Jane Munro founded Treacle Market, a bustling arts, antiques, crafts, food and drink market in Macclesfield, Cheshire in 2010 alongside co-founder Debbie Quinn as a way of breathing new life back into the handsome old marketplace in the town. Treacle market prides itself on its high quality, interesting and unusual stalls. The market was named in the Independent’s ‘Top 10 Farmers Markets’ in 2013 and was shortlisted in the 2012 BBC ‘Food and Farming’ Awards.
“…it became all too clear that this traditional old hub of the town needed to be brought to the fore again…”
Please can you tell us a bit about your experience of work and community related projects?
When I first moved to Macclesfield a friend and I started ‘The Loop Guide’ to remind people about all the good things happening in and around the town. It was a great way of connecting with the town and engaging with the community.
Along with a great group of people I was involved in starting the Barnaby Arts festival in 2010; a buzzing volunteer led event that stimulates and showcases local cultural life and importantly raises the bar with performance, events and commissioned works too.
It’s wonderful news to hear that Treacle Market is going from strength to strength. Please could you tell us a bit about what prompted you to set it up and how you and Debbie went about it?
I’m not a born and bred Maxonian and when I first moved to the town I was baffled to see the handsome cobbled market place being so under used with a small and fading town market roosting in a side street. It just didn’t make sense.
Barnaby Festival transformed the market place (and many parts of the town) into a lovely, sociable community space and it became all too clear that this traditional old hub of the town needed to be brought to the fore again.
As part of the Festival we also held a food market that Debbie was involved with. This was really well received and it seemed Macc had an appetite for more! A key part of what makes Treacle special is great stall holders who really ‘get’ the market and like being there.
Where did the name come from?
Macclesfield is known as ‘Treacle Town’, referring to the centuries old accident when a horse drawn wagon overturned, spilling its cargo of treacle onto the cobbles. We say the Treacle Market is a chance to find gorgeous unusual things on Macclesfield’s streets once again. Just less sticky.
Convincing people it was a good idea. People were used to the traditional weekday markets and went along to farmers’ markets, but this type of mixed ‘makers market’ was something quite new. Very much the sort of market that I wanted to mooch around; that was the idea. The initial reaction was so positive and locals were gushingly pleased to see a high quality market back in its original home.
And the most rewarding?
The response of visitors is always so positive. Elderly locals tell us they enjoy the market as it reminds them how it used to be in the 60s when the weekly market was a critical part of the town’s life. I love to see children spontaneously dancing by the band and the market place bustling, people sitting chatting at the tables; it’s a deeply satisfying feeling.
Was there any help from the local council or any other sponsors?
The council were helpful and trusted us to give this a try and had a positive approach rather than generating hurdles. Importantly, local businesses came forward to sponsor us and crucially Peaks and Plains Housing Association gave us a leg up and really boosted the vibrant community element of the market.
What other resources and support would you like to see for entrepreneurs and community groups?
Here the independents are coming to the fore, opening new vibrant bars and pubs, restaurants, galleries and shops. It’s culturally fighting fit and innovative in what it is doing.
I would like to see much more practical support for these gutsy entrepreneurs. More extensive rate relief, help with promotion; just the basics really to ensure they are sustainable and don’t go under after the first year. Perhaps a new business mentor that helps them through the teething problems and ensures they have easy access to all appropriate resources.
You’ve been nominated for several awards. How does this make you feel?
Surprised and delighted. We have never been glory hunters but it is extremely gratifying to know we are probably getting it about right.
How has the Internet and social media allowed you to reach out to the community?
Social media has been a fantastic way of communicating with visitors. We are avid tweeters and have a lively interactive Facebook page. We love to know what people enjoyed, ate and bought at Treacle.
How important is a sense of community to people today?
I believe strongly that community absolutely underlines where we live. It’s just as important as ever but as the Internet gobbles up much of our shopping, a big chunk of our community and sociable time fades away.
The Churchyard at the market is ‘Community Treacle’ each month. Here you will find fundraising scouts, local charities, community groups, local event promotion, the annual Treacle Conker Championships and of course the brilliant Treacle Hound Dog Show.
It’s all about conversations and meeting up with other local people and engaging with what’s going on the locale. The Church holds a Treacle Service on Market days too.
Of course mooching round the stalls means people bump into friends and engage with the makers and producers also. I often joke that the only person you bump into in the supermarket aisle is the one person you hope to avoid! It’s quite the reverse at Treacle.
What would your advice be to anyone else who is reading this and would like to do something similar in their own community?
Make positive connections. Get people on board and be prepared for some excruciatingly early mornings. Oh and don’t look at the weather forecast, it will just shred your nerves!
Treacle Market has real character and personality. This seems to be something that you have worked hard to develop and maintain. What was your vision for this and how do you stay true to it as the market grows?
The character of the market is vital. We have seen a plethora of similar types of market develop in the area but we know that people visit Treacle time and time again because it is not simply a place to buy an exceptional sour dough loaf or vintage treasure. Yes the choice from about 150 stalls is amazing, but the handsome location and really friendly atmosphere mean it is quite unique.
We hope our visitors feel valued and that the community element is really evident. Moving forward, Treacle is fanatical about keeping stalls prices reasonable and affordable for small makers and not just larger more commercial operators. It aims to have high quality and unusual stalls and not just ‘the usual suspects’ and importantly tries not to replicate or compete with the shops in the town, but to be a positive addition.
Did you actively set out to develop a Treacle Market brand, or did it just happen?
I had a clear sense of the market from the outset. A bog standard market it was not! Very much inspired by its lovely setting in front of the Church and old Town Hall. Calling it Treacle was pivotal to its belonging to the town and reconnecting to its traditions.
Can you tell us about getting local teenagers involved through Teen Treacle?
We have run one Teen Treacle so far and looking for a team of young people to take this on, on a more regular basis. It’s a great cost free way for young entrepreneurs to show off what they can do, kick start a business idea or raise money for charity.
What is next for Treacle Market?
This month Treacle is expanding down a side street and into a rather unloved little square. More stalls will offer people even more choice. Crucially though it’s not just about size and being big for the sake of it. The quality and variety will be still be there and we hope visitors will discover a little bit more of this lovely old town.
Photos: Fiona Bailey