Why did we cancel the Street Market?

An open letter to the Silverton Community from the Chair of the Street Market Committee

The Silverton Street Market has been the village event since 1991. It’s not the only event that Silverton has ever hosted – some may remember the Silverton Week, for example – but for most Silvertonians the Street market is a really important day, with people returning from far and wide just for that single event. So why did the committee cancel it? As it’s such a community focused event, I feel that the community deserves an answer.

The problem – and it starts with a problem – is gazebos. Everyone who knows Street Market knows that Street Market is almost entirely gazebos. Gazebos on a hard footing. We were faced with an official government weather warning, only in place for Saturday the 5th of August, which suggested that gust wind speeds could exceed 70mph. Just to be clear, the safe official wind speed for your average gazebo is 27mph. So, we now have a situation where if we put gazebos out on the street on Saturday the 5th of August, there is absolutely no question at all that these will take off and start flying around. At speed. We do have a limited quantity of weights, perhaps enough to secure five gazebos, but nowhere near enough to secure the seventy or so that we expect. Gazebos may be light, but they’re also sharp and heavy enough to cause serious injury – or worse. So what do we do? If we press ahead and someone is injured, that will almost certainly mean the end of the Street Market. It’s hard to speculate on the specific consequences, but given our previous experience of being sued in these circumstances (if anyone doesn’t know about THAT incident, ask a committee member) our insurance would undoubtedly be unaffordable. And that’s a ‘best case scenario”. Worst case scenario, someone is going to jail.

So we look for advice. Now, at this point quite a few stallholders have already cancelled – these people do this type of thing for living, so they know what’s coming and they know the consequences – so they cancel. We are volunteers, so we do the best we can. But we’re also a pretty sharp team, so we look for guidance, for evidence. We like to make decisions based on evidence. Devon Council comes up short, but Buckinghamshire Council are pretty good – they have detailed guidance on what to do, and there is something called ‘flat trading’. This sounds promising. We basically don’t allow any structures whatsoever on Street Market day. Tables are allowed, but need to be secured, and anyone selling anything light can’t attend as this will be blown away by the wind. So we might have perhaps half the stallholders we would normally have. There’s another snag, though – our gates. We have a rota with more than thirty volunteers manning the gates on a Street Market day, almost exclusively pensioners, many of them elderly. Can we really put them out in 70mph gusts of wind without protection from the elements for hours at a time? It’s becoming clear that ‘flat trading’ is really not going to work either.

And then there’s the Little Rec to think about. Face painting have cancelled, we can’t use gazebos for the entertainers, the bouncy castles have cancelled, neither the pizza van nor Liddicones Ice cream are willing to come because of the wind, the magician has a cut off wind speed of 40mph so they would have to cancel and the Punch & Judy stand cannot operate in strong winds either. So we have no entertainment, we have no food, and we have no bar. Things are looking bleak.

I think it was at this point in the meeting someone suggested we just cancel Street Market completely and walk away. But after months of hard work we decided to keep on thinking, and see if we couldn’t salvage something from the mess that the weather warning had caused. The result was what we did put on, another version of Mini-Market Plus, a return to the type of event that we’d so successfully run during lockdown. We’d move as much as we possibly could inside our community buildings for the day, and see if we couldn’t squeeze stallholders, entertainment, food & drink into our various halls. For those who did come on Saturday the 5th I think it’s fair to say it proved to be almost as much fun as the regular Street Market. The repair cafe from Bradninch was fantastic, everyone from eight to eighty enjoyed the entertainment, the stallholders who could attend had a great day, and as for the silent disco – that proved to be a roaring success, and is definitely something we’ll bring back next year.

Mini-Market Plus 2023 map of activities

I wish I could have written earlier about our choices, but we were far too busy trying to solve problems, not make them. Others who have commented on our decision seemed to have other priorities. I didn’t have the time then to respond then, I do now. People have expressed opinions on social media, which is fine and normal and everyday, but these opinions have created a lot of pain and distress for people who have worked incredibly hard just to give. Not to take, but to give. For nothing. The Silverton Street Market Committee ask for nothing in return for their efforts, but the fact that they have been attacked is completely unacceptable. Trying to bring Street Market back from Covid has been a massive challenge in itself, especially with reduced support from the wider community – many of us last year had to double up on jobs or even take on three different roles as we had so few volunteers.

And that’s how I’d like to end this post – with a call for more support, please. If the community really wants to keep the Street Market then it needs a committee to organise it. If there are people out there who feel we lack any skill, and you think you have that skill, then come and join us – not attack us. We’re all busy individuals, many of us with full time jobs and families to take care of and Street Market takes a lot of work. The more minds and the more skills we have, the better we can make Street Market.

Many thanks to my committee and all the volunteers for this year’s event, and to those individuals who stepped up and helped and/or advised when we really needed you, not to mention those who came and enjoyed the day itself. Here’s hoping we’ll be luckier with the weather next year.

Dr Richard Osborne
Chair, Silverton Street Market Committee