Concern grows over crowds as hundreds flock to East End foodie markets

Crowds at Victoria Park market last week. Pic: Tetsu Tamura

Large crowds at Victoria Park’s fashionable Sunday market are causing concern for residents and park visitors, who are warning of a ‘festival’ atmosphere as ‘thousands’ gather.

The fears over Victoria Park market follow the early closure of Broadway Market in Hackney, which also attracts young, upmarket customers, due to crowding on Saturday November 7. Meanwhile, more traditional grocery and clothing markets – like Roman Road in Bow and Watney Market in Shadwell – have seen sharp declines in footfall.

Under current rules, food stalls at outdoor markets can stay open if social distancing guidance is followed. But residents and park visitors have reported overcrowding at the privately-run Victoria Park market, which hosts stalls selling hot food and groceries like organic vegetables, vegan cheese, charcuterie, pastries and craft beer.

Dylan Turney of Homerton told Eastlondonlines the market was so busy it “looked almost like a festival” last Sunday.

Giovanni Succhielli of East Village also visited the market on Sunday. He told ELL: “Around the stalls of the hot food it was total chaos… No social distancing at all and thousands of people just packed without masks.”

Julie Daniels, 60, lives nearby and walks her dog in the park every day. While she usually enjoys the market, she thinks the numbers gathering there have gotten “out of hand” in lockdown. She lives with a vulnerable person and told ELL she feels “really uncomfortable” around the crowds.

“Most people come out to the market and do the right thing,” she said. “They’re not deliberately flouting the rules and they have nowhere else to go… But I think the council should have closed it down. It gives mixed messages. Either you have a lockdown or you don’t.”

A resident who did not want to be named said the market should not be allowed to sell takeaway alcohol. “It’s an enormous circus,” she told ELL. “The market says there is social distancing and space between the stalls, but there isn’t.”

Victoria Park Market did not respond to a request for comment but said on its Instagram page: “Please be mindful of our safety measures, which include socially distanced queues, one-way system, restricted visitor numbers, card-only payments, hand sanitising, and takeaway food only. Please try to minimise your time spent in the market area and avoid gathering.”

It added on Twitter: “We are encouraging customers to shop as quickly as possible.”

Broadway Market crowds

Since Broadway Market’s early closure two weeks ago, Hackney Council has sent additional police, licensing and enforcement officers to make sure the popular Saturday market does not get too crowded.

Rupert Selby, Treasurer of Broadway Market Traders and Residents Association, said traders welcomed the extra support in moving people on. He told ELL: “Now it is much better. The numbers are controlled, but bad weather [like last Saturday] leads to crowding under awnings.”

Other markets struggle

While all street markets in Tower Hamlets closed during the spring lockdown, this time only ‘non-essential’ Columbia Road Flower Market in Shoreditch and Petticoat Lane Market in Spitalfields have fully shut. Others, like Spitalfields, Brick Lane and Roman Road markets, have closed only stalls that do not sell food and groceries.

However, not all markets have experienced a surge in visitors. Andy Adenegan of Candi Donut Co. has traded at Brick Lane and Roman Road for 23 years. He told ELL sales at his churro stand have dropped 70% since lockdown began – and friends have encouraged him to set up shop at the “much busier” Victoria Park market instead.

Meanwhile, Watney Market traders are protesting that a COVID testing centre is driving customers away.

A Tower Hamlets council spokesperson said: “We have supported traders with staggered layouts, safety advice signs and one-way access routes to enable safe social distancing. The operation of all our sites remains under constant review to ensure people can access food safely.”


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