APRIL CLAYTON

It was a normal busy Wednesday for the traders of Uxbridge Crafts Market when I walked into The Pavilions shopping centre to try to seek out the man who puts this whole event together; Leon Coleman. Being a busy man, I waited for him to come down to the market so we could have a chat, and he was as nice and friendly as everyone had told me.

Leon started the Uxbridge Crafts Market back in 1988, 27 years ago. The longevity of the market really shows how much hard work, time and effort Leon has put into the event to make it what it is today; a popular, well-loved creative and interesting market fixture.

The crafts market isn't just your usual market stall. The multiple stalls cater to a wide variety of products, such as home-made jewelry, refurbished homeware, knitwear, fabrics, curtains and blinds. It also includes a charity stall called Dimensions and one from West London Community College who present their homemade jams and chutney, so as you can tell you can get a lot of what you don’t expect, which is what makes this market different and exciting.

“I really enjoy what I do and it’s a way of making a living at the same time” He tells me how he's always been interested in working with small businesses. “I wanted to go beyond small markets that are outside and in town halls, I wanted mine to be bigger and better”.

The market has a constant flow of business every week because of Leon’s dedication, as he tells me “I spend a lot of time organising the market, I would say a good 2-3 days a week. I have to speak to potential new traders and answer all their enquiries. And then there’s making sure things run smoothly on the day. I regularly get potential new traders looking to pitch their business for the market because having a stall in a shopping centre is the best advert for your business”.

Feature See Things Differently... Credit April Clayton

Leon, 65, has previously been involved with art groups at schools and other companies with craft activities, even being known as the ‘king of the craft markets’ because at one point he ran three markets at the same time. He has always been involved in weekend craft fayres, saying “The best market that I ran before this one was the unit I had for about a year at Gatwick airport, but I was looking for something more regular and the Pavilions had just been modernised so it was perfect”.

Although Leon is trying to slow down on the amount of work he’s involved in, he can’t help but get involved with other projects “I am currently involved in reminiscence work, a therapy for older people with early signs of dementia”. He also does theatre work and helps writes scripts, “It’s long been an interest of mine; it’s nice to be creating something”.

As the market has been going for so long, Leon talks me through his idea to update in terms of marketing “The market offers a personal service because of how in touch the traders are with their customers”. Leon wants to match this personal service with personal marketing techniques. He admits “I’m not great with e-marketing, I think people receive an email and they soon forget about it. I would like to post letters to small businesses in the area and just let them know that the market is here, basically highlighting the services we offer”

Leon tells me how he would like to see more people shopping at independent businesses, “I think independent shops and restaurants are great, they are much more interesting - branded shops all look the same. It’s up to the trader to create the right type of environment and atmosphere where people will feel comfortable’’

He believes that with independent shopping comes good, old fashioned service. “I love to get a personal service which is why I will go back to the same place if it offers me this. You may pay a bit more but at the end of the day it’s more fun and it’s different”. However, Leon is keen to stress how you can’t force people into preferring an independent business. “It has to be their choice, it’s all about persuading the customer”.

I asked if running such a busy and successful market takes a toll on him, and he says “At times, you do get fed up but you have to keep going, we all have to make a living”.

Leon said that if he wasn't running a crafts market he would be running his own sandwich shop. “There’s so much money in it, the amount of people that queue up every day for an average made sandwich is unbelievable” It’s not such a crazy idea!

You can visit the Uxbridge Crafts Market every Wednesday in The Pavilion Shopping Centre between 9am and 5pm.