Mixed fortunes for traders as Walthamstow High Street Market reopens

Traders returning to the reopened Walthamstow High Street market have criticised the council’s lack of organisation for losing them business.

Waltham Forest Council announced yesterday that Europe’s longest street market would reopen from today, with stalls spread out to make social distancing easier.

Many stalls found themselves placed in a very different part of the market, making it harder for their usual customers to find them, or even told there was no space for them to trade.

Philip Prince, who has had a clothing stall for around 40 years, said he was very happy with his first day returning to the market.

He said: “It’s been three months and I’ve not changed my gear so I’ve still got winter clothes. To sell jumpers in this heat is unbelievable.”

However, he added that he was “very upset” with the council’s decision to move his stall to a quieter spot.

He said: “I think they have rushed it without concentrating because they did it so quickly.

“Others who have not been here so long got their usual spots. I asked them [the council] for their criteria and they have not come back to me yet.

“This is my life, my living, when a lot of other people have got other jobs and I think they should take that into consideration.”

Others had even worse days of trading, with one market trader saying he had not sold anything the entire day after being moved from his usual spot.

Sunny Mahmoud, who has a stall selling groceries, said that despite operating during lockdown he had been told there was no space for his stall today.

He said: “The traders are not happy at all. They are changing the plan and then after people lose their trade, there is still no social distancing. What is the point?

“In the market, people do not seem to care about social distance. They forget about the coronavirus, show me one other person wearing a mask.”

Mirwais Rahmaly also said business had been unusually quiet, compared to pre-coronavirus times when he earned between £80 to £150 a day.

He said: “I’m not sure of work this week, we will see how it’s going. If it’s still like this, we will have to relax some days because there’s no point coming down.”

But other stall owners, such as Joseph Benjamin, were more optimistic that business would pick up soon.

He said: “People are around, it’s nothing special. We’re hoping the days and weeks ahead of us will be a bit brighter.

“People are fed up of staying at home so they are coming out. It’s not a bad start.”

Margaret Nadeem, who met her husband after buying bed sheets from the stall they now run together, said it was nice to see familiar faces after so long away.

She said: “The customers that know me have been asking how I am, which they don’t normally do. It’s nice to know they’ve got your welfare at heart, it’s lovely.

“There’s plenty of people about but right now people have not got a lot of money. Still they are buying bits, trying to get back into it again.”

Cllr Simon Miller, Cabinet Member for Economic Growth and High Streets, said: “We have worked extremely hard after the Government’s announcement on Sunday May 24 that markets could reopen from Monday June 1. My priority has been to ensure shoppers and traders alike can operate safely and in line with social distancing rules.

“Our goal has been to ensure the reopening of a safe market space in the context of a global pandemic – clearly there have been some changes to how the market operates but we have done all we can to keep these to a minimum.

“Throughout COVID-19 officers have been considering ways to introduce social distancing at Walthamstow market, Europe’s longest street market, to allow it reopen and traders to resume operations. This meant reducing the number of pitches by 50 per cent, being mindful of the impact of socially distanced queuing on nearby shops that are open as well as those due to reopen from 15 June. The new layout has space for 150 permanent traders.

“We spoke to every trader on the first day of operation, Tuesday 2 June, to let them know the pitch layouts would be fluid and may be subject to change as more traders return and high street shops reopen.

“All traders’ pitch fees have been waived for three months, including this month. Traders can also apply for discretionary grants to offset the lack of earnings.

“On the first day trading, the market operated at 61 per cent of the pre-lockdown average – other areas’ markets have been operating at a far lower capacity if they have been able to reopen at all.”

Victoria Munro

Local Democracy Reporter