Page 43 - MarketTimesJune2016
P. 43

 The market at North Weald Airfield has been growing week on week since a new operator took over in January. But can it return to its former glory? Nicola Gould takes a look
There was a time when the market at North Weald airfield was a mighty leviathan. Launched in the 1980s on the airfield near Epping Forest that played a historic role as a fighter base in both world wars, the Saturday and Bank Holiday market got off to a flying start.
It was soon reputedly the largest outdoor market in the UK and Europe, attracting punters from a wide area across Essex, Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire and North London.
And the long-established traders who have kept the faith remember the good old days with nostalgia mixed with awe.
Peter Harnett, who has been selling plants at North Weald for the past 25 years, said: “It was absolutely huge and standing the market was mental. So many people came from all over the south east. It took them hours to get round because there were so many aisles of stalls,
and people used to literally get lost on the market,” he added.
And Justin Healey, who runs a large market, internet and wholesaling business selling seasonal goods — garden products at the moment — recalls how big the market was when he began standing it 10 years ago.
“It was colossal,” he said. “There were so many aisles filled with stalls, and an area called the frying pan, and spurs going out. I have heard tales of casuals starting to queue on Thursday to get a pitch on the Saturday market,” he added.
As everyone knows, the 1980s and 1990s were good times for markets, and North Weald gradually declined after the turn of the millennium. But a natural trickle of traders became a worrying decline over the past five years or so, to the point where the very existence of the market came into question.
Epping Forest District Council, which bought the airfield in 1979 when the Ministry of Defence decided it was surplus to requirements, put the operation out to tender last year.
And Surrey-based Saunders Markets won the contract, taking over the operation in January. Gary Saunders runs the company which was
started by his father some 40 years ago. He and his team, including his cousin Nick Saunders, now commercial director, manage a string of markets across the south east, including the popular Nine Elms Sunday market in London.
“Having been in the markets industry all these years, I have known North Weald for a long time, but I was taken aback when I visited it last October to see how it had gone down,” he said.
Yet Gary was also struck by the strong core of committed and professional traders and the
                        Mark Curran, who sells vacuum cleaner accessories, is testing the water at North Weald

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