'Neighborhood economy' blooms at new UK flower market
Guy Henderson in London
Europe;United Kingdom

More than half of Britons do not think their government has handled the COVID-19 pandemic well. That's according to a poll of more than 2,000 people by the Health Foundation. The UK was one of Europe's worst-hit during the first wave earlier this year. But as parts of the rest of the continent now try to prevent a second surge of cases, new infections have, so far, remained relatively stable in the UK.

That is bringing consumers back out to shop.


Some consumers are keen to engage with local businesses & the wider community again. /CFP

Some consumers are keen to engage with local businesses & the wider community again. /CFP


In one London suburb, people were lining round the block to visit London's first new flower market in 150 years. Lewis Cox set up a stall at the Chiswick Flower Market after a boom in his online business, Urban Tropicana, during lockdown. Emerging from it, though, customers started telling Cox they wanted face-to-face time. "The thing about being an online business is, it's quite impersonal. You don't see anyone. Here you get to speak to people and people get to learn a lot about plants."

There are some things no online shopping experience can replace: a chance to touch, feel, try, to seek advice - and perhaps, simply to be among other people. That is giving founders hope for the "neighborhood economy." 

Ollie Saunders posted the idea of a market to revitalize Chiswick High Road back in February, before the pandemic. The concept quickly gained traction, even as lockdown kicked in. "A lot of shops have closed," says Saunders, who's lived in the area for 16 years. "But what's also great is there's a real sense of community." The market will be run as a community-interest company, meaning all the profits go back into improving the area.

Plenty of Chiswick residents appear to want their local shops back, after years of gradual decline.


In a hugely challenging year, signs of hope are back in bloom. /CFP

In a hugely challenging year, signs of hope are back in bloom. /CFP


In some ways, the pandemic has brought a silver lining for the local business community. Pre-pandemic, it had struggled to compete with big city-center names. Now, with many more people working from home and wary of longer trips, that trend has been reversed.

Springboard analyses retail footfall data across the UK. The company's insights director, Diane Werhle, says people are tending to stay in their local centers, even after lockdown measures are eased.

There is, of course, another benefit from selling plants right now – stuck at home, many have became a lot keener on gardening. Local resident Barbara Wright says she's transformed her garden in the past few months. "I've also tried growing tomatoes this year, so they're rampaging around the place now," she says. "I couldn't help but come to buy more."

As winter approaches, much remains uncertain. But right now, this particular local high street is literally blooming again.