Fringe Box



Letter: Pop Up Village – The Council Should Not Attempt Entrepreneurial Activity

Published on: 28 Mar, 2017
Updated on: 28 Mar, 2017

From Jonathan Tatlow

The reports on the fiasco of Guildford’s pop-up village are disturbing.

For thirty years I organised street markets in Guildford and I can therefore claim some experience of the subjecy of “pop-up” trading.

When the village opened I was immediately impressed by the terraced and smoothly surfaced site with metal railings, steps and a wheelchair ramp, not to mention the neat rows of gleaming white “mini-shops”.

My second thought was: “Whoever is behind this venture has certainly spent a lot of money up-front, not realising, at the time, that it was public money, our money, being used to set up the operation. How much money I doubt we’ll ever know unless someone cares to lodge a Freedom of Information request. But it evidently it was enough to make the prospect of backing out and cutting our losses an unacceptable course of action for the council.

We are told that the pop-up market ground to a halt before it even took-off because of an acute lack of customers. The council’s proudly quoted figure of more than 180 potential traders counts for nothing until customers appear and buy so that the traders renew their contracts.

Anyone considering a retail establishment in this location would have to take into account that the pedestrian footfall along Commercial Road and Woodbridge Road, either side of the site, is minimal. And any retail outlet with no windows in which to display its wares and whose entrance was no more than a gap in the high hoardings surrounding a building site  would be unlikely to survive.

Wherever the location, it is the principal task and responsibility of the organiser to attract people by any and every means possible and this location presents particular problems. Despite this we are told that the whole enterprise was sold to the borough council with the tempting prediction of £500,000 clear profit in two years.

I welcome his honesty but the responses from the person apparently with overall responsibility, Cllr David Bilbé, lead councillor for economic development no less, are startling.

Regarding the lack of customers he calmly admits, “There is a lesson to be learned… Instead of focussing on retail [i.e. the end money] as an objective that should have been as a consequence [of attracting] footfall to the area.” As a result he says: “We were trying to handle marketing as we were running along,” and he concludes with the realisation that, “Experts should have been brought in to assist with the project.”

So we now know that he and his team were learning on the job, apparently from a position of complete ignorance, while we, the tax payers, are currently bearing the cost of their ineptitude. Is that not an irresponsible use of public money?

For twenty years of my career as an independent market organiser in this town I worked productively and amicably alongside the borough council. But I was left with the firm opinion that the local authority’s role is to administer a wide range of services for us ant to encourage any events deemed to be for the public good. We are grateful.

But the council should on no account stray from its own domain into the world of trade and entrepreneurial activities where an entirely different skill set is required.



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Responses to Letter: Pop Up Village – The Council Should Not Attempt Entrepreneurial Activity

  1. Jules Cranwell Reply

    March 28, 2017 at 2:27 pm

    Unfortunately, this is but one example of our council’s profligate disregard for our hard-earned taxes on such vanity projects. However, this is insignificant, compared to the millions they have spent on ‘experts’ to assist with the development of their three failed attempts to develop a Local Plan that makes any sense.

  2. B Preston Reply

    March 31, 2017 at 3:25 pm

    I understand the council have consulted with numerous 3rd parties to help them on their way with the new iteration of the pop up village.

  3. Adam Aaronson Reply

    April 5, 2017 at 8:26 pm

    If it were so easy, then everybody would be doing it.

    Cobbler stick to thy last!

  4. A Atkinson Reply

    April 6, 2017 at 11:00 am

    The Pop Brixton and Boxpark in Shoreditch work very, very well for other reasons than their physical make up. They work due to the DNA of Brixton and Shoreditch. Shoreditch works as a piece of media or shop window.

    I worked with a High Street retailer on a one-week pop-up in Shoreditch Boxpark – that and many other things that makes the Shoreditch BoxPark work cannot be transferred to Guildford.

    This isn’t being negative, I’m being constructive and positive – Guildford needs to do what is best for the DNA of Guildford and what it wants to be. What is the digital equivalent? What would the gaming version of one look like, a world 5G experimental hub, virtual reality box park? That’s a bit more Guildford, no?

    Unfortunately, we want to be like other places. We should not be behaving like Lou and Andy off Little Britain: “I want one of those”, only to swiftly follow-up with “Don’t like it!” all summed up by saying, “What a kerfuffle.”

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