ALAN CASTLE: Way forward for farmers’ market

The food and drink festival to celebrate the relaunch of Morpeth Market. Ref: JCMH foodmarket 1
The food and drink festival to celebrate the relaunch of Morpeth Market. Ref: JCMH foodmarket 1

I took a trip to Morpeth on Saturday to check out their first food and drink festival and their revamped farmers’ market.

And there is no question that the hard work put in over several months has paid off.

The market was transformed and buzzing with activity.

Of course, it has come at a financial cost.

But the initiative has the backing of several bodies – Morpeth and District Chamber of Trade, Morpeth Town Council, Greater Morpeth Development Trust and the Sanderson Arcade shopping centre – under the banner More in Morpeth.

It is evidence of what can be achieved when people from different organisations pull together with a common goal.

The market-stall rents have been kept deliberately low (£15 initially, rising to a maximum of £25 after a review in a few months) in an attempt to attract more traders, then hoping that the public will support the improved offer.

Obviously, these are early days, but the signs at the weekend were promising that the momentum could be maintained.

Even the Alnwick Town crier was spotted, helping out in the unfortunate absence of the Morpeth Gadgie!

Alnwick’s farmers’ market looks sad in comparison. It needs a similar injection of cash, innovation and collaboration.

But at least the Morpeth experiment shows that it can be done. Investment in Alnwick has suffered since the demise of its development trust – something similar needs to be set up to access funds and help the town compete on a level playing field.

Of course, Morpeth has also landed on its feet with the support of the visionary retail developer Mark Dransfield, who built the Sanderson Arcade.

But Alnwick has its own unique selling points and needs to shout about them.

To launch the new markets, Morpeth has jumped on the food festival bandwagon – and this is one area in which Alnwick holds the trump card, having hosted the first such event in the North East nine years ago. It has built up a huge following and plans are already under way for its 10th anniversary event.

The Alnwick Food Festival and, indeed, the accompanying beer festival should be widely praised and supported.

If handled the right way, it could be used as the basis of a regeneration of Alnwick’s fortunes.