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Free Market Radicals has been developed in partnership between Cultural Engine CIC and Hundred Others CIC. We will explore how the concept of the ‘market’ borrows from the original meaning – a traditional space of social/cultural exchange, trade, craft and local distinctiveness which provides the origins of many ‘market towns’ – and how this now (ironically) relates more closely with the concept of economic and cultural ‘globalisation’, which has challenged much of what a market town may have once offered in favour of corporate standardisation.

There is an interest in ‘localism’ particularly post Covid-19, but it has been growing for some time as an alternative to the concept of a ‘free’ market approach which tends to exclude local stakeholders.

We initially explore with 9 towns and villages in Essex what they would like to see happen in their places post-Covid-19, and what can be led by the community. We will be thinking about what can be done to bring new creativity and cultural vibrancy to the town or village, identifying underused public spaces or buildings, thinking about heritage and looking at what makes a place distinctive.

We will be working with local communities to work out how good ideas can be taken forward and what the practical steps are.

Difficult Times – But Times of Opportunity

These are difficult times for towns and villages across the UK. High Streets and local centres are not as vibrant as they once were, and Covid-19 is making the situation more challenging. Local communities often have little control over what happens locally. Globalisation and the ‘free market’ mean that decisions that affect local areas take place somewhere else, and local distinctiveness is often giving way to corporate standardisation.

But every town and village is full of creative and ambitious communities, groups and businesses. They all have interesting histories and unique stories. Sometimes local groups just need a project or another way in and things can change for the better.

Free Market Radicals is a project that wants to support local communities to have a greater say and to do interesting things. We want to work with local people to achieve this. Below are some key points about our approach:

We are not interested in the standard approaches to ‘regeneration’ and ‘economic development’ – although we do understand them (and they can be important). We will work with local communities to understand their town or village culturally, economically and environmentally

  • We will identify what a vibrant and creative future may look like for towns and villages, and work with local communities to develop projects that can be stepping stones to achieving this.
  • We will develop these project ideas with local communities and make sure that they can lead them locally.
  • We will work to identify what is ‘authentic’ or ‘distinctive’ about towns and villages – and we will look to use this as inspiration for the future. 
  • We will take inspiration from the past, from markets and fairs, and use this as inspiration for new locally-led gatherings of makers, crafters, creatives and performers.
  • We will aim to build consensus locally and make sure that Local Authorities and other important organisations are ‘inside the marketplace’.

Why ‘Free’ and ‘Radical’ 

It takes imagination to think outside of the standard and generally accepted economic models of today. The globalised ‘Free Market’ is the ideal for many, whereas others want more state control and central planning of the economy. But to revive local areas, local people need to be at the heart of the action. This could be the Town Council working with local groups, or it could be groups of businesses that want to do things differently. Markets represent a highly localised approach to the economy and require collaboration. So ‘Free’ from constraints on imagination, and ‘Radical’ to reflect that new approaches are needed if we are to ensure that town and village centres have the vibrancy they once had when markets were a key part of the local creative economy. We are very much looking forwards, not back.

Through Free Market Radicals we would like work with local people on the programme – we are Phase 1 at the moment:

  1. Research and understanding local opportunities: This is the phase we are in at the moment. We have created an online survey to collect feedback from local partners in each town/village. We will also hold discussions with key stakeholders and where possible focus groups and workshops to understand the passions and pressures of the local community. This will be followed by the presentation of a bespoke strategy for the place. We will share the findings in a written document, presented to everyone that took part. It will provide useful information and insight for groups wanting to develop local projects, and will help us develop phase 2 of FMR including the use of a space for a ‘creative market’.
  • Bring the Phase 1 research together to hold a ‘creative market’ for the local community with day time and evening events to work around everyone’s schedules. Using local artists, creatives, crafters and producers this market will also test out a new space(s) identified in Phase 1 where possible. We will gather more information from this market to help shape the overall strategy (this helps with getting funding for projects as well)
  • Delivery Phase: Using all of the evidence from the first two phases, look to actually deliver on some of the priority creative/heritage and community projects. FMR can directly support or it can be totally locally-led.


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