Have you visited one of the region's oldest farmers' markets yet?
- Credit: Nick Butcher
We do many things well here in East Anglia, there’s no doubt about that.
But one of the things we do best is a good old-fashioned farmers' market.
There’s nothing more quintessential than heading out to your local market on a Saturday morning, and browsing some of the fantastic local ware and goods on sale.
One popular East Anglian event been in business for over 20 years – and shows no signs of stopping.
Margaret Hall has been at the helm of Beccles Farmers Market since 2000, and while the market’s 20th anniversary was last year during the height of lockdown, 2021 has certainly been her year.
But how did this popular staple on the Suffolk-Norfolk border come into being?
“We started the market in March 2000 – we actually had another one in the area which was on once a month, but we thought there was room for another one,” explains Margaret.
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Originally planning to host it on their farm, a better opportunity arose after Margaret decided to form a partnership with the owners of the Old Heliport just outside of Beccles.
“The people who own the hanger were thinking of running a market there so we teamed up with them – they provide the space and we run the market. It’s absolutely perfect for us, as it’s undercover so ideal in all weather conditions, and where the old helicopter pad was there’s plenty of parking. It’s perfect.”
And two decades later, people flock in their droves every other Saturday to sample some of the finest local produce around.
The secret to their success and longevity?
Continuity, paired with a wide variety of stallholders who are as passionate about regional fare as Margaret is.
All of the market’s producers and stallholders proudly come from within a 30-mile radius of the market – with the closest, Hundred River Beef, just under a mile away.
“We’ve actually got some traders who have been with us since we started – and last Saturday we had 40 stalls in here,” she says.
Just some of the stallholders punters can expect to see at the long-running market include DJ Barnard, a Breckland-based farm which has been specialising in home-reared meats since 1997, and Samphire, an award-winning Norfolk-based smallholding that focuses on rarebreed pork, pies and pastries.
“We also have E S Burroughs & Son from just outside Beccles who do raw and pasteurised milk, cream, yoghurt and eggs; and Yew Tree Farm from near Harleston who sell turkeys at Christmas and chickens all-year-round.”
Other popular sellers include Indian spice and food specialist Chaat Man, Star Wing Brewery, Beccles Brewing Co, Lowestoft Distillery, and fishmongers Melvyn & Marion.
“We’re very proud of how well it’s done, and we feel that’s down to local people. The money that’s been spent here goes back to the local community, and it’s several million pounds that have changed hands over the years.
“Because we have a percentage scheme in regards to how much each trader takes as part of their stall fee, we have an idea of how much is spent in the market each time, and we’re so proud of that.”
And while lockdown put a lot of businesses to the test, Margaret did what she does best – she kept calm and carried on.
“We didn’t stop trading during lockdown – we had a reduced number of food stalls, we implemented the government guidelines and got on with it. We had a one-way system, masks, hand sanitiser and used track and trace.
“I think people felt safer coming here than they did going to a supermarket, as we’re in a big, airy building. I also believe lockdown helped people realise the importance of local traders – the bulk of the people who shopped here during lockdown continue to do so, and still support us.”
With business clearly booming in Beccles, what are Margaret’s plans for the future?
“I’m hoping to just continue doing what I’m doing, providing my health is fine. But my family are actually very supportive, my daughter helps me run the market now, as do my grandchildren, and other family members will come in and help me on the butchers stall if I’m very busy. Although I’m the organiser, it is a family concern. Perhaps the market will continue, for generations to come,” she says.
Beccles Farmers Market takes place every first and third Saturday of every month, and runs from 9am to 1pm. To find out more, visit becclesfarmersmarket.co.uk