As the days get shorter and the air becomes colder, Brixton’s Station Road Market is becoming a hive of activity. Stalls are being dressed with holly, a tree has appeared and preparations are being made for the Christmas rush. A good excuse, then, for Bugle editor Tim Dickens to pop down for a cup of tea with the CEO of the Market Traders’ Federation, Stuart Horwood
There has been an open-air market in Brixton town centre since the 1870s, when the railways arrived. Stalls began to pop up along Atlantic Road, until a tram accident in the early 1900s prompted a move the other side of the railway line, on Station Road. Quickly becoming a trading hub, the market crept along Popes Road. After the Second World War, barrow boys colonised the sheltered and lit arcades along the length of Electric Avenue.
Today, nearly 150 years after it all began, the CEO of Brixton Market Traders Federation, Stuart Horwood, is found in his cosy watch stall, under the railway bridge on Popes Road.
“I turned up here in 1984 with a pasting table full of watches, intending to earn a few bob and quickly get on the next plane to somewhere hot and sunny. But I’m still here 28 years later,” he says. The market veteran is dressed up warm against a chill November wind. “It’s part of the magnetic effect of Brixton. If Brixton likes you, once its got you, it finds it very difficult to let you go.”
After joining the federation six years ago, Stuart has overseen a momentous change in the fortunes of the outdoor market. In 2006 he and fellow trader John Gordon were charged with getting the market organised. They visited a small community market in Acton, where they got the idea of setting up a Community Interest Company (CIC).
Crucially, after setting up the CIC in 2009, any profit the Station Road market makes can be ploughed straight back into the stalls, and the community.
“Like any other company we need to go out and make a profit but the intention of what we’re doing is to invest all of the money that we make into the local community.”
As we chat in his pint-sized watch emporium, complete with disco ball and spotlights, Stuart also finds time to replace half a dozen batteries and sell a few more watches. He also fixes what seems like a mile of electric cabling. He is a busy man.
Now, with the help of a dedicated team of volunteers and two paid staff members, the traders run the Friday food markets and a rolling programme of themed Saturday markets with some 40 stalls. They have secured funding and have been named a Lambeth Champion by the council.
“It makes you think that maybe we are doing something right out here,” says Stuart, clearly proud of what he and his team have achieved. “It’s always been my intention to set the environment for people to be able to make the market work, and so far so good. Like anything its not easy and it’s a lot of hard work putting the stalls together.”
“We’ve been staggered by the amount of local interest there is to come and work in the market.”
Stuart Horwood is clear about the key to the market’s success. “There’s that tradition, the strength of the community, and the real “I can do it” spirit that Brixton has anyway – and we are part of that.
“Being a market trader, you have to be adaptable willing to accept change. You’re doing the same thing every day but every day is different. The weather changes, people change, and things to sell change.”
And so, with the rumble of a train overhead, I’m reminded of where it all began. But if the railway helped kick it off, it’s now the people of Brixton keeping the market tradition going, all against a looming spectre of supermarket giants and the homogenous march of gentrification.
“We’re constantly fighting to keep Brixton for the people,” says Stuart. “This is the People’s Democratic Republic of Brixton, so let’s keep it that way. Its got such a strong history of street life here, and there aren’t many places with that sort of history and culture, so lets hang on to it while it’s still here.”
If you’d like to get involved in volunteering with the market email firstname.lastname@example.org.