An international cohort of postgraduate students from Oxford Brookes University recently visited New Spitalfields Market on what has become an annual research project.

The students are learning how to put urban policy into practice and each year they are set a project to regenerate a market in a different area of Ghana, West Africa. This year’s group, which included students from India and South Africa as well as the UK, was tasked with redeveloping Apenkwa Urban Market, in Accra, “in order to deliver significant economic benefits to the area through the provision of affordable, appropriate market spaces for traders, together with complimentary employment, retail and leisure uses”.

To aid their research, they were given a tour of New Spitalfields Market and then a presentation detailing the way the market is managed and how it operates by Jan Hutchinson, Chief Executive of the Spitalfields Market Tenants’ Association.

Dr Regina Mapúa Lim, Senior Lecturer at Oxford Brookes and Subject Coordinator for the Urban Design Postgraduate Programme said her students routinely cite the visit to New Spitalfields as the most fascinating aspect of their research on different types of markets.  “Jan has been brilliant in showing our students how New Spitalfields is actually run, how it works financially and how it provides food security to the people of London. It is a great example for our students because it has been relocated from the heart of the City and adapted accordingly,” she said.

“We tend to stick to Ghana for our projects and very few of our students come from Ghana or have visited there, so what they are learning are the aspects of owning, operating and trading in a market that are transferrable. Every city needs a secure food chain and therefore every city needs a market. By carrying out their urban analysis, they become experts on urban development.

“First they research how the people of Ghana eat, where they buy from and what food hubs exist, then they look at issues such as transport and food sources – the entire structure and culture of a market.  They take on board what they learn at markets like New Spitalfields, Brixton and Camden in London, as well as researching international markets online, and then as a group they decide which of the policies and procedures can be adjusted and adapted to an urban market environment in West Africa. This, of course can be applied to other parts of the world too - two students from a previous year's group have since been recruited as consultants on a regeneration programme for a market in the Philippines.”

When the project is completed each year, it is assessed by experts from Ghana. Dr Regina said: “This year’s group did not include wholesale in their final recommendations for Apenkwa, preferring to go with a retail market, with additional educational and leisure activities for the local community. Every year is different though and Jan’s insight always proves invaluable.”

Jan added: “I think it’s been eight years now since we started doing this and it has been a great experience. I think it opens the eyes of students who could well be the urban developers of the future to the unique operational structure of wholesale markets, and of course New Spitalfields in particular, and the vital role that markets like ours play in providing fresh food to billions of people around the world.”

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