'We count for nothing' - Cornish market traders blame council for closure after 65 years

Traders and customers have spoken of their dismay and heartache after it was announced that a 65-year-old market in Cornwall will close.

Organisers of Helston Market have blamed the town council for increasing its rent by over 140% without consulting them.

Announcing the closure to its supporters, a spokesperson for the market – which has run for generations in Helston Guildhall – said: “It is with a heavy heart that I have to inform you that after 65 years, the Helston Country Market will have to close at the end of May.

"A decision was made by the council to increase our rent by over 140% without consultation or negotiation making it impossible for us to carry on.

“Believe me when I say we’ve tried everything, but clearly after 65 years, we count for nothing. We would like to thank all of our customers, past and present, for their support over the years, we shall miss you all.”

However, Helston Town Council denies the market’s version of events and says it has been supportive, allowing traders to rent its room for half price since the end of 2020 to help cope with the effects of Covid and lockdown.

The council says the market was offered the opportunity to meet to discuss the new rental costs, but declined.

The market’s organisers deny this and say they have called for meetings and will be discussing the matter with the town’s mayor.

Jude Carroll, who lives nearby, said she visits every Friday to buy her eggs and veg: “It’s the perfect start to the day – I go home much happier after I’ve visited. When you’re older a social event like this makes a difference to your day.”

Esme Anderson, who has young children, pops in every other Friday to buy knitted baby clothes. She said: “It’s really sad. If it means this room will now remain empty, then that’s ridiculous.”

Elizabeth Davis moved to Helston from Canada as she loves the town so much.

A huge supporter of the country market, she added: “It’s not just the town council … we need more volunteers, producers and customers. They say Helston is a dying town, but they’re helping to kill it.”

Debbie Houghton, one of the event’s organisers, said that during a market committee meeting in March, a member of the council presented them with a letter stating the rental prices would be going up the next day.

“There was no consultation at all," she added.

Some of the organisers of Helston Country Market, which will close at the end of the month Credit: LDRS

Market manager Diane Mitchell added: “It’s largely an ageing community that runs and uses the market, and there isn’t very much else for them to do in Helston.

"We are a place for people who are isolated or have health issues to meet. We’re like an information bureau for the town, keeping people up to date with what’s going on.

"Everybody knows somebody who comes here.

"The people who have stalls here are mostly retired people and aren’t here to make a living, but are very much doing it for the community.”

Helston Country Market is part of the National Country Markets Limited organisation.

After a percentage of around 10 per cent of all sales is taken for Country Market Limited the producers keep the remaining money, selling everything from fruit and veg to plants, cakes, preserves, honey, clothes and soft toys.

Town clerk Pamela Lavelle said: “Helston Town Council reviewed and simplified their room hire charges in March 2023. This was the first change to our commercial hire charge since before 2004. Members of the task and finish group took the increase in energy charges amongst other considerations into account when making their recommendation. Their conclusion was that the previous charges did not cover the cost of letting the rooms.

“There is now one hourly rate of £14.40 (including VAT) for hire of either room. These charges are comparable to other hire charges in Helston.

“In November 2020 the town council agreed to reduce the hire charge for Helston Country Market to half price due to the impact of Covid.

"From that time until the end of April 2023, Helston Country Market had been paying £18 a week for room hire instead of the full commercial rate (at that time) of £36.

“Helston Country Market were offered a choice of dates to meet with the Mayor and Deputy Mayor to discuss the matter, they were also advised to write to the council as a whole setting out their situation. They declined to take either course of action.

“Members of the Helston Country Market Committee have informed officers that the change in room hire fees is not the only reason Helston Country Market have decided to cease trading, mentioning fewer traders since lockdown, a lack of sufficient customers and not enough traders willing to step into committee positions as contributing factors in their decision.”

The market is asking people to come and support its final two events on May 19 and 26, running from 9am till noon.

Organisers say they want to find alternative premises for the market but think that many options would be too far out of the town centre for many of the older customers.

Credit: Lee Trewhela, Local Democracy Reporting Service