CAMDEN LOCK MARKET: EARLY ENGAGEMENT AND THE CREATION OF NEW IDEAS
TOM OLIVER PAYNE
One of London’s most iconic neighbourhoods, Camden Town, attracts millions of visitors each year. Home to public figures such as the late Amy Winehouse, the neighbourhood is synonymous with alternative music and grungy nightlife.
However, despite an increasing footfall (now at approximately 1 million visitors a year), Camden Lock Market has become a victim of its own success, losing market share to other London markets.
Sensing an opportunity for improvement, the owner of the market place (Stanley Sidings) undertook an in-depth period of engagement and research to understand the cause. This research fed into a piece of higher-level independent research undertaken by Will Fulford, the son of the market’s founder, Bill Fulford.
The results were two-fold. Firstly, it had become so congested that people had nowhere to relax, meander, and therefore, shop. Secondly, the market stalls’ product offer had changed significantly over the years, and this was having a negative impact on the market’s overall brand and identity. Once centered around arts and crafts, the market place was now predominantly selling cheap clothes and tourist gifts.
Clearly, the abundance of “I love Camden” t-shirts and marijuana leaf engraved cigarette lighters doesn’t contribute to the special identity that the neighbourhood wants to enhance. During the consultation process, the remaining arts and crafts tenants explained that they were highly concerned of being squeezed-out by low budget retailers.
The result of this research and engagement prompted Stanley Sidings to develop the ‘Market Tech’ business concept, as well as a planning submission for the redevelopment of the market place.
From the engagement process, the Camden Lock owners were able to identify and then leverage new business opportunities. They soon secured partnerships with digital investors and began to create an online business called ‘Market Tech’.
Market Tech’s goal is to become an online e-commerce platform, comprising retailers, which have a physical presence in market places – both inside and outside of London. It’s envisioned that visitors to real-life markets will immerse themselves in the crafting of goods and products in front of them, but will also have the opportunity to revisit the market virtually and make purchases online. In line with the feedback from existing tenants, this would help to ensure the survival of arts and crafts retailers, and therefore enhance the character of the existing market.
In order to improve the flow of people through the markets spaces, as identified in the early research, there was a need to add additional floorspace, as well as improved public spaces between the buildings.
Firstly, to do this, a purchase was made for the beautiful Grade II listed building called ‘The Interchange’ sitting adjacent to the market place. This building was the world’s first interchange for water, rail and horse transportation. For many years, local historians have been enthusiastic to see the building brought back into life – albeit have its physical form preserved.
Prepared by local architect Piercy & Co, a planning application was submitted to the London Borough of Camden, comprising delicate designs to enlarge public spaces, integrate the newly purchased Interchange building, and enhance historic structures - without compromising the existing urban fabric and townscape.
Whilst developing the Market Tech business model, in-depth conversations continued with existing stall owners and tenants, ensuring they were clear with the overarching ambitions of business, and secured their support for the development proposals at an early stage.
With the proposals responding directly to the concerns of tenants, the consultation process was one of optimistic discussions between the Camden Lock Market landowner and the tenants, and this positive relationship proved vital during the planning process. Despite the inevitable construction disruption that would ensue, tenants remained generally optimistic for the new Market Tech business model, and supportive of overall change to the market.
Urban development often gets a bad wrap - particularly in London where residents are petrified of seeing the destruction of local history and character. At the time of the Camden Market planning application, anti-gentrification protests were dominating the news and campaign groups halting developments across the city. The project probably could not have come at a more sensitive time.
Although we’re too early in the process to see the final result of these proposals and the Market Tech business, the process undertaken shows us how – by listening – developers can come up with solutions that are both profitable, and of value to the existing tenants, residents and visitors.
We often see developments imposing their own ideals upon existing urban spaces. What we’ve seen in Camden however, is a development team that has listened to the community to understand the specific needs and wants within that place. From this, the team has also stumbled upon a creative business plan, which could likely lead to very positive economic benefits for both the developer and tenants. We wait in anticipation to see the outcomes!
*Camden Town Asset Strategy 2021 (Private distribution only)
TOM OLIVER PAYNE is a London-based urban planner and cities-blogger. He writes articles and produces films on urban culture, city politics and architecture. He holds a BSc from University of Sydney and a MA in Urban Planning and Design from University College London.
issue 2. summer 2016