Customers will be able to return to Stafford’s indoor market next week – and a second attempt will be made to reopen outdoor stalls in Stone after windy weather thwarted plans for their return.
Stone Farmers’ Market was due to restart last Saturday after three months’ absence from the town due to the coronavirus pandemic. But strong winds forecast for the weekend prompted market bosses to postpone the event, which is moving from Stone High Street to Westbridge Park to ensure social distancing measures can be put in place.
The market has now been rescheduled for today (June 13), while Stafford Farmers’ Market, which was due to reopen this weekend, has now been rescheduled for Saturday, July 11.
Stafford shoppers will be able to start visiting stalls at the town’s indoor market from Tuesday (June 16) however, the borough council’s resources scrutiny committee was told this week.
Two of the indoor market traders – a fruit and veg seller and a butcher – have continued to use their market stalls as a base for deliveries during the lockdown, a report to the committee said.
Robert Simpson, the authority’s head of operations, told the meeting: “A risk assessment has taken place and we will be putting in social distancing measures, like monitoring the number of people who can go in to the market at any one time. We are looking forward to a vibrant market taking place.”
The committee also heard about the measures being put in place to allow Stone Farmers’ Market to take place at Westbridge Park this month.
Stalls will be spaced four metres apart and a one-way viewing area will be put in place for customers. There will also be space for each individual stall to have its own queuing system, allowing for social distancing to be maintained, and there will be signage and staff on site too.
But Councillor Jill Hood raised concerns about the first event being cancelled at such short notice – and spoke of a lack of communication.
“We could have had up to 1,000 people turning up to Westbridge Park, which to me was frightening”, she said. “It just horrifies me that the market was down to be held – to my knowledge there were no toilets available because the Crown Street toilets were shut and I didn’t know if the leisure centre was going to be open for traders.
“On the Wednesday the long range weather forecast predicted 20-40mph winds but the farmers’ market wasn’t cancelled until 1pm on Friday. All those poor traders had made everything they were going to sell on Saturday and many of them couldn’t get rid of the stuff because there was no market to buy from.
“Yesterday I had someone call me to ask if she had a stall for the farmers’ market and said it was on Saturday. It appears every member of the public knows except the borough councillors.
“It is very disappointing to learn of a farmers’ market through a WhatsApp group and a banner put up on the A34”.
Mr Simpson responded: “It is an operational matter – we didn’t say to every councillor in Stafford we are bringing the market back. We put out press releases.
“Unfortunately the weather on Saturday put paid to the market. We talked to the traders and they wanted us to go to the wire before we made a decision – quite often the long range forecast does change.
“Traders will still have to comply with food hygiene (regulations) and they should still have hand washing facilities. There is no legal requirement for markets to have toilet facilities, although facilities will be provided for the traders.
“I’m hoping it will be really successful and we can get back to normal. We have had a lot of farmers’ market traders coming to us to say ‘we are struggling and need to bring some income in – can you help us by bringing the farmers’ markets back to Stafford and Stone?’”