Battlefields don’t have to look conventional. Some have gunpowder smoke in the air, broken cannons, spears in the ground, and the bloody remnants of screaming death or whimpering befoulment; others are just fields with no distinguishing marks.
Battles are where lines of communication and logistics overlap. Where the argument of force matters more than the force of argument. Where the road was, like Heavenfield (Devil’s Water) in 634, where the beer nearly ran out, like Flodden in 1513, and where no further retreat was possible like Newcastle in 1644 and defeat had to be swallowed.
The Grainger Market
The Grainger Market is being viewed by competing armies, all of whom claim that they have the best interests of it, and the public, at heart. No declared war is going on, except the usual low-intensity conflict against the poor, the old, and the undigital. The powers arranged around it have the capacity to wound but not dominate, the danger is that we’ll be left with a ruin, too dangerous to use, too expensive to maintain, and too valuable to ignore. The opportunity for the combination of all of the offerings to polish this jewel requiring vision and leadership at civic level – or, (God help us), Michael Gove attends like Jabba the Hut at a wedding buffet.
Research by Dr Sara Gonzales
First, Dr Sara Gonzalez and her team of academics from the University of Leeds have done the research, which she presented in person last Tuesday at Newcastle University’s Geography Department, the Kate Adie Room of the Henry Daysh Building from where you get a panoramic view of most of the city gleaming in the winter sunshine. To no great surprise, she went through her findings showing that the market had loyal, older, poorer customers who go there often. That it had a mixed offering from the freshest, best meat and produce to socks, workwear, watch repair, eclectics to electrics, sewing, thermal sensible clothing, Spanish, Greek, Chinese and Geordie cuisine to the Cheap Tab Shop and cards which say “Mam”. To those of us who prefer milky coffee to café au lait and our mince’n’dumplings on the hearty side (with extra gravy) this came as a confirmation of the cultural and community value as much as the retail offering which continues to produce local, independent, non-chain businesses. Sara referenced that this was a place where people came to meet each other, its amount of “street corners” aiding the process of meeting or avoiding people with a swift 22-yard manoeuvre.
Unfortunately, there’s no parking; the bourgeois who cluster around Heaton Road or Jesmond don’t go there much. It suits the people with a bus pass who can afford the time (and not much else) to get into town for £3 worth of fruit and veg. Even if the more affluent can get within 50 yards to go to Fenwick’s and Grey’s Monument, the walk past the Black Garter or the Fish Bar or through the stone portals is clearly a problem.
That’s maybe where the “The Great Market Caper” can help break down barriers with its event based marketing. Sean Bullick ex of NE1 has got bands, comedians, celebrities and partygoers to monthly Saturday Night happenings where people can stroll around doing all that streetfood stuff with craft beer and craftier sounds. Fortunately, Sean is astute enough to know that the soul of the market isn’t going to prosper on boujie coffee, non-artisan ale and purple coleslaw on your veggie-burger. That everything in Newcastle requires a core of its unrivalled authenticity which still encourages aspirational social media descriptions. The nights that John Phillips [SG1] and other traders of the Traders’ Association organised in 2017/18 with everything from Benny Graham singing the Blaydon Races to participatory belly dancers and the Christmas shows including a guided tour of the Air Raid Shelter showed the wonderful abilities of the market, but unfortunately did not produce any real ongoing support from its landlord.
Newcastle Council, the landlord
The landlord, is of course, Newcastle City Council who is apparently spending millions on the roof (from the “Levelling Up” fund I believe[SG2] ), but which couldn’t organise floor drainage in the very slippy floored market last week. The consequences of an aged hip hitting concrete, the cost to the NHS of a stay in Ward 22 of the RVI before eight weeks in the Freeman and a compensation claim are all too apparent as is the constant feeling of great people employed by the council coping with pennies whilst decisions are avoided or ignored is apparent. That the landlord organised a Christmas Market 50 yards away at Grey’s Monument (again) made many wonder why such a barrier to potential business making their way from the affluent Northumberland Street/Blackett Street area could be facilitated by anyone with the Grainger Market’s best interest at heart. Mutterings abound about whether the businesses which attract the poorer, older, undigital might be seen to be disposable if higher rateable values can be had.
You can hear the excuses already, that they can’t afford to reject this offer, that there will be “affordable tea and coffee”, that there will be an App, that progress dictates. Assurances seem vague, promises of support compromised by the ability of the power available, vision of any kind banned by mediocrities intimidated by T. Dan Smith’s legacy. Maybe it was better to have achievement and corruption rather than just indecision and failure? And if that hurts in the Civic Centre, justify yourselves with implementation of improvements!
Clayton Street Cultural Corridor
But there is also a scheme. There has always been some kind of “scheme” on Tyneside from Special Development Areas to the Tyne Wear Dev. Corp. to Grainger Town to NE1. This one is the Clayton Street Cultural Corridor. It has support from Jamie Driscoll’s “North of the Tyne” fund, it has Newcastle City Council onboard and it aims to encourage artists and their like to work in the City Centre from the Old Woolworths opposite St. Mary’s Cathedral right up to Eldon Square’s automatic doorways. It is to produce tourist attracting, arts-employing culture and finally try to tilt the curve upwards. It is not to be called Black Garter Boulevard. It needs Grainger Market prices, friendliness, and authentic communities combined with European standard profitability. It aims to fill empty retail and commercial space with decent cultural jobs. To avoid the precariat, self-employed, freelance nightmare that squashes cultural ambition with the necessity to complete funding forms, competing with their fellows like toads in a pond and trying to remember why they didn’t just get a “proper job” and die inside every day.
The good news is that all are reasonable people, they do, I believe care, but they are inhibited. However, the council has new political and executive leadership and an opportunity to do something that works in the short, medium, and long term. Gove should be gone soon. The Traders, The Caper and The Scheme can all co-exist in perfect harmony with increased prosperity and security for all. The public can still get cheap good food and a ready smile and the soul of a city can be nourished from an institution that literally allows the people to buy a birthday card with the word you call your mother around here. Get a Mam card, or go to Tesco/ASDA/Morrisons etc and try to call her “Mum” with a nervous smile as we ponder colonialism.
Dr Sara Gonzalez compared the experience of this with other markets around the country and wondered why we didn’t have a “Friends of the Grainger Market” group here. Maybe we have had other battles to fight but rather than hazard a guess as to why some institutions are protected and others are left unprotected on the battlefield, we need to organise. I’m going to call some people and we’ll see. Our mams are watching. For more information on Dr Gonzalez’s research on Grainger Market contact her on [email protected]
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