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Shopping: Ely Markets is back in action




Ely Markets is back in action. Beginning with a twice-weekly market for essential shopping, the local arts, crafts, artisan and antique traders are soon to follow. As they prepare to return to the market square, Alice Ryan chats to five stallholders about life, work and lockdown

Kate Neill, Hothouse Vintage

A childhood love of “treasure hunting in junk shops and bric-a-brac stalls” grew into a grown-up passion for collecting. Then, when Kate Neill and her partner realised they’d accumulated more pieces than their home could hold, she decided to turn her hobby into a business - and so Hothouse Vintage, which sells decorative antiques and vintage items for home and garden, was born.

A regular on Ely Market since 2012, Hothouse also trades at antique fairs and online, and also offers a sourcing and design service for retail spaces and special events, such as weddings. “My customers are those who want their homes to be filled with individual items with character,” says Kate. “Everything I sell is a one-off, unique piece with its own history.”

Starting the business from her Ely spare room, Kate now rents storage facilities to accommodate stock and “the business inevitably spills over into the rest of the house: it is not unusual to have various ‘in-progress’ refurbishment projects and stacks of parcels awaiting dispatch dotted about the place”.

Vintage kitchenware, garden items and original artwork are perennially popular and, offering free local and national delivery during the pandemic, Kate has seen a recent surge in interest in both decorative homeware and vintage bar paraphernalia, including glasses and ice buckets. “I guess people have been enjoying a drink in lockdown,” she says.

Having missed the social side of market trading, Kate says she’s also looking forward to going out buying again: “It’s a lot of fun: it’s rare that we return from a buying trip without something we want to keep for our own home.”

Seeing photos of Hothouse finds in their forever homes is a real reward, adds Kate, who says the future is looking bright for vintage. “Increasing environmental awareness in recent years has led to less people wanting mass produced goods for their homes and instead turning to antique and vintage pieces that are both unique and greener.”

* Find Hothouse Vintage back in the market square and in Kate’s Etsy store: etsy.com/uk/shop/HotHouseVintageCo

Hannah George, Oriolo Jewellery

A “love of beautiful things, designing and making jewellery, working outside and being independent”, inspired Hannah George to quit her software career to found Oriolo four years ago.

Based in “a messy office in our cottage in Earith and an equally messy workshop in the garden”, with rescue sproodle Pogi for company, she sells a huge and ever-expanding range of jewellery, spanning modern stainless steel through to antique silver and gold, via costume pieces and her own work, including her best-selling scrambler necklace - a solid sterling silver scramble on a snake chain.

During lockdown, social media has been a saviour, says Hannah: “It's difficult not seeing all my lovely customers but we've had lots of contact.” As well as selling pieces - “people have been buying lots of gifts for the friends and family they can't see due to lockdown, with lots of sweet messages attached” - Hannah has been fixing pieces too. “I want to help people repair their jewellery so they can wear what they love,” she explains. “Costume pieces can be enjoyed for just as long as diamonds and gold!”

While the market’s been closed, it’s the sense of connection with both shoppers and fellow traders that Hannah’s missed most. “I love being part of something that is centuries old and is such a vital part of our society,” she adds. “I believe the markets are good for people on so many levels: good emotionally, environmentally and not to mention kind on the pocket, too.”

* To browse thousands of pieces, visit oriolo.co.uk, @hannahoriolojewellery on Instagram and @oriolojewellery on Facebook. Hannah is currently offering free postage on all orders and is happy to answer questions about any piece - just message her.

Becky Curtis, Buster & Lou

Buster & Lou takes its name from Becky Curtis’s two cats, Buster and Lucia. “I started making pet collars about six years ago as they refused to wear the normal heavier collars,” she explains. “I also found that shop collars were either very blingy or utilitarian, neither of which suited my babies - I wanted more Kate Winslet than Katie Price!”

Working from a converted brick outhouse at the bottom of her Newmarket garden - complete with shelf-mounted cat bed for Buster, who likes to keep her company and listen to the radio - Becky then moved into dog collars, having trialled various materials and techniques to make them as strong as they are comfy, followed by slide-on collar bow ties. “Making them meant I could choose what fabrics and designs I wanted whether floral, stripy, spotted, making the possibilities endless,” explains Becky, who’s since launched her a companion range of dog and cat mugs and coasters, featuring her own illustrations.

Online her bestsellers are the classic tartan and any yellow-patterned cat collars, but the customer base at Ely Market is, she laughs, “definitely more 'doggy', so it’s the dog collars, with plaids and floral being favourites.”

Since Covid-19 broke out, web sales have been buoyant, with her new range of washable face masks which, produced in response to customer demand, come in all colours and prints and have proved hugely popular. “There has been a massive increase in cat collars online and some designs of the face masks sold out in a day, so it shows people want something to make a statement!”

“I am so lucky to do what I do,” adds Becky. “It is hard work and the hours can change depending on what orders or shows you have, but I love animals and when I am out at the market or shows it means I get to meet other people who do too.”

* As well as finding Buster & Lou at the market, you can shop online at busterandlou.com or contact Becky via her Facebook page.

Christine Vidal, Made in Provence

Whenever Christine Vidal was planning a visit to her native Provence, she’d be inundated with requests to bring back local specialities, from olive tapenade and duck rillettes to lavender soap, for friends and family in the UK.

“I realized that my region - the villages spread around the Mont Ventoux, famous through the Tour de France - was full of amazing artisans, small producers, beekeepers, lavender growers, who made fantastic products only available from local Provencal markets,” she explains.

In response to the UK demand for these products, Christine founded Made in Provence in 2009, setting up base in a garden outbuilding “under a lovely oak tree which I absolutely love as I am surrounded by greenery and I often see squirrels, pheasants and other wildlife whilst sitting at my desk”.

When coronavirus hit, Christine’s website was, she admits, “desperately out of date and the online ordering system stopped working months ago”. Within 10 days, thanks to local company segmetise.com, she had a new online shop, plus new logo and Facebook page.

She has seen buying patterns shift: “I went from selling a lot of gift items such as unique pieces of pottery, scented gifts and some fine food to selling lots of speciality food such as vegan dips, olive oil, pates, Herbes de Provence and, of course, lots of gentle olive oil based soap bars and hand cream to go with it.” She’s also been selling food parcels to be sent to far-away loved ones.

“I love sourcing natural, handmade products that are sustainable and sharing them with my clientele,” adds Christine. “I must confess that I am a bit of a workaholic, but then I see my business as a passion more than just a job.”

* Christine’s online shop is open seven days a week at madeinprovence.co.uk, with free delivery to UK mainland for all orders of £30 and above. She also regularly shares recipes, special offers and photos of products on the Made in Provence Facebook page.

Miriam Noble-Hagger, The Woollery

When Ely’s last wool shop closed, keen knitter Miriam Noble-Hagger decided to fill the gap in the crafts market with The Woollery, her yarn enterprise. “I’m a newbie to Ely Market, having only started in February this year,” she says. “But I have seen sun, rain, winds and snow in the short time I have stood on the market! Everyone is so friendly and I have met lots of lovely customers, some who return each week.”

When lockdown forced the closure of her regular Thursday Charter Market pitch, Miriam was swift to diversify: in the space of two days, she’d turned her van into a temporary shop “with a place for everything and everything in its place, so that I have easy access to stock at all times”. Promoting her web shop via social media, she then started to offer a free local delivery service on orders over £10, a system which proved such a hit it may continue even once lockdown ends.

Since March, rainbow coloured yarn has been a consistent top-seller, with people both knitting and crocheting rainbow wall and window hangers in support of the NHS. “I also have customers making Paddington Bears and NHS dolls which have been sold to raise funds,” adds Miriam.

Stocking four-ply, Aran, chunky and baby yarns, along with patterns, needles, hookd sna buttons. Her most popular range is the Stylecraft Special Double Knit yarn, which comes in 97 shades “and I stock them all, and at £1.99 for 100g it’s a real bargain,” she adds.

“The market is a fantastic place to be,” concludes Miriam. “You meet lots of fantastic people and, though it may sound like a cliché, everybody is so friendly. I wish I had done it years ago.”

* Miriam is now back at the market and you can order ahead for collection. Visit thewoollery.co.uk to find out more and view the full range of available yarns.

At the heart of Ely community life for more than 800 years, Ely Markets usually holds three main markets a week, plus a farmers’ market twice a month and mini-markets on Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. At time of going to press, an essential goods market was running twice-weekly, 8.30am to 3.30pm, Thursday and Saturday. The situation is fast evolving: for latest news on dates, times, stallholders and the social distancing measures in place, visit elymarkets.co.uk or follow @elymarkets on social media.

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