Did you know that our globally renowned, big local attraction, ‘Camden Market’, is in fact made up of seven completely different markets? And that until last Friday, they were pretty much operating as a bunch of squabbling neighbours, all with competing interests?
These behind-the-scenes battle lines can’t have helped with any joined-up organisational work, something that must have had a part to play in Camden’s troubling fall in perception; from epicentre of global cool to tie-dyed tourist trap.
But the old status quo has been dramatically shaken up by Israeli billionaire Teddy Sagi, who has recently swept into the equation, a man with a market masterplan.
Hot on the heels of his first £400m purchase of the Stables Market and Hawley Wharf, Sagi also scooped up Buck Street Market (the little one by the tube) a couple of weeks ago and, on Friday, confirmed his acquisition of the original Camden Lock Market from the Fulford family.
They had owned and run the site since the very first craft stalls were set up in disused canal buildings 40 years ago, founding the concept that went on to become the much-copied, world-famous Camden ‘brand’ which pulls in the crowds to the whole area today.
While big money deals might be a world away from the kind of designer-maker businesses which remain the lifeblood of the whole enterprise, in theory, unifying the markets for the first time is great news for everyone with an interest in promoting and improving Camden.
Stables Market Operations Manager Lee Bennett, who only last week revealed his ambitions for the various abandoned buildings on his site, tells us of the deal: “I’m very excited about working with the team over at Lock Market to continue their great legacy and to help unify Camden Markets as one total experience for everyone.”
Mark Alper, the group’s Property Director, explains the ideas further. “Our aim now is to look at long term regeneration of the markets whilst taking a holistic approach to Camden Town as a whole,” he says, encouragingly. “We intend to continue the current planning process for Camden Lock Market as part of our long-term plans and extensive investment in the town centre.”
All this should see the ongoing drive at the Lock to win back the affections of Londoners given a great boost. And that means more lovingly cooked streetfood rather than sloppy noodle joints, on-site crafts workshops instead of identikit t-shirt stalls, and a bigger emphasis on entertainment events such as film screenings and free live music.
The Hawley Wharf development, now fully approved and about to kick off, will add yet more shops and restaurants to the neighbourhood, plus 170 new homes, three large public spaces, an arts centre and a new a primary school too.
It’s a lot of change, but unlike the controversial and ultimately ill-conceived redevelopment of the Stables by previous owners, first impressions are that Sagi and the team he is assembling (which includes retaining all the Camden Lock Market staff, with Will Fulford at the helm of that site’s own £20m regeneration project), have a genuinely progressive and exciting approach.
Most would agree that Camden and its markets do desperately need to keep up with the culture they helped create. And so it will be fantastic if this new, united era continues the rehabilitation of the place in the hearts of locals too. Watch this space, anyway.