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Columbia Road of the West

How a community Vision for a new Flower Market on a car park in Chiswick is transforming perceptions and regenerating the High Road.

By Ollie Saunders, Co-founder, Chiswick Flower Market

Hatton Gardens in known for diamonds. Portobello Road is known for antiques.  Brick Lane is known for curry.  Columbia Road is known for flowers.

Our High Streets have always evolved – from their creation in our market towns as we became a nation of shopkeepers, to the impact of the large supermarkets and then out-of-town retail, to the advent of online shopping.  With a third of all retail sales in the UK now made online, this gives an immense opportunity for our High Streets to innovate and evolve once again.  The winners will be those that remain contemporary in a digital age and become places that are engaging to be in.

“I was worried that if we did not have a proactive plan, involving the community, then my local town centre would be toast!”

Several Sundays a year, I would get up early and walk past a large surface car park at the top of my street – always thinking that it would make a wonderful place to have a market.  I would then traipse across town to visit Columbia Road.  My early start was rewarded with bags full of plants and flowers for my garden and allotment – and to enjoy the vibe and buzz of a waking market.  I also witnessed the market’s ever-increasing popularity pump the local retail economy.  From instant coffee and bacon butties in the mid 1990s, the local shops now buzz with trendy coffees and interior design shops.  It has become part of a proper day out in London.

I watched as my local High Street in Chiswick declined – the vacancy rate was uncomfortable despite being a wealthy neighbourhood.  There was a polarising local campaign about cycling and an absence of tangible ways in which to kick start things locally.  I could see no-one able to put my leafy corner of London on the map like Brick Lane or Portobello Road was.

I was worried that if we did not have a proactive plan, involving the community, then my local town centre would be toast!  So I found some friends and we started Chiswick Flower Market in that old car park – which we later discovered was originally the place of a market 100 years ago. 

To make it work, we knew that we had to get the traders that the punters wanted, and the punters that the traders needed in order to come back.  To add to the challenge, there had not been a new flower market in London for 150 years, and we found ourselves in the middle of the first pandemic in 100 years.  We had also never run a market before.

We talked about it being a “Columbia Road of the West” on the basis that we wanted our part of London to be known for its market and to bring both locals into the High Street but also Londoners into Chiswick.   We found data from TfL which showed residents were not even staying locally at the weekend – our local tube station was a massive net exporter of local people on a Sunday morning as they went elsewhere, for them to return later in the day.

As we planned the market, we persuaded some established flower market traders to come to our first market.  They liked the idea and wanted to give it a go.  But I also found a number of small local businesses that had started in the pandemic and were solely selling online.  They were hugely creative and entrepreneurial – from several houseplant vendors with exciting social media to small businesses that grew their own flowers or made their own pots.

At our first market, 30 traders turned up at 6am to set up their stalls.   By the end of the day, we had 7,500 visitors come through the market who – in the aftermath of the first lockdown – needed an outdoor day out in the sunshine to buy flowers and plants.   We found that the established traders had a good day and the online traders loved the new experience of physically meeting their customers rather than sending them their purchases in a cardboard box.

“What we have seen is that the market has brought footfall to Chiswick.  Our data shows that footfall doubles on a Sunday.  Our local retailers tell us they notice the difference and view us as a positive addition.”

We had to deal with the lockdowns that followed but that gave us more time to plan and be creative.  We found more traders who brought interesting things to complement our other traders – from mushroom growing kits to terrariums and cacti, to gold medal winning nurseries selling some of the best plants around.

The market is gaining a reputation for street theatre – we have fire-eaters and stilt walkers, jazz singers and tap dancers.  We have workshops on how to build terrariums or make wreaths.   The team is also energised to make this the most sustainable market there is – from banning plastic bags we are now looking to make sure that the goods sold are peat free, have the lowest possible carbon footprint and are looking to introduce a plastic pot reuse or recycle scheme next year.

And as we are run by volunteers, we are in the luxurious position of having made a surplus to invest back into our local area.  We have already invested in replanting all the flower beds in the market area and have organised a huge Christmas tree which will be turned on by Sophie Ellis-Bextor together this Christmas.  We will hold our largest every market with four choirs singing their hearts out.   We think that will be a crowd-puller and kick start a buoyant Christmas locally as locals sip mulled wine and kids have their faces painted.

What we have seen is that the market has brought footfall to Chiswick.  Our data shows that footfall doubles on a Sunday.  Our local retailers tell us they notice the difference and view us as a positive addition.  Two sister markets have now set up on the second and third Sundays of the month –  a community led cheese market and a commercially operated antiques market.     One of the internet retailers who took a stall has now opened a shop in Chiswick.   Our visitor surveys show that a greater proportion of our visitors are increasingly coming from outside the immediate catchment as confidence in travelling in the aftermath of the pandemic increases.  This has been helped by word-of-mouth, press coverage and social media spreading the word.   The vacancy rate for shops in Chiswick is now much lower.

But importantly, the market has developed its own vibe on market days.   Who knows, one day Chiswick may be as well known as Portobello, Brick Lane or even Columbia Road!

Ollie Saunders
November 2021

Ollie Saunders, photograph by Charles Campion

All other photographs courtesy of Anna Kunst Photography

Chiswick community creates first new flower market in London for 150 years

This article has been written for 20/20 Visions by Bridget Osborne, Editor of The Chiswick Calendar and a founder director of the Chiswick Flower Market:

September sees the first anniversary of the Chiswick Flower Market – the first new flower market to have been opened in London for 150 years. The organisers, all local residents who volunteer their time to run it, set out to create “the Columbia Road market for west London” and have succeeded, judging by the thousands of people who visit the market held on the first Sunday of every month.

The aim was to make Chiswick a “destination” which people would come to on Sundays, to help reinvigorate the economy of the local high street.

Chiswick’s existing businesses have welcomed the increase in trade the flower market has brought, especially as, in the wake of the new flower market, other groups have set up an Antiques and Vintage market and a Cheese market on the second and third Sundays of the month respectively.

Chiswick Flower Market has been recognised nationally as an exemplar by the High Streets Task Force. Read the High Streets Task Force case study here.

Chiswick Flower Market

Chiswick Flower Market takes place every month in the Old Market Place, outside George IV pub in Chiswick High Road.

The idea of running a flower market on the spot where soldiers returning from the First World War set up the first outdoor market in Chiswick 100 years earlier, was first mooted by Ollie Saunders, a local resident and commercial property surveyor who used to trek regularly from his home in Devonshire Road to Columbia Road Market for flowers.

The idea was taken up by others and enthusiastically supported at a public meeting in February 2020. The plan was to start the market in April, as a way of revitalising the economy of the High Road.

Like everything else in 2020 that plan was scuppered by the COVID-19 pandemic, but the group, who are all volunteers and local residents, went ahead and set up a Community Interest Company and opened the market, with the support of the London Borough of Hounslow in September 2020.

It was a resounding success, with Time Out proclaiming it the top thing to do in London in September 2020 and the London Evening Standard agreeing it was the best thing to do in the capital that weekend. More than seven thousand people came.

The organisers set out to make the market “the Columbia Road of West London” and have succeeded.

There’s a mix of stall holders, which include several long established market traders from Columbia Road as well as new start-up firms, including people who were made redundant during the pandemic and decided to set up in business for themselves.

At the request of businesses in Devonshire Road, the market spread round the corner from Old Market Place to encourage people to visit the shops, cafes and restaurants there.

We have stall holders selling cut flowers and live plants: bouquets of live and dried flowers, bedding plants, herbs, shrubs and hardy perennials, bulbs and houseplants as well as pots, gardening accessories and grow your own food kits.

Sustainable regeneration

The market is very sustainability conscious, selling its own brand of jute bags in the hope of weaning people off plastic bags, and operating a free delivery service locally by bike (again, volunteers).

The gardeners who tend the Kitchen Garden at Chiswick House have a stall where they sell home grown produce, which they bring to the market by cargo bike, with zero carbon footprint. Several of the stall holders grow their own stock and other buy a mix of continental and British flowers.

It has also been recognised that the market is doing what it set out to do and attracting customers to the existing High Road businesses.

Anecdotally, shopkeepers have told us trade is up on Flower Market Sundays and the Government’s High Streets Task Force singled out the Chiswick Flower Market as an example of how a community group could make a difference to revitalising the local economy.

Paving the way for other markets in Chiswick High Road

Since the Chiswick Flower Market opened, others have applied successfully to run markets in the same location. The Antiques and Vintage Market opened in May 2021, as did the Chiswick Cheese Market. The Antiques and Vintage Market runs every second Sunday of the month. The Cheese Market runs every third Sunday.

There’s also a long-established Food market that runs every Sunday morning at Dukes Meadows and the Duck Pond Market, which also opened in 2020 in Chiswick, with regular markets at both Gunnersbury Park and the gardens of Chiswick House.

First anniversary

To celebrate the first anniversary, at the flower market on Sunday 5 September 2021 there will be the usual established mix of stalls selling cut flowers and live plants, including houseplants and bulbs – bulb seller Jacques Amand was one of the award winners at this year’s RHS Hampton Court Garden Festival. There will also be a special programme of events to celebrate the anniversary – gardening workshops in George IV pub, in the middle of the market, apple pressing and a chance to get up close to the beautiful Fuller’s dray horses.

Read a recent Daily Telegraph article about Chiswick Flower Markets with quotes from co-founder Ollie Saunders here.

Closing the zip: TULLI, TAMPERE, FINLAND by Fred London & Charles Campion

“The Charrette covered a huge amount of ground in a condensed time frame and created consensus from the wide range of stakeholders involved in a way that no other process could have achieved.”

Charrette participant

A magnificent river, known as ‘The Rapids’, flows with gentle but awesome power through the heart of Tampere, Finland’s second city.  A twenty metre drop over one kilometre between a lake to the north of the city and another to the south, gives the river force enough to run two hydro-electric generators.  A park runs along the river’s eastern bank, a popular and beautiful green space, and Keskustori, the city’s main urban square, lies on the western side. The river is a constant presence for citizens and visitors as they enjoy the many attractions of the city centre.

By contrast, the Tulli quarter, separated from the city centre by the broad swathe of Tampere’s railway tracks, was isolated and suffered from a lack of vitality.  This had a negative impact on two of the city’s most important institutions located in the quarter; Tampere Talo, the iconic concert and conference hall, and Tampere University.

The railway corridor consists of 8 railway lines that create a break in the urban fabric – the open zip.  This is exacerbated by a sharp level change of around six metres from the generally flat city centre up to Tulli and its environs. Locals refer revealingly to the area to the east of the railway line as “Russia”!

The main entrance to the station is from the town centre and a series of routes continue at the same level, beneath the tracks, to reach the stairs and escalators that lead up to the platforms.  The upper level, where people get on and off the trains, is at the same level as that of the Tulli quarter.  The tracks are a barrier for anyone wanting to go directly from Tulli to the city centre. A further consideration was a new landmark development by Daniel Libeskind to be built on a deck over the railway lines with jagged office towers and a new Ice Hockey stadium for Tampere’s premier team.

By 2011 there had been significant investment in building projects in this part of the city but no one had yet fully contemplated the spaces and connections between them. Then Kari Kankaala, Tampere’s chief planner, saw a presentation on “Collaborative Placemaking” which got him thinking about how a Charrette process could help address Tulli’s challenges.  Mr Kankaala successfully encouraged some key local stakeholders including Finnpark, Tampere Talo, Tampere University, Technopolis and Tulli Business Park, to join the City Council and contribute towards the cost of a Charrette process.

JTP was appointed to lead a multi-disciplinary team to facilitate the Charrette focussing on Tulli’s connections and how to overcome the barrier effect of the railway. The resulting Vision was to inform a brief for an international competition for the area.

Kari Kankaala described the Charrette’s task as trying to find out how to “close the zip” and bring the two sides of the railway tracks together.

After some deep thinking about the process, it was agreed that rather than holding a single Charrette, a two stage Charrette process would be appropriate.  The first stage was the ‘thinking’ workshop to be followed two months later by the second stage, the ‘creating’ workshop.  The make up of the JTP team were adjusted between the first and second workshop to reflect the changing focus, from formulating a strategy to producing the Vision.

The main design challenges for the Charrette were how to:

Tulli: Enliven the quarter to serve as a vibrant connection from the station to the eastern part of the city.
Tampere Talo: Improve connections between the biggest combined concert hall and conference centre in Scandinavia and the city centre and railway station.
Tampere University: Enable a listed building of elegant design to open up and venture out of its campus to engage more with the rest of the city and welcome in the outside world.
Finnpark: Plan for the removal and replacement of the multi-storey car park monopolising the heart of Tulli as a consequence of the new one kilometre underground linear car park blasted into the city’s bedrock by Finnpark.

What I saw today, in the final presentation, was more than I ever dared to expect! We’ve learnt such a lot from the Charrette process by all working together.”

Kari Kankaala, Tampere’s Chief Planner

The Charrettes were invitation-only stakeholder events. The fact that the major organisations were funding the process led to strong engagement from representatives, many of whom knew each other but had never worked together and had no idea of their neighbours’ plans for the future.  Participants responded readily to the opportunity to share knowledge and ideas in the creative atmosphere of the carefully structured workshop processes, including hands-on co-design tables. There was a lively buzz in the room at both Charrettes and participants enjoyed the process!

The Charrettes gave all the stakeholders an unprecedented opportunity to learn about one another’s aspirations and thereby develop integrated ideas and strategies for the regeneration of Tulli and the adjacent station area. The Vision was presented on the final day of the second Charrette after which Kari Kankaala declared, “What I saw today, in the final presentation, was more than I ever dared to expect! We’ve learnt such a lot from the Charrette process by all working together.”

The Vision created through the process included:

  • The workshop outcome to form part of the brief for the City of Tampere’s 2014 international design competition for the station area
  • The extension of city centre’s car-free, slow movement system to include Tulli and the establishment of the Eastern Station Gateway concept
  • Relocating the planned long-distance bus terminus to the eastern side of the railway tracks
  • Development of integrated multi-modal movement concept including additional pedestrian and cycle connections to overcome barrier of railway tracks
  • Moving Tampere Talo “closer” to the station by creating a themed route acting as a covered outdoor foyer
  • Vibrant new public spaces in Tulli quarter – hard and soft landscaped
  • Introduction of ‘Box-park’ concept to overcome Tulli’s lack of active frontages and kick-start the process of bringing the area back to life
  • Proposals for new commercial buildings over and alongside railway tracks and a design concept to create a fitting sense of arrival
  • Ideas for intensification and diversification of the University campus with new buildings, spaces and connections to transform it into a ‘UniverCity’
  • Integrated catalogue of projects and phased programme for developments and short, medium and long term design competitions
  • Drawing up of ‘Tulli Charter’ and establishment of ‘Tulli Team’ for collaborative decision-making on the Vision for Tulli

The Charrette covered a huge amount of ground in a condensed time frame and created consensus from the wide range of stakeholders involved in a way that no other process could have achieved.  A key success factor was having top representatives of all the organisations devoting their time to benefit the overall process.

To this day the Tulli Team is still active, guided by the Tulli Charter and the catalogue of projects from the Vision for Tulli and several of the Vision projects are underway.

An international competition was held for the station area, with the Charrette report included as part of the competition brief.  City representatives and winning team COBE, from Denmark, made a trip to visit projects in and around London, including Kings Cross redevelopment and Camden Market, which had been presented by the JTP teams during the Tampere workshops. 

The station design work is now underway and incorporates many concepts that emerged during the Tulli Charrette. Renewal of the existing station, now called the Travel Centre, is undergoing the ‘zoning-phase’ process, and will consist of a 200,000 m2 floor area accommodating residential accommodation for 6,000 people and business space for 4,000 employees.

Tulli’s planners are working through the local plan process, aiming to house 1,000 people in mixed-use buildings, to help accommodate the city’s growing population. On the main road in the eastern part of Tulli are proposals for existing 4-storey residential blocks to be extended up to a total of 10-12 storeys. Other existing low-rise buildings nearby are to be demolished and replaced by new-build apartments.

The ‘UniverCity’ concept for Tampere University is on hold, pending further decision-making, but a student accommodation company is converting existing offices in Tulli with ground floor mixed uses and student rooms above.

The Long-Distance Bus Terminal may still be implemented but is now in the hands of the government, not the city.  Improvements are being introduced for cycle routes through the Tulli area as part of the city’s sustainability strategy. The the first phase of the underground car park is now complete and the demolition of the multi-story car park in the heart of Tulli, whilst currently on hold, may still be implemented.

Tampere West+ Vision 2020
The years of investment focussed on Tulli, the Travel Centre and the city wide Tramway projects generated a feeling that Tampere’s historic city centre to the west of the rapids was being neglected. To redress the balance, and reflecting the success of the Tulli charrette process, the city again commissioned JTP and Von Zadow International to lead a multi-disciplinary team to carry out another local business funded Charrette process to co-create a Vision for the revitalisation of the mixed-use area known as WEST+.

The West+ Charrette programme, run from February to October 2020, had to be modified to be facilitated both face to face and virtually due to the social distancing and travel restrictions brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic, but it was completed successfully and the outcomes are set out in the report published in English here and Finnish here. To see the detailed Report Back presentation pdf click here for part 1 and part 2, and the summary broadsheet here.

Charles Campion joins Design Council’s new network of design experts

A multi-disciplinary, diverse community of practice set to address major social, environmental and economic challenges.

On Monday 19 April 2021, Design Council announced its refreshed network of built and natural environment experts who collectively embody the organisation’s commitment to make life better by design. Charles Campion, author of 20/20 Vision: Collaborative Planning & Placemaking (RIBA Publishing) and partner at JTP architects, masterplanners and placemakers, has been invited to joins the network as a “specialist”.  In addition, JTP has joined the network as a corporate partner.

“I am delighted to have been invited to be part of this diverse network and look forward to collaborating with Design Council colleagues and experts to deliver design advice and support services over the coming years, in my role as specialist and with JTP as a corporate partner.”

Charles Campion

The Design Council expert network, which consists of a wide range of active leaders and change makers from various professions, backgrounds and regions, is an essential part of Design Council’s role in delivering design advice and support services in the built and natural environment and beyond.

Over the coming months, this new network of experts will join with Design Council’s recently refreshed group of design associates, to form a dynamic community of practice which will share ideas, insights and develop exciting opportunities to collaborate. By bringing together experts in place, social and business innovation, service and systemic design, and by better reflecting underrepresented groups, this community of practice is in a strong position to respond positively and even more effectively to some of society’s most pressing challenges.

“The social, environmental and economic value of the built and natural environment is informed and enhanced by solutions that are inclusive and holistic. I am delighted to welcome back many of our existing experts as well as introduce new faces and bring them together with our highly acclaimed design associates to build a dynamic community of practice.”

Minnie Moll, Design Council Chief Executive

The appointment includes 34 ambassadors, 350 associates and specialists as well more than 20 corporate partners, representing a wide variety of skills, expertise and experience in the industry across the UK, including all nine regions in England. The new structure replaces Design Council’s previous roster of built environment experts, many of whom applied for and were welcomed into the new group.

The full list of new corporate partners, associates and specialists can be seen here.

Integral to the network is its ability to offer Design Council’s clients and contacts a range of expertise, best serving their communities and wider society. Underpinning this is a passion for design innovation and creating truly inclusive environments. Each expert has a distinct role, from architecture, urban design and landscape architecture to circular economy and net zero carbon consultancy, which can shape ideas and projects from the earliest stages.

People’s Powerhouse! by Mary Clear, Co-founder, Incredible Edible Todmorden

In this month’s blog Mary Clear, co-founder of Incredible Edible reflects on the impact Incredible Edible has made on the former mill town of Todmorden and how the Covid emergency has showcased the power of community and kindness.

Never under-estimate the power and the reach of activated, motivated citizens to sort out a town!

What a day to do a blog! I’ve just done a Zoom with our town councillors, I didn’t hold back, why bother now!? I felt they listened and I felt they cared.

Over the years our project has not felt the love from our Town Council. The public realm has been seen forever as belonging to power not people. Covid has changed all that.

Our team is out picking up litter, planting and fixing stuff while the absence of other workers continues.

During these dark days we have fed thousands of people through our food distribution project and built little libraries to distribute free books.

Our urban growing group is able to respond to the crisis with an energy not found in other places.

“People laughed at our “thing” about public benches, not laughing now are they?”

We love our streets and green spaces as that is where lives are lived out. We love to install benches and beautiful things. We live in an area of back to back homes with little private space, nowhere to sit safe outside.

People laughed at our “thing” about public benches, not laughing now are they!?

We like words in the landscape, we are fuelled on kindness, now more than ever our favourite word is needed by all.

Never under-estimate the power and the reach of activated, motivated citizens to sort out a town!

The public realm shouldn’t need reclaiming, but it does!

We haven’t got Banksy on our side, just ordinary Joes who see the sense and feel the joy of altering the town to suit the needs of its people.

It’s a sign of the times! No one is going to do the fixing needed for a very long time, so we just crack on.

It might not be very legal to plant up the cop shop with veg but the jails are full, so it will never matter!

Don’t think big society, think small, let’s take back the streets one plot at a time.

Many, many years ago, during the Upper Calder Valley Renaissance process, JTP encouraged us to follow our dreams, we did and we grew and grew. We don’t have offices, staff or a desire for a kingdom. We own our streets.

You the great and the good, architects and urbanistas, can help all of us be the change we want to see.

For more information on the Upper Calder Valley Renaissance process please visit the JTP website here.