Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Aylesbury Fisheries ~ the day before dawn...

The plans had been laid many months before, but Saturday 23rd May
2015 the day had finally arrived. +Diane Richardson and I were off to Billingsgate Fish Market with Joe Stokes of +Aylesbury Fisheries to record the story of what happens before most of us get out of bed!

The day started with an early morning alarm clock at 1:15am. A quick cup of Tea and then off to collect Diane and then to the Market for the rendezvous with Joe at 2am. Joe leaves for Billingsgate market at this time each day, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

The roads were quiet except for the taxis and clubbers just hitting the street. Central London looked like a busy night in Watford with the local food takeout shops doing a roaring trade. As we approached Billingsgate Joe drove into the Traders car park, Diane and I hit the Visitors car park which was very empty. £2.00 for 2 hours would be enough. We arrived at 2:50am. Visitors are usually allowed to enter the market at 4am, but there didn’t appear to be any real controls around
this. We did obtain permission to take pictures, which was why we were allowed in early and why when accosted by security they knew us by name!

First thoughts when we entered the main trading floor (which was very wet and made my experience with slick new shoes a little precarious) was that it wasn’t as big as I’d or Diane imagined it. I’d say it wasn’t much bigger than the old Watford Market. Forty or so traders with every conceivable harvest from the sea imaginable, porters busy hauling polystyrene boxes on small hand operated forklifts out to the loading areas. There was an overpowering sea smell as you would expect here, not that fishy smell of fish off the ice too long… but of the sea. Not unpleasant but 2 hours was going to prove long enough, I suppose the traders are used to it… One of the traders told us that the Paris and Japanese fish markets are huge in comparison to Billingsgate. One hall in the Japanese market is the same size as the entire Billingsgate market and just only for Tuna! I guess it would take days to get around that Market.

I finally caught up with Joe at about 3:10am only to find out he’d just about done all his buying. Joe has about 8 traders he regularly deals with, phones up the night before to find out what is coming in, places his orders for the local restaurant clients and then whatever he needs for the Market stall. Joe stays at the market till about 4:20am and then heads back to Watford.

Many of the local porters and Tradesman that Joe buys from have been working Billingsgate Market since it was in its old location. It moved to where it is now some 30 years ago. The old market used to be Billingsgate (Wholesale) Fish Market and business was confined to those people in the trade. Today, anyone can go along and buy fish, but buyer beware… Joe has seen people pay more for fish at Billingsgate than he sells it for on his stall at Watford Market.

Nevertheless people flock there looking for a bargain and yes you can buy fish at low cost… but there is a difference in quality. Joe only buys from those that know what he expects… if the fish isn’t the right quality then they won’t offer it to Joe. These relationships have been built over decades as Joe has been in the Fish market for 30+ years himself.

It is fascinating talking to the characters at the market, they all have a story or 10 to tell. Bob who Joe buys smoked products from and oily fish used to be a good boxer… there are a million other stories like this… and you get a sense of stepping into a bit of real London history brought to life at this moment. There is a richness of community and belonging that both Diane and I are privileged to have been able to witness, if only for a short while. I just wonder though with greed and the new ‘make a fast buck’ traders moving onto the Billingsgate scene how long this will continue… I hope that it will survive.

I have never seen so much fish for so long, how Diane remained focussed to take another fishy picture for almost two hours I’ll never know but Diane took a haul of over 200 pictures, some of which are here in this post, but the rest can be viewed here. Before leaving a very
busy Billingsgate Market filling up with the public, we grabbed a quick coffee / Tea (bacon roll for me) in the Cafe which is steeped in the history of the market (pictures adorning the walls). We left the main hall at 4:45am with Diane still snapping away, Joe had left ½ hour earlier, so now it was time to head back and see what happens back at the Watford Market end…

Back at Watford Market, 5:30am and the Fruit and Veg stall (Gary) is well underway too. These people really do work long hours… another story with Gary coming up later!! Around the corner in the New Market, Joe is already busy unloading the fish and placing the first items on display. Making sure that the fish is displayed well and looks its best is vitally important for customers, and at the heart of why Joe has a very successful business. The stall is impeccably clean as you will see from the videos how Joe washes down everything constantly. But none of this happens by itself. With limited display area, Joe needs to maximise on the space available. More like a construction site than a fish stall at the start with boxes and ice… plenty of ice… especially at this time of the year.

Close to 7am… the stall is looking amazing. With bolt on additional shelving added to the side of the stall, Joe is able to extend the unit a further 3 feet and this is used for shellfish and smoked fish items. Joe has already prepared and packed all the restaurant orders… so just the paperwork and invoicing to do (a real challenge with it being wet everywhere) and I think our work is almost done too. I select a whole range of fish for my weekend… Hake, Salmon, Tuna, King Prawns, Smoked Salmon and a bag of samphire should keep me going for the bank holiday weekend. Joe will now stay around until the ladies, Lisa and Sally come in at around 7:30am… when their day begins and Joe’s comes to a close. Joe is back late afternoon to clean up after the day’s trading, take stock and then begin placing orders for the next days trip to Billingsgate, although being a bank holiday weekend… there are a few days off at least.

Running a market stall such as a Fishmonger, Butchers, Fruit and Veg or even flowers is much more work than we can imagine… long hours, early mornings, lots of carrying back and forth, I think this short story might help us to appreciate these trades and what they do just a little more. We wish to thank Joe Stokes for inviting us into a glimpse of his world and we are very much looking forward to bringing more stories like this to the people of South West Herts and beyond.

Here is one of my weekend meals fish courtesy of Aylesbury Fisheries... a cheeky Salmon in Oyster sauce with grilled king prawns, boiled potatoes with oregano and butter.. and a salad with lebanese dressing... very tasty it was too!! ... from Billingsgate to the table!


Thursday, 21 May 2015

Watford Market Update!

Things are changing at Watford Market. As the spring has rolled on and the weather has begun to improve (come on weather…) there is a different feel to the Watford Market.

There have been some visible improvements too. The wraps around the pillars under the underpass are indicating where the actual market is there is some improved signage at both ends of the market and some paintings on the floor to help draw people in. The marketing has included a wrapper around the Free Watford Observer, and some improved leaflets which are being distributed (definitely to the stall holders, I believe they might also be in public spaces for people to pick up too).


The market opening times are have changed… and will change again come the beginning of June 2015. But in changing the hours the Market has been split into 3 categories. Inside the Market; downstairs, Inside the Market; upstairs in the food court, Outside on the street. The hours are different for the downstairs market to the Food court and in the street.

So what are the opening times…


Downstairs Market, Tuesday, *Thursday, Friday, Saturday, #Sunday (11-5pm)
Food Court, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, #Sunday (11-5pm)

Items marked with an ‘ * ‘ are days that the market will cease to be open from the beginning of June. Items marked with a ‘ # ‘ are opening dates / times that will commence from the beginning of June. Actual opening hours will be the same as always with the exception of Sunday.

There are changes to stalls in the Market too… 

The proper lush salad company has arrived 
Rootbag Records is now on the scene  …
We have Yiro - Contemporary Greek Street Food  
Eat Falafal join us...  
Noms Sari Sari Store (Far East general provisions)
Juices of Life ready for the warm weather  
Colourful Spirit ~ healing and spirituality  and
Glamour by DKUK …

There are some exciting new stalls here… I have already sampled most of the food outlets and the food is really quite exceptional!

Sadly the market has also lost some long term traders. Sweetie Sue will be opening her stall for the last time this Saturday, MAT Comics and the Little Retro Store have also gone some weeks ago. But fear not they have not gone forever they now join a growing number of traders who are taking on premises in Queens Road. If you remember Nuts About
Spice; AJ she is teaming up with Sue Fox (Sweetie Sue) and they are opening in Queens Road on the 2nd June as Sugar and Spice… do make sure you go and visit these valuable independent traders on Queens road, in what is becoming a revitalised street of Watford.

You may have noticed but the fruit and veg. store has now moved down the high street away from the overpass to the corner of Clarendon Road and the High Street. If you have ever heard the term that retailing is all about location, location, location it certainly is in Gary’s case (Owner). He has seen a sharp increase in takings moving  just 70 yards down the street. Interestingly enough Gary is now midway between where the old market was and the new market and just a stone’s throw from the Bus stops too.

A strange fact and maybe something to bear in mind regarding the food outlets and the food court itself. Gary reckons that 3 people on the first day said that they were pleased he had moved as they weren’t prepared to buy food so close to the overpass / main road… he said the he wouldn’t have thought anything about it if it was one person, but three on the same day!

Summing up…


As predicted in previous posts, the market is evolving and it needs to. The proposition of moving what worked in the old market 200 yards up the road and expecting it to be the same quite frankly was a little too hopeful. The new market is a completely different proposition and it needs to find a sense of itself. Personally I believe it will continue to evolve and develop into what it needs to be. Let’s hope that strong support for the market during the summer will create enough habits in new people to continue to make it viable in the winter months…

Final note… glad to see that the 2 additional heaters have now been put in place in time for the summer :)

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Why we need to rebuild community

Pretty much everything we are doing in the area is related to rebuilding the local communities of the towns in the district. Our free community building events allow people from all backgrounds to meet each other and see how they can help each other. Our Buy Local communities allow local traders to post their deals, specials and offers in a place that local people can find them, whilst our local community calender allows people in the community to find out what is going on on our community, some of which may be hidden.


The latest blog from +Link4Growth discusses some of the aspects of community, why we lost it and how #Link4Growth is going about rebuilding it. 

To read the full blog, click here.

Monday, 11 May 2015

Does Watford need an Elected Mayor?

£220,000 is the annual cost for Watford to have an 'elected mayor'. Local resident and Farm Terrace campaigner +Sara Jane Trebar believes this is a price too high too pay and wonders if the town would be in a better position if it got rid of this role. I'm sure there are others in #Watford who have an opinion on this so let have them and we will mention some of them on this week's Community TV Show

To read the whole piece, click here.

Saturday, 9 May 2015

An update from James Caley

Did you know that property prices in Watford have risen by over 400% since 1996. Local property expert +James Caley's latest blog gives his view and his thoughts on the future. Will prices continue to rise or will something happen to reverse the pattern?

To find out and read James's blog, click here

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Farm Terrace Allotments – The Watford Parliamentary Candidates’ Opinions


With the General Election less than 72 hours away, +Sara-Jane Trebar from the Save Farm Terrace campaign has written a blog explaining each of the main candidates' position in regards to the Farm Terrace Allotments.

If Farm Terrace is an important issue for you and you feel that you want an MP who will back your point of view, this piece may help you decide.

To read the full piece, click here

Monday, 4 May 2015

Just how do you tell people about your charity or business?

Marketing is one of the most challenging aspects to any business or charity and those who are successful at it will be rewarded by it. However, times are changing and the traditional methods of adverting your brand are changing.

In this blog,  +Link4Growth discusses the traditional forms of advertising, their pitfalls and the processes +Link4Growth SW Herts has put in place to help showcase local business and remove the cloak of invisibility from local charities.

To read the full blog, click here.