What makes a thriving market town?

Bustling market towns are a cherished part of rural Britain. We asked what makes a great market town, and what you or others are doing to help make yours a success. Here are just some of your replies

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LUDLOW, Shropshire, chosen by Chris & Kay Dartnell and Craig Cooper

Chris and Kay feel strongly that: “Market towns have to live up to their name, with a living market, which ordinary people use. It also needs a strong association with the farming community that it serves and preferably a livestock market, even if it has had to move to the edge of town. Ludlow ticks all these boxes and in addition, people in Ludlow have fought and worked for everything, from rebuilding the 900-year-old weirs, to keeping the Assembly room going. Everywhere you look the improvements in the town, and festivals, have been generated by the townspeople and local businesses. Ludlow is not a cute tourist town (even though it looks very pretty): it has kept up to date & looks after its community.”

Craig says: “In my opinion Ludlow would not be the place it is today without a reputation for quality local produce and food in general. I’m pretty certain that this is largely down to the efforts of a small group of people who back in 1995 held the first food festival. The Ludlow and Marches Food and Drink Festival has been held every year in September for over 15 years now and now regularly attracts up to 30,000 visitors to its current venue Ludlow Castle right in the centre of town.”



OAKHAM, Rutland, chosen by William Cross

The Oakham in Bloom committee and their gardening and fundraising volunteers encourage the community to plant and care for flowers, trees and shrubs and are involved in projects all year round, from planting baskets, containers and beds to bigger challenges such as the bypass roundabouts. This improves the environment for residents and reduces vandalism and litter. William says: “Oakham is a very traditional market town and is situated in England’s smallest county, Rutland. The whole town area and the new bypass benefit from the exceptional hard work undertaken by the volunteers involved in this continuing project”.



DROITWICH, Worcestershire, chosen by Nayna Wood of British Waterways

On 1 July 2011, the newly restored Droitwich Canals were officially opened, after having been formally abandoned in 1939. Nayna is full of praise for the local people whose vision and hard work has achieved this success working with a partnership of five organisations (which includes British Waterways). She says: “The restoration follows a 40-year community effort to get the canals open and navigable again, which included many hours of volunteering. The campaign was kick-started by Max Sinclair, who founded the Droitwich Canals Trust in 1971. The Trust was central to the restoration and the accompanying Water Festival that celebrated the opening, which thousands of people attended”. The canals are now set to bring in thousands more visitors to the area, to boost the local economy by an estimated £2.75m a year and create 200 jobs. They are also a haven for wildlife, with reed beds salvaged during the restoration works. The canal corridor is now home to otters, reed warblers, reed bunting, newts, barn owls, and bats.



WINCHCOMBE, Gloucestershire, suggested by Sheila Talbot of Winchcombe Walkers are Welcome

“We decided to promote our town as a destination for walkers, as we have an amazing footpath network including the Cotswold Way. We joined the Walkers are Welcome network of towns, built a website and held walking festivals in 2010 and 2011 – now an annual event each May. Visitors to the festival in 2011 increased by 44 per cent. We produced leaflets and created our own long distance walk, the Winchcombe Way, a 42-mile figure of eight route. Local businesses tell us that they are seeing many more walkers, and visitor numbers to B&Bs and pubs are up. Our success is down to hard work by volunteers, with help from businesses, Town and Borough Councils, Cotswold Voluntary Wardens and local walkers.”


CONWY & LLANDUDNO nominated by Julian Hughes, reserve manager at Conwy RSPB

Julian says: “Conwy RSPB reserve works with the two market towns that we’re part of. Conwy (historic medieval market town) and Llandudno Junction (Victorian railway junction) face each other across the Conwy estuary. The reserve provides green lungs for the people of both towns, and draws people in from across the region and beyond. With a bit under 100,000 visits each year, combined with other local attractions (including Conwy Castle and Bodnant Garden), the reserve provides a draw that brings money and people into the local market towns, using local B&Bs, pubs, and restaurants and helping ensure that the place remains vibrant. I read in the local paper that there isn’t a vacant retail outlet in Conwy at the moment, and they’re nearly all taken by local businesses”. Julian praises the Gwledd Conwy Feast, the food festival that attracts thousands of people to the area (this year it’s on 22-23 October). The RSPB works closely with the Feast, for example by providing a start-point for a park-and-cycle scheme to reduce the number of vehicles going into the walled town.