This briefing proposes new ideas to decision-makers for how to measure the holistic economic, social and cultural value of traditional retail markets in the UK.

The latest national survey of market operators and traders provides a newly optimistic and confident perspective on the health of the sector even when high street retail is experiencing so many pressures. But many of the more traditional retail markets are still struggling while specialist craft, street food, fashion and events-based markets serving higher-income customers continue to thrive. Traditional retail markets are however particularly important to lower-income, marginalised and vulnerable people, providing access to good quality, healthy and affordable food, opportunities for social interaction, and relatively low-cost and accessible trading amongst other benefits.

It is therefore now crucial to equip decision-makers at all levels with the tools and evidence they need to make a holistic case for investment, ensure redevelopment plans of markets enhance economic, social and cultural value and make the most of traditional retail markets’ potential to contribute to a wide range of public policy goals.

Having made significant progress over the last decade in demonstrating the economic contribution of the UK markets sector, the National Market Traders Federation Ltd and the National Association of British Market Authorities (NABMA) are collaborating with NEF, the University of Leeds and the Open University to focus anew on markets’ equally important social and cultural roles through a 2.5 year research project funded by the Economic and Social Research Council.

Traditional retail markets offer more than a place to buy your daily staples. They’re a place to meet friends and catch up with neighbours. They’re a place for everyone to feel welcome, regardless of where you come from or how much cash is in your pocket.

But as an industry we fail to champion this. This report kick-starts a conversation. If we as an industry don’t demonstrate the community value of markets, we risk losing them. The NMTF is behind this project 100% — if you care about markets, you should be too.”

Joe Harrison, Chief Executive, NMTF

It is increasingly important that we have accurate data demonstrating the value of markets in both the economic and wider social context. The quality of this research, supported by academics and people experienced in the markets industry, will make a valuable contribution to our knowledge and our ability to advance the case of markets.”

Graham Wilson OBE, Chief Executive, NABMA

The briefing is an early output from the research project and brings together existing research and policy efforts in the UK and internationally to measure the social value of markets. Crucially, it also demonstrates the potential to learn from how other sectors are engaging with this agenda using tools such as local economic multipliers (LM3), social return on investment (SROI) and social impact assessment (SIA).

The briefing aims to open up a conversation amongst the UK markets sector, the diverse communities which use, rely upon and value markets and the wide range of other organisations and institutions whose goals and concerns markets also serve. This is a broad constituency which should involve decision-makers at all levels in ensuring that the social and cultural aspects of markets are valued alongside economic aspects.

The research team will be further developing and testing their ideas through surveys of 500 customers in three UK traditional retail markets – specifically, Bury Market, Newcastle-upon-Tyne’s Grainger Market and Queen’s Market in Newham, east London – in the course of next year.

For updates on this research click here or follow us on @markets4people