Hands

21 10 2010

I’ve see a lot of skilled hands at work over the past couple of months and in my tests this week to find the right cloth for embroidering the final works I quickly stitched the hands of Jennifer Pritchard/Couchman a local bridal and dress designer.

Caroline and I spent time in her studio interviewing her, sketching and photographing her at work and I was surprised that she  stitches all the dresses herself, with these very hands. She was deftly at work, displaying great skill and speed with a pair of disturbingly pointy scissors. It made me think of the skills, crafts and care of the many traders I’ve met in Lancaster and the combination of old and new technologies found in their work.





Sketching and Stitching

20 10 2010

I’ve done about 20 interviews and sessions meeting and drawing with traders and am now listening to those and working on some large scale works on cloth for installation in 10 New Street on the 10th November.

Ive been sketching using embroidery, sewing with cotton on cotton. Cotton manufacturing was once an important industry in Lancaster and Lancashire and literally stitching up the stories seemed right as a response to all the conversations about the skills, knowledge and unique relationships the traders and their customers have. Over the next 2 weeks I’ll be posting more about the individual conversations and some audio clips as well as images and sketches from the project research.

Alice





Is Lancaster a Clone Town or a Home Town?

4 10 2010

The NEF (New Economics Foundation) have published a follow up to their 2005 Clone Town report, entitled Re-imaging the High Street: Escape From Clone Town Britain which makes for fascinating reading. It gives plenty of evidence for the need to support independent traders, something close to my heart as the Coordinator of the Talking Shop project at Mid Pennine Arts.

It highlights the prevalence of Clone Towns on high streets in Britain. A Clone Town is one which has the least variety of shops, and the highest number of chains. Home Towns, conversely, have a much clearer sense of identity, with greater variety in what the shops offer and a high number of independents rather than multiples. Surprisingly Cambridge scored as the worst Clone, with Whitstable in Kent as the highest scoring Home Town.

Lancaster wasn’t on the list, but the methodology was described in the report, so I’m planning to do my own research to find out where Lancaster will score on the Clone-to-Home Town scale. Having spent a fair amount of time there and seeing how many independents there are I’m guessing it will come out fairly high, but we shall see!

One last thought from the report – “the towns most dependent on the biggest chains and out of town stores have proven to be most vulnerable in the economic crisis.” Proof surely that we need to make sure towns keep their independence to ensure their future survival?

Lucy





Lancaster market

1 10 2010

Trading in Lancaster has been centred around the local market for decades. Independent retailers coming together under one roof to supply the community with good quality, fresh produce. To discover more about this, one way is to speak directly with the stall owners themselves, asking questions including, is shopping in a market still popular? Is it easy to compete with large supermarkets? Where does all the produce come from? Do they have a secure customer base? If yes, how have they built it up? And finally, why do they do it?!

The market place can sometimes be seen as the centre of a community. A place for people to meet, shop and trade. Lancaster’s historic market has changed considerably over the years but is still a place you can trust for fresh produce and friendly faces. From fabric and jewellery to meat and fish, a range of locally sourced products can be found within the markets walls. Even though the market today isn’t in its original location due to a fire in 1984, tradition and continuity are still apparent in the way the stall owners trade and communicate with the customers. When speaking with many of the traders a dominant theme is apparent; customer service. Building up a rapport with the customer is very important to the traders in the market. A relationship of trust must be established so the customers will come back time and time again for good quality food.

With the rise of more commercial food outlets and chain stores offering cheap deals on produce, traders in the market have pushed through with their customer service skills and in some areas have come out on top compared to major supermarkets. In the current economic climate supermarkets have had to lower their prices to keep their customers. Stall owners are continuing to provide good quality food and a warm welcome to customers to ensure their regulars don’t go elsewhere.  Now more than ever people want to know where their food comes from, when it was caught/harvested and how long it’s been on the counter for. All these questions are easily answered by the traders in Lancaster’s market. When answering these questions the stall owners are helping to keep the importance of buying locally alive and stimulating the local economy. A study completed in June 1985 assessing the potential for increased intra-regional trading in the Lancaster area, stressed the importance for local buying, one resident of Lancaster stating ‘ we must do what we can to stimulate the local economy’. When speaking to the fishmonger (R&P Shaw) and butcher (The Bacon Stall) both stressed the important of their customer base and listening to what consumers want. Knowing what the customer wants before they know themselves is an important attribute a good trader must have. This enables the market to keep up with the demand and tailor their stalls to the consumer providing an overall more personal shopping experience.

After the second fire in 1984 some market stalls were moved into a beautiful heritage building; The Assembly Rooms on King Street. Originally meant as a temporary residence for haberdashery and clothing, has now become a permanent site for vintage clothing, antiques and curiosities.  Again these stall owners value their customer base and the importance of local trading.  Each stall owner, like the butcher and fishmonger, have also built up a relationship with customers tailoring their products to their needs. Due to the intimate relationship between stall owner and customer they had been able to listen to what customers want and could keep up with demand.  Even though big department stores and supermarkets have opened and become ever more popular in the last 20 years, local produce and customer service are still proving popular within the local community. Keeping local independent traders open in Lancaster is also important to the community and closure could be detrimental to the local shopping atmosphere and economy.

So, with their passion for the job and traditional values, stall traders in the market and The Assembly Rooms should be praised for keeping the local economy alive and their excellent customer service skills. Without them, Lancaster could lack the charm and community atmosphere which distinguishes it from other major cities.