Cirencester: Market forces
PUBLISHED: 10:27 14 March 2017
Improving Cirencester's appeal as a classic market town has been 50 years in the planning and is at last coming to fruition, as Tracy Spiers explains
The word: change. It is like liquorice, Marmite and horse radish. You either like it or you don’t. But at least with the word change, in time most come to accept it and see why it had to happen.
One Cotswold market town which has had its fair share of change in recent months is Cirencester. A few years ago the South Porch of the magnificent parish church was given a facelift and now the areas outside have received an impressive transformation. Today it is partly pedestrianised to allow shoppers to walk around the town centre with more ease and has revived the meaning of “market,” for Cirencester. Traditionally it has always been a thriving market town and this latest major redesign of the market place takes it back to its roots, whilst at the same time providing a shared space for pedestrians, cyclists and vehicles and a place to host new improved markets, themed markets and outdoor concerts. Cirencester’s Friday Charter Market is one of the oldest of its kind in the country and was mentioned in the Domesday Book in 1086. Cirencester Farmers’ Market takes place every second and fourth Saturday of the month.
This month workmen will complete the final tasks of this £1.4 million pound initiative led by Cirencester Town Council. The vision was first thought about 50 years ago, discussed in more depth 20 years ago, has been the subject of detailed design and public consultation over the last five years, and has finally been realised today.
Having lived through building work with two one-year olds, I know first hand the disruption - and dust - reconstruction can create. Yet it was worth it. Likewise many traders have felt the pinch of upheaval. Now it is behind them, they are looking forward to a new-look Cirencester and a safer, more pedestrian-friendly market area.
An aerial shot of Cirencester in the past would show an island of two lines of parked cars, with traffic flowing past on either side. This proved tough for not only market traders, but for pedestrians trying to cross the road. Today the church side of the historic Market Place is completely pedestrianised with traffic heading from Castle Street towards the Market Place one-way only. This means access is maintained for local users whilst discouraging regional traffic.
With a population of approximately 20,000, Cirencester is one of Britain’s largest small towns. Many visit to find out more about its Roman history. This year marks the 900th anniversary of Cirencester’s historic Abbey and events will be held throughout the year to celebrate this milestone. The new look Market Place will certainly help the town look at its best.
“I am very excited because it is a tremendous change. It’s very challenging for people who don’t like change but it is going to make Cirencester a more beautiful, a more comfortable and safer place and I am convinced it will increase and improve trade,” says Deputy Mayor and County Councillor Nigel Robbins. He has seen the Market Place Regeneration Project through from the start and been involved in discussions with the designer of the scheme, Cirencester-based landscape architect Martin Portus and project manager Simon Large, for many years. Engineer Martin Jones and builder Tim Hanley, who complete the client team, are also local.
“We have used high quality materials of natural York stone, so it is not concrete or tarmac and is sympathetic with the South Porch of St John Baptist Church. By mid February it will be absolutely complete - the new pedestrian crossings will be lit and ready for use,” he adds.
The regeneration for the market area was born out of “Action Cirencester” many years ago. A group of interested people from all political parties met regularly to discuss the possibilities before any prospect of public funding. Month by month every idea, problem, obstacle, concern and thought was considered before final plans were agreed. Permanent stalls with smart covers have also helped make the markets look impressive.
“I had a meeting with a lot of stall holders who are very enthusiastic about the response they have had so far since the changes. They say lots more people have come to the markets and they are staying longer as they feel safe,” says Nigel.
Wendy Bobe, supervisor of Sahara, in Market Place says improved access has already made a difference.
“It will be a lot easier for our customers to get into the shop. They can be dropped right outside and the whole market square is going to have a great feel about it come the spring and summer. It is already more vibrant.”
Husband and wife Paul and Lesley Hinsley, have been running Cafe Mosaic almost eight years.
“Being realistic the time taken to do the work did hurt a lot of businesses, but now we have got there, it is going to be very positive and it gives the town a more open feel,” says Paul.
“It will encourage people in, and make the town centre more user-friendly and more open so people can enjoy being in Cirencester. The way they have designed the style of the roads and pavement has a flow to it. It showcases the parish church which is such a key part of the town. The fact we are bringing back the market place, having more stands and permanent trade stalls is very important.”
He also added that the town needed to continue to encourage independent traders into the shops to reflect Cirencester’s quirkiness.
“The town has its own particular feel. It does have the appearance of a continental town but it hasn’t lost its charm or old Cotswold style,” says Paul.
In recent years other streets in Cirencester have also been rejuvenated and traders have noticed a considerable difference. Black Jack Street, the Old Post Office development and the refurbishment of the Corn Hall and its new arcade of fashionable shops has meant shoppers can enjoy a myriad of alleyways and an overall improved shopping experience.
Matthew Townsend, co-owner of Candyman in Black Jack Street has lived in Cirencester all his life and believes the town is moving in the right direction.
“Black Jack Street has really come along nicely and is now known as a shopping street,” he says. Regarding the Market Place situation, he adds:
“There is change and a lot of people don’t like change but once the parking issues are sorted out, Cirencester will start to grow again.”
In the next few months Cirencester will see a growth in more themed markets which will help stimulate interest and create a bustling hub in the town centre, something Anna Offord, owner of Plum, is looking forward to.
“Cirencester is a wonderful vibrant town to have a business in and we have a really big draw from all over the country. We probably have more independent shops that most towns. I would encourage people to come and enjoy the lovely independent eateries and boutiques.
“We have a got a really bright future for Cirencester. It is going to have lots of vibrant bustling markets which will bring Cirencester back to being a proper market town.”