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Blackpool’s splendid Abingdon Street Market to be reborn

A market charter had to be granted for one to take place, playing a key role in defining a town. This always seem to be one of the first things mentioned in any municipal history. What place the market now and what future the market in Blackpool?

Mum always liked to shop at the market and that’s probably one of the sources of my affinity with them. She would scout round the back for leftover leaves for the guinea pigs; people would see her and say ‘poor woman’. Not quite that poor. The guinea pigs were grateful, and quite fat. As a child that market seemed huge; as an adult, tiny. Markets have had a bit of a hard time since then.

Market charters may be mentioned in the history book, but markets might not have been given the care and attention they deserve over recent decades. Some might say that this might be due partly to the fact they’re used mainly by working class people, but I couldn’t possibly comment. Retail’s been about the big chains in out of town shopping centres, with their free parking. After these have been allowed to mess up (polite wording there) town centres, internet shopping is taking its toll on them, and maybe finishing off town centres too if we’re not careful. A good town centre market, public transport accessible, can provide a vital community resource to those on a limited income who need a good deal. By the way, that doesn’t exclude anybody using them, including lord and lady muck. Markets are a meeting place, usually including a cosy cafe ideal for making friends. Loneliness, especially among older people, is a recognised problem; one that out of town shopping cannot address and internet shopping will exacerbate.

Radio 4’s The Food Programme has been amongst those to recognise the existential threat that markets face, establishing a market of the year category in its Food and Farming Awards. This has shown that all is not lost for markets, with several local authorities recognising their role and investing in them. Unfortunately I don’t think many people listen to that programme or know of those awards, although they seem to make a major difference to the winners. It would be good to see Blackpool featuring in them.

As a regular market user, it’s been a little worrying that Abingdon Street has had so many empty stalls. At one stage we ended up without a primary greengrocer, surely a keystone stall. But overall the market has retained its healthy vibe. The greengrocer spot was taken up. Stalls are always evolving, although there seemed to be an issue about cheese. Now a project to rejuvenate the market is underway.

Plans to refurbish locally listed Abingdon Street Market, located within what was Blackpool’s police station (I understand that the underground cells are still there), and secure its long term future at the heart of Blackpool’s town centre have been approved. The Turley organisation submitted a planning application in May 2021 and the market is anticipated to re open in spring 2022.

Turley spokesperson Daniel Ramsay said:

‘The market’s renovation will modernise the both the internal space as well as the external façade, whilst respecting its heritage as part of the Town Centre Conservation Area.

“The renovations will deliver a more contemporary, attractive marketplace with new features that will encourage shoppers and visitors to stop and socialise, stay for longer and spend more, also boosting footfall and retail trade in the surrounding area.’

The planning application is for the demolition of a single storey extension on Police Street, the external refurbishment of all façades, and the replacement of access doors and windows with new feature glazed frontages. So as well as improving matters for businesses, the place should also look a lot better.

Internal plans include:

  • An extended food and beverage quarter with 250 seats
  • Stalls for food produce, food and beverage, artisan stalls and flexible retail units
  • Coffee stall and bar area

In the meantime, alternative accommodation for stall holders has been found at various locations (listed below), including the former Victoria Street Top Shop outlet.

Alan Cavill, Director of Communications and Regeneration at Blackpool Council said “We continue to support all the traders ensuring their needs and concerns are met over the coming months. They have now been relocated into the Victoria Street (Top Shop) property and other council owned premises.”

Stallholders relocated to 18-22 Victoria Street are:

  • Cards for You – cards and gifts
  • Cassandra Hosiery – nightwear, hats, gloves, scarves, handkerchiefs
  • Pam’s Hair – hair accessories, dyes, fascinators
  • Little Gem – fancy dress and accessories
  • Cosmetic World – cosmetics, toiletries, scarves
  • Duty Free – cosmetics, toiletries, scarves
  • The Bag Stall – luggage, trolleys
  • Mr Smart – gents fashion and accessories
  • Glad Rags Gents – gents fashion, sizes small to 5XL
  • Glad Rags Ladies – ladies fashion sizes 8 to 40
  • Sam’s Handbags – day, evening, party handbags
  • Tippy Toes – ladies, gents, children’s, work wear shoes and accessories
  • The Book Shack – jigsaws, books, stationery

Stallholders who have relocated into other town centre council properties are:

  • McRoberts Butchers – 6-8 Abingdon Street
  • Trellis Café – 61 Victoria Street (former Café Fresh)
  • Sea Breeze Café – 29 Victoria Street (former Starbucks)
  • Joe Barlow Vape Shop – 37 Corporation Street
  • Lost Ark Jewellery shop – Unit K1 Houndshill Shopping Centre
Updated Cedar Square/Edward St entrance

Others have made their own arrangements. Where is the fishmongers?

Internet shopping and increased home working following the pandemic means that town centres are going to change and that’s now out of anyone’s full control. Already retail is being proposed for residential use. With the need to decarbonise the economy and thereby reduce car dependency, the town centre as the focus of the public transport system could be an advantage, swinging the pendulum slightly back towards a town centre market that forms part of a vibrant community hub. If rents are controlled, markets offer opportunities for starter businesses, an outlet for local produce and artisan products made by local craftspeople.

If you have not been a regular market goer, perhaps you’ve assumed that it’s full of seconds and slip shod rubbish, get down to Abingdon Street market when it re opens and let it show you that you were wrong. In an emerging decarbonised world where small might once more be beautiful and local supply chains can become important again, the market can play a significant role.

Illustrations by David Simper.

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  • I have worked in the housing and transport professions for several local authorities, specialising in policy, strategy preparation and bid writing. Having always had an interest in film, the visual arts in general, theatre, music and lterature, I thought it would be good to combine the writing experience with these interests to contribute to altBlackpool. In addition to writing, my hobbies include watercolour and pastel painting, photography, woodwork, cycling and vegetable gardening.

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