This month we spoke to Natasha Vadorin, who organises the Farmers' & Craft Market in Beckley Village Hall.
1. What’s the story of Beckley Farmers’ & Craft Market?
The market existed in a previous form but Covid had of course put a stop to it. I joined Beckley Parish Council in 2020 and when life started to return to normal and we began having meetings again, I was asked to resurrect the market. It took a while to get things up and running – nothing really existed from its past life, so I was starting from scratch – getting back in touch with some of our old stallholders and finding new ones. Our first market in its present form took place in April 2022 and it was a huge success with queues stretching out of the door! It was so refreshing to see how well attended it was and it set the tone for everything it has now become. Since then we have had a market once a month with only two exceptions – August when everyone is on holiday and November because it’s too close to the Christmas market.
The Farmers’ Market doesn’t have a webpage for customers – we have a very active Facebook page.
2. How are you connected to Beckley and what made you want to develop the Farmers' Market?
I moved to Beckley when I was 16 and the village has changed so much over the years. We still have our wonderful pub, but there used to be two. The various shops the village had over the years are long gone. The petrol station has gone too. Of course, we still have our school and pre-school and we have various clubs and societies but I think I just wanted to get more involved in village life and specifically in ways that would encourage a greater sense of community. I was just aware of the growing need for this now that we’re missing those places where local people would have ordinarily met up regularly. I had lots of ideas but didn’t know where to start, but then I spotted an advert for the Parish Council, and it has all developed from there.
My non-market life couldn’t be more different. I work for an insurance companyand I’ve been there since 2008 – it’s a completely different world. Running Beckley Farmers market has enabled me to have a creative outlet that my day job simply doesn’t call for. It has also helped me grow so much – I’m from a sales background and I’ve always been confident on the phone but when I started running the market I was very lacking in confidence when it came to meeting new people and speaking in public. That of course had to change with my role on the Parish Council and when it comes to running the market I’m meeting new people all of time and now I really love it. Running the market has also made me become super organised and I wasn’t before!
3. What makes your business unique?
I think the atmosphere makes Beckley Farmers’ Market unique, and that comes down to the mix of stallholders we have each month. I have a very clear strategy for the line-up we have– I don’t just say yes to everyone. Of course, we have regular stallholders who are loyal to the market and we are loyal to them. I will also always ensure that we have food stalls so that local people who use us for their provisions shopping can do so, but beyond that, I like to keep things fresh and you won’t ever find more than one of the same sort of stall at our market – there are only so many candles or chutneys people can buy after all!
I now have a lengthy waitlist from businesses who would like to take a stall at the market. I don’t allow pre-booking to keep things fair. Each month I send around an email and then hand pick the line-up from those who respond. Each month we have around 30 stallholders and the vast majority of the businesses you’ll find at the market are female-owned. I think women are natural entrepreneurs.
It's a proper little community hub. The WI take turns at running the kitchen so visitors can enjoy tea and cake and have a catch up with friends while they shop. We’re very family friendly which encourages families to stay longer too.
4. What are your business values?
Above all else the market is a not for profit, it exists as a means of keeping the village hall open. I think it’s about making sure we’re focused on Beckley and the surrounding area, and that we stay relevant for the people who use the market. To that end, we will always have fruit and veg, meat, bread and cheese – all local – because we have several people in the village who like to use us for their shopping, but I’ll always make sure we have a good mix of everything else.
I like to regularly offer a free stall to a charity so they can use the market to raise awareness too. I’m very conscious that for lots of small businesses markets aren’t just about sales they are also a marketing tool for them – a low-cost way to spread awareness and reach new people.
5. What are your plans for your business in 2024 – what are you focusing on?
I’ve got lots of plans in development!
One idea that we started working on last year that didn’t quite come to fruition is a sort of ‘speed dating’ event for local businesses so that we can find ways to connect and benefit each other. For example, maybe a local catering business is having to use a national wholesaler, simply because they don’t know that they have a local artisan baker on their doorstep, or a cheesemaker in the next village.
I’m also working with Mia from The Kind Table in Rye (also a regular stallholder at Beckley Farmer’s Market) on plans for a Junior Beckley Craft & Farmer’s Market. It’s a really exciting idea for young creative and entrepreneurial minds (10-13yrs). I won’t say too much at the moment because I don’t want to give the game away just yet but it’s going to be amazing – watch this space.
Eventually, I’d love the farmers market to become accredited- that would be a real feather in our cap and would help us to access funding opportunities.
6. What are the challenges your business faces this year?
Competition from other markets. There are markets in Northiam, Staplecross, Brede to name a few. Northiam is only two weeks apart from ours each month and we share some of the same stallholders and some customers might not choose to visit both markets. So, we have to make sure we’re offering something different. But it isn’t an Us and Them situation – in fact, the organisers of Brede, Staplehurst, Staplecross and Lenham markets are all women and we’ve formed a little networking group so we can support each other.
7. What are you most proud of in your business?
I have two young local volunteers (12 and 15) who help me run the market. and I’m hugely proud of how they have risen to the challenge and grown in confidence. They problem-solve, are reliable and committed to the job, work with me and also on their own – and I think have developed some really important skills to take forward in life.
8. If there was one piece of advice you wish you’d had been given when you opened your business what would it be?
Trust yourself. To begin with, I doubted myself a great deal, but I’ve learned that I have pretty good instincts – worth trusting! I don’t have a committee for running the market because I want to be able to make decisions quickly and get things done – we wouldn’t have moved forward as quickly as we have otherwise. You need to be able to be reactive to changing situations.
9. Has the market prompted wider change in the village and have you seen changes in the area generally when it comes to markets?
Yes, I think it’s given people in the village the confidence to do things in a bigger way because they’ve seen that things can work. It’s a snowball effect. The preschool had a big end of year fair that was very successful for example.
We’re also organising other sorts of events at the village hall – disco nights, bingo, murder mystery evenings – that sort of thing. We’d like to showcase the village hall for affordable wedding receptions as well. The village community has undoubtedly strengthened as a consequence of all of this.
I think local farmers markets have become more important in the area because Jempsons – much as we love having a local independent supermarket – has the monopoly, and also on a Sunday there is very little open locally especially in winter. The farmers’ market gives people a shopping option where there previously wasn’t one.
Check them out on Facebook! @BeckleyFarmerMarket
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