With just four stalls remaining, London Fields Market was on the brink of closure. Since stepping in, Rollo has brought to this market a sense of purpose and identity. It now has twenty-four stalls and is blossoming in the community. Why did Rollo get involved and what does he plan next?
Hidden around the corner of Broadway Market, you might not expect to find dance classes with Pineapple Studio’s ‘Winston The Geezer’. You might be more surprised to find that these classes are free. Running a broad range of sessions, London Fields Market is a gift to the community. Providing free yoga, circus classes and storytelling workshops, they are excelling at creating a positive space for local families.
Walking into the market you can feel the energy of the stalls breathing life into the cold, windy air. I make sure to grab a hand-warming flat white made by the family business Chealsons Coffee. Further in, I’m met by the smell of Cram Cakes offering pancake stacks such as the ‘Jasper’: smoked bacon, fried egg, Emmental cheese and maple syrup. My taste buds tingling, I opt for ramen from Mr Royazis. It’s delicious and a testament to the passion that the stall owners have for their offerings. Sitting down with Rollo, I want to know how he developed this passion for turning around struggling local markets.
Tim Copeland: How did you first get involved with London Markets?
Rollo: “I started working on market stalls when I was fourteen selling fruit and vegetables. I began working at one market in Highbury and essentially from that realised that there are a lot of farmers who want to scale across London but they don’t actually have the workers to do it. I started a small company thats help farmers find people to work across different markets. Since then I’ve been working across about twenty-three markets, finding workers as well as working on the markets. That’s how I got very interested in markets but also communities.”
“We’ve got the two-time female boxing champion of the UK teaching classes here in a few weeks’ time.”
TC: This market was heading towards extinction; how did you bring it back to life?
R: “There were a lot of people who were managing the market but they weren’t focusing on growth. It got to the point where there were four stalls and there wasn’t enough footfall, it was looking quite sad. So, we came in and were like boom let’s try to make it sexy again. It’s been a lot more work than we thought. It’s essentially rebranding. If you take a market and put it in a new spot its easier. It’s getting there, we’ve got a good core now. On that, we grow and grow every single week.”
TC: How are you making this market stand out?
R: “The most interesting thing about this market is we are also a creative collective. The whole vision of this market is that it’s a food and hot produce market but at the same time it’s a platform for different people from the area to express and show their passions. Every single week we have three different activities, such as circus classes, puppet shows for the children and story-telling workshops. We’ve got the two-time female boxing champion of the UK teaching classes here in a few weeks’ time. We’ve got a reggae band next week. There’s a huge spectrum of things and they’re all free.”
TC: Have you had any challenging moments?
R: “Yeah, we’ve had traders who are lying or just don’t turn up. We’ve had customers who are aggressive who we’ve had to remove. What’s interesting about working with traders is you’re working with entrepreneurs and if you can harness that energy it can be amazing. If you get some bad traders who start whispering to people, you have to get rid of them really fast. It’s probably because they’re not doing well themselves. It can be a sensitive area but we’re trying to create a really positive environment.
“We had to save this market; it was dying. We have so far, touch wood.”
TC: Where would you like it to go?
R: “I want to look at creating real community markets. I want them to be hubs for people with passion for food so it becomes an experience of smells, tastes and flavours. On a Sunday, you can come to the market and see theatre. We’ve had opera singers from Glyndebourne, we’ve had opera singers from Guildhall who have sung in New York and they’ve come here to sing opera. I want it to be a place where people can see incredible talent, from jugglers to fire breathers. All these different things, in one place. The vision is to create a quintessential English Market that would travel around Asia. Or a floating market on the Thames.”
TC: What’s the plan for Christmas?
R: “On the 17th December, we’re launching a Narnia Market. You’re going to walk through a wardrobe to enter. We’re going to have fawns and Christmas trees all around. We have about three different bands going to play including Die Brass. We’ll have mulled wine, in the middle will be craft and there will be hot food stalls and produce. For the kids, we’ll have a giant puppet show, a story telling workshop and stocking making classes. It’s really exciting.”
London can be an intimidating place for the individual. Through developing such a heart-warming space, Rollo has helped his local community to feel welcomed. He mentions that he used to help run the London side of ‘Tea with Strangers’. This was a way for anyone to meet a few other people and come together over a cup of tea. When I ask him about the importance of connecting with strangers he replies: “When people are rushing around so much they begin to see each other as objects not as people.” Rollo personifies the need for individuals to come together and he has realised this energy in saving London Fields Market.
Pop by this Sunday or head down on the 17th December to check out the Narnia Themed Market.
Open Sundays: 10:00 – 14:00
London Fields Primary School, Westgate Street, E8 3RL
Words and Images by Tim Copeland