Justine Paul, Suffolk Market Events
Justine Paul gets up every day to run Suffolk Market Events. Over the past decade she has spent her days reviving some flagging farmers’ markets and got new ones off the ground.
Ido about 20 jobs before the kids leave for school, then I commute out of the front door and down a path to my office. I try to start by about 8.45am and work until around 4pm. I always walk the dogs at some point – it’s my thinking time and often when ideas come. Angie works with me in the office two days a week. She’s a huge addition to Suffolk Market Events. As a small business, there are no marketing or IT departments, or printing rooms, so we do everything. I might be checking out potential new traders, talking to various people about new venues, writing an article for a magazine, paying invoices, doing social media or attaching road signs to lampposts. No day is the same!
On a market day, I leave home by 6.30am. Market days are full on and everyone wants two minutes of your time. It’s a mad flurry of activity, and then everyone leaves and I start the long drive around getting all the road signs in before I head home. I love the quietness of working in my garden office, but I also love the noisy days of markets.
It all started 10 years ago. In 2008 I moved to Lavenham with my husband Alex and our children. We were really looking forward to visiting the farmers’ market. Sadly, it was just a handful of stallholders with very few customers and we learnt it was to shut down. Alex suggested I try to do something to save it, and when I get a fire in my belly I go for it!
I put up posters to announce the farmers’ market would relaunch the following September. I asked traders to come back, I visited markets and suggested they come and try Lavenham again. I set up a Twitter account, even though I knew nothing about social media.
One night Alex came home and said he’d been asked, at a Suffolk County Council meeting, if he knew anyone who could bring food to the Great East Swim. It was lightbulb moment. We realised that the fantastic market I’d been nurturing in Lavenham, could be picked up and taken to an event.
The past 10 years have been busy, unpredictable, exciting. Our first award, the Suffolk Food and Drink Awards Best Market in 2012, was a huge milestone, and winning the Food & Drink Hero in 2015 was a massive personal achievement. Going to Downing Street as one of the UK’s best 100 small businesses is also up there in my top moments.
There are always challenges, like any job. When I first started some people questioned whether we would succeed. I wasn’t from a farming background, and we hadn’t been in Suffolk long, so it was easy to assume I wouldn’t stick it out. But successful town centres will always have a quality market, although it can be difficult to reassure town centre stakeholders of the economic benefits of investing in markets.
I think good farmers markets have a healthy future. One of our customers recently told me, ‘I can’t imagine Bury St Edmunds without the farmers’ market now. It’s something I look forward to every month. Not only do I buy some of the best food to be had locally with which to feed my family, I talk to the producers, I learn, I become more aware and knowledgeable, more connected with the place I live in.’ In a world of online shopping, I still believe there’s a vital place for well organised, top quality markets because we love to smell, to taste, to pick up and to hear the story behind the food we eat.
This year is exciting. We’re relaunching Long Melford farmers’ market on February 9, after lots of requests. We have a wonderful selection of traders signed up. And we’re going to be expanding in 2019 so watch this space!
ABOVE: Justine Paul of Suffolk Market Events