MARKETS have been an important part of my life since an early age.
Like many residents, I’ve always been fond of them since spending countless hours of my childhood bustling, browsing and playing between the busy stalls and aisles.
I also have a particular fondness for Tommyfield Market, the site which boasted Oldham’s first-ever market in 1788 and has had one there pretty much ever since. It is a key part of our heritage.
As a schoolgirl, this was also where I landed my first-ever part time job, on Peter Haq’s outdoor clothes stall. His family still runs one on the indoor market to this day, and my maternal aunts also ran a dress stall there for several years.
Those are just some of the many reasons why I’m determined to prioritise the building of a new fit-for-purpose Tommyfield as the first step in the delivery of the Oldham Town Centre Masterplan.
Many people have told me they think that although the town centre has improved through recent developments like the Old Town Hall, it has also suffered as Tommyfield and the area around it has struggled to keep pace with the times. I have listened long and hard to them.
Our Masterplan is all about improving Oldham and making it a place that can thrive throughout the week and round the clock. That means careful planning to create better connections between key sites and improving attractions to pull in more footfall and custom.
The new Tommyfield would be built on the existing site and would end the difficulties presented by the current structure, like its sloping floor, and improve facilities with new features, like Wi-fi access, for example.
We’re already talking with the traders about an interim but potentially exciting temporary market option while building work takes place. This will be an indoor, bright, modern space providing a great place where people can continue to enjoy their shopping, chitchat, bargains and gossip.
The new Tommyfield would also have a new 600-capacity multi-storey car park built next to it – plus new retail/leisure units and quality public spaces – all designed to draw more punters in.
I can still vividly remember standing in the old Littlewoods building in 1974 watching as the old Market Hall was razed to the ground by a huge fire and – just like then – now is an opportunity to revitalise Tommyfield.
Markets still retain a unique appeal for many us, but shopping habits are now unrecognisable from their heyday.
As supermarket giants like Tesco, Asda, Lidl, Sainsburys et al have prospered, people have shown less inclination or time to spare to browse market stalls. Indeed, for some, a few clicks on a smartphone completes their weekly shop these days, so times have drastically changed.
We now know that modern markets can only thrive by finding a mix between offering specialist services, like cobblers and key cutting, independent traders and locally sourced food, plus a good eating and drinking offer in their own right. In short, they need to offer an experience, something for the whole family to enjoy.
Ultimately it will be you, the Oldham public, who decides if Tommyfield will thrive again, as I believe it can.
Our bit will be working closely with traders, shoppers and experts to help make it an attraction that can again be a magnet to new customers.
Your bit is to give it a go and back those people and traders who will be putting their savings and hard graft on the line to improve Oldham town centre.
As a council we always encourage people to shop local because it makes sound economic sense to spend your pounds in the area where you live, and to help boost your local economy.
But there are many other valid reasons too.
Supermarket shopping can be convenient and quick but if you want to avoid plastic packaging waste – which seems to know no bounds these days(!) – and also like to avoid having to buy more fruit, veg or meat than you actually need, then your local market is the place to go right now.
We hope the future for Tommyfield will be bright but you needn’t wait until the new venue gets up and running – there’s already plenty of great local traders and reasons to give all your local markets a visit today.
Tommyfield has more than 100 businesses operating from Monday to Saturday each week, and we also have some great district markets in various guises and development across Royton, Saddleworth, Shaw and Chadderton. You can read about them all here – and the great incentives we’ve got on offer for would-be stallholders.
I still believe markets can thrive in the future through hard work, investment, community buy-in and by retaining that special personal quality that made them a success for generations.
It will not be easy, of course, but I am determined to make the big decisions Oldham town centre needs – and addressing the future of Tommyfield Market is just the start of that process.