New era for Darlington markets
A NEW era in Darlington’s market town history is set to begin after a deal was signed between Darlington Borough Council and a private market operator.
A 100-year lease has been signed with specialist market operator Market Asset Management (MAM), to take over operation of both the town’s Open and Covered Markets.
MAM has committed to significant investment into the Covered Market and Old Town Hall buildings with plans for improvements which will introduce new uses and extend opening hours into the evenings and weekend, with expansion of the Open Market operation. Ownership of the buildings remains with the Council, but MAM is responsible for maintenance and staffing.
Darlington’s historic Covered Market is a Grade II-listed building and alterations will be subject to approval by government conservation agency Historic England and Council consent.
MAM will work with existing traders and stakeholders over the next few months to finalise plans for the works. These will be implemented on a phased programme which ensures continuity of trade for stallholders.
Improvements will include a fully-glazed frontage to West Row to increase visibility for stalls inside the building. Public toilets will be provided within the building with improved lighting and heating, a foodcourt and events space for community use.
MAM will be working closely with existing stallholders during the redesign of the market hall and providing them with additional support to promote their offer from day one.
Jonathan Owen, a Director of MAM, said: “We are immensely enthusiastic about this venture and delighted with the support we have received from the Council. We look forward to working with the stallholders and traders to ensure the Markets sell Darlington town centre as a vibrant, exciting place to visit. The partnership is structured to create a key attraction which differentiates the town from competing attractions and promotes it as a retail and leisure destination with a difference.
“Our business is based on the trading success of our stallholders and traders. The improvements will provide better facilities, promotion and support to help them grow. We are acutely aware of the challenges which small businesses face and will be offering practical experience from elsewhere to support them”.
MAM is a looking to strengthen the Open Market and attracting new stallholders to the town by using its connections from elsewhere in the country.
Options include expanding the number of days the outdoor market operates in the town and a review of its location, perhaps moving it closer to the Covered Market building. MAM will be working with the Council to bring specialist Market attractions into the town and will take a key role in providing events and entertainment in the town centre.
Councillor Nick Wallis, Darlington Borough Council’s Cabinet member for Leisure and Local Environment, said: “As a Council we believe that the time is right for a step change in the way our markets operate and feel this can be best achieved by partnering with an experienced private sector operator.
“MAM have that experience and they will get the full support of the Council to help them deliver our vision for Darlington Markets, which is to create a thriving place where people want to come and buy good produce and enjoy themselves.
“Darlington is a market town and we believe this change will help promote Darlington town centre. The plans by MAM show a building that will be brought to life. The wider use of the Market Hall will attract more visitors and provide more customers for the stallholders in the market who will remain the backbone of the Covered Market.”
Councillor Chris McEwan, Cabinet Member for Economy and Regeneration, added: “These are exciting times for Darlington town centre and I would encourage everyone to get behind our town centre and Markets by shopping, dining and socialising local.”