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A year after resisting sell-off, street market is on right road

Traders mark first anniversary of announcement that Berwick Street would be kept ‘in-house’ by Westminster Council, after campaign to stop it being sold off and run by a private firm

04 April, 2018

‘We can do more,’ says Robin Smith of the Soho Dairy

TAKE a walk through the bustling Berwick Street market, and you could be forgiven for thinking it’s nothing but a huge success story.

The traders are doing brisk business, the range of goods on offer is superb, and it feels like how all street markets should be operating.

But as one trader, Robin Smith of the Soho Dairy, tells Diary, while things are on the up, he hopes there is more to come.

This week is the first anniversary of the announcement that the market would be kept “in-house” by Westminster Council, after a concerted and ultimately successful campaign to stop it being sold off and run by a private firm.

And, as Robin explains, while traders have gone up from just seven to 22 in the past 12 months, there is plenty of opportunity for it to improve even more.

“I like to think this is the embers of a phoenix, about to burst into flame,” says the dairy man, whose stall stocks delicious products from farms across England.

“We won the right to be a street market run by Westminster exactly a year ago, when they had been trying to privatise it. We also got given permanent licence to be traders, something we hadn’t had. And you can see it’s working, but we can do more.”

He said one of the key reasons for the success so far was the way restaurants and hotels in the Soho area had started buying produce from the stalls to stock their kitchens.

“For it to really come back to life it needs to be getting the business of the area’s chefs. That is what this market should be about.”

He cites the role of the executive chef of the Ham Yard Hotel, Robin Read, who chose to buy his dairy produce.

“Robin had the confidence in us,” he says. “He told us we could supply the Soho Hotel and the Haymarket Hotel over Christmas, and if it worked, he’d give us the trade from the whole Firmdale Hotels group.”

Suffice to say the deal worked.

“It really helped us to get through the conflict we were having,” he adds. “Then we started supplying the Andrew Edmunds Restaurant in Lexington Street and if we could replicate this elsewhere it would be such a huge boost.”

The market is certainly popular with workers on lunch breaks – 37,000 people signed a petition to keep it in public hands – and the queues for hot food stretch down its length.

“There is a good range of things here,” he adds. “We are, after all, in the middle of ‘foodie’ Soho.”

And, as Diary notes, the burgeoning, phoenix-like story of one of London’s oldest street markets is something to be celebrated. Let’s hope chefs in the neighbourhood follow Read’s and Edmunds’s lead, and put more business their way.

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