders have moved with the times. His firm now trades online, with the internet providing around 10 per cent of their sales. But they also find that people who have bought from them on the web often then switch, and start to come to the market and buy directly from their stall. Then, many start also using the other stalls such as fishmongers and butchers.

He thinks it is about looking at what they do and doing it better.

Part of the plans to refurbish the market involve making it a leisure destination. It has been proposed that entertainment would be put on outside the wool market. Ryan expects it will re-open with with a number of places selling food in the site, along the lines of the recently opened Clam and Cork restaurant, which opened up on the Fish Market.

"It is exciting for the future," he said. "Bringing leisure to the market is only doing what the supermarkets have already done, 20 years ago, with their in-store cafes. It would have been fantastic if it had been done 10 years ago, but it is brilliant that it's happening now."

Food at the market is nothing new to Pam Ryall.

Pam, aged 57, has been running the Med and the Market Mediterranean restaurant in the food market for five years. She is another who is benefiting from technology, with high ratings for her site on the Trip Advisor website.

She has expanded her business since she started, adding four stalls as an extra seating area after judges in a markets competition observed that they had to wait for a seat to use her cafe.

She said the last year and a half at the Corn Exchange had been difficult for traders, and they believed that was because the scaffolding and hoardings around the building had led to people wrongly thinking it was closed.

It is very much open, and the council has put signs up in the market place to that effect.

She said footfall had been down, but businesses had been able to cope because of their reputations, and their regular customers.

"Footfall has fallen. But because we'd already built the business up we have been able to cope with that. But there is less passing trade than there was. But the new wool market opens in December, and the work on the Corn Exchange will finish, with the scaffolding then coming down. Hopefully that will make a difference.

"For us the advantage of being in the market is that we don't have to carry much stock. All that we sell, we buy here off the market. If we're running short we can just walk round and get some more.

"If someone wants something that's not on the menu, we can just go and get it from the butches or the fishmongers.

"The roof has had to be fixed on the Corn Exhange, but it has meant people can't see the entrance. But I love the market and wouldn't want to be anywhere else."

Artist Andy Fowler is another trader who has seen the numbers walking through the Corn Exchange reduce during the building works.

The 47-year-old, who runs an art supplies stall, says he has similarly relied on reputation and an existing customer base.

He moved to Doncaster from Kent when a friend had a house available for rent, and set up his stall at that time, eight years ago.

"It was the perfect place to start, and the only place I could start," he said. "It is easier to start, and easier to get out if things don't work out. The low overheads are what attracts, although I think there a lot who aspire to a big shop.

"But its not always possible to sustain a growth period with high overheads. When I looked at it I would have had to be tied into a shop for a year.

"I can compete with any art shop on price, but not on space. A lot of people, when they find out about me, said 'I didn't know Doncaster had an art shop'."

He thinks the advantage of a market is the stalls are run by enthusiasts with a lot of understanding of what they sell. If he has an item returned, he just uses it himself in his own artwork.

"The main issue at present is footfall," he added.

Jewellery trader Michelle Evans, who works on the outdoor market, is another who loves the market.

She hopes the changes there will improve it, but in the meantime would like to see the site more accessible, and would like to see more entertainments run in the market square during the winter.

"That would certainly help," she said.