About Borough Market
BOROUGH MARKET is rich with history, but it remains as relevant now as it has ever been. As London’s oldest food market, it has been serving the people of Southwark for 1,000 years, and that extraordinary heritage is an important part of its appeal.
But this is not a museum piece—it is a dynamic, ever-changing institution; a participant in the wider debates around what we eat and where it comes from; a place where food is talked about almost as enthusiastically as it is consumed.
First and foremost, though, it is a source of genuinely exceptional produce. Many of the Market’s stallholders are themselves producers: the farmer who reared the animal, the fisherman who caught the fish, the baker who baked the bread. Other traders have built their reputations on seeking out small-scale artisan producers and bringing their wares to Borough. Together, the Market’s stalls, shops and restaurants reflect London’s status as a truly global city, with traditional British produce sitting alongside regional specialities from around the world.
Borough Market is a riot of colours, smells and human engagement. The traders—a vast repository of culinary knowledge—are only too happy to share their expertise with shoppers, or else just pass the time of day. Their voices are added to by the chefs, food writers, campaigners and teachers who help make the Market’s cookery demonstrations, publications, public debates and educational programmes so highly regarded.
Borough market and Slow food
Borough Market has transformed since I first knew it, but it has always been one of the best examples in the world of not just good produce, but of culture and a growing, sustainable economy.
Slow Food is a worldwide movement that supports a low impact approach to food production, with an emphasis on localised traditions and customs. Its philosophy closely mirrors that of Borough Market, and in recent years the ties between these two organisations have become increasingly close.
The Market is filled with traders whose approach to producing or sourcing has gained them official accreditation from Slow Food UK. Many of the products sold here have also been recognised by Slow Food as distinctive local foodstuffs whose survival would be at risk if it weren’t for a small number of artisans working hard to keep them relevant.
You can read more about Borough Market’s Slow Food accredited traders and products in Market Life’s regular Standard Bearers and Survival Instincts strands.
The Market’s approach to waste goes much further than the usual environmental platitudes. Its mission is to put every leftover piece of food or packaging to the best possible use—to see raw materials where others see refuse.
None of the Market’s rubbish goes to landfill. All cardboard, paper, plastic, glass or wood is recycled. Borough’s participation in the FoodSave scheme means that surplus produce from many of the stalls ends up being distributed to local charities, rather than being thrown in the bin. All remaining food waste, around 8,640 litres per week, is sent to an anaerobic digestion plant—a facility that uses microorganisms to break down organic material and turn it into power, fertiliser and water.
By summer 2016, every single piece of packaging provided by the traders will be compostable: every bag, pot, plate, cup and piece of cutlery. Market Life magazine is carbon neutral and produced on 100% recycled stock.
These simple measures, together with the use of low energy lighting and the collection of rainwater to feed the plants in the Market Hall, all make a difference, but they are only a small part of a bigger picture. As the country’s highest profile food market, Borough has a platform to promote alternatives to mainstream methods of food production and consumption that can make a real difference to the planet.
For producers, this means using methods that value quality and sustainability over profit. For consumers, it means eating with the seasons, questioning the provenance of ingredients, favouring pasture-fed meat, prizing meat and fish as items of value rather than everyday staples, buying only what’s needed and eating every bit of it.
The Act of Parliament from 1754 that helped establish Borough Market in its current form was very clear about the period of time over which this important institution would be expected to operate. The Market would, it was written, remain “an estate for the use and benefit” of the local community “for ever”. Not for weeks or months or even centuries, but for all eternity.
The body responsible for fulfilling this rather daunting remit is a charitable trust, run by a board of volunteer trustees. For generation after generation, the Market’s trustees have had to overcome some significant challenges—from the arrival of the railway line in the 1860s, to the bombs that fell in the 1940s, to the slow decline of fruit and veg wholesale in the 80s and 90s—but so far, so good. As the city it serves has changed, this famous London institution has continued to evolve.
While the management team is responsible for the day to day running of the Market, the trust oversees its strategic governance. Trustees are drawn from a variety of related sectors and are chosen for the breadth and relevance of their skills and experience. Their job is to ensure that the Market continues to adapt to changes in the world of food production and consumption, and to use its influence to help shape those changes. Ultimately, their responsibility is to pass on the Market to the next generation in the best possible shape. And so on down the line.
Donald Hyslop works as the head of regeneration and community partnerships at TATE. His work involves building new audiences for the museum, often in marginalised and excluded communities. He is also chair of Better Bankside, the business-led regeneration body for SE1.
David Lyon is a chartered certified accountant with considerable experience in charity accounting and management. He is currently director of resources for the Centre for Mental Health, a national think-tank based on Borough High Street.
Ann Ball has considerable experince in social housing and community regeneration, including stints running a Housing Association in east London and a New Deal for Communities programme in New Cross. More recently she has been working with housing providers to improve their operations and asset management services.
Adrian Bunnis is an executive director of the commercial real estate firm CBRE. He specialises in the sale and acquisition of development sites in the Central London markets and has been involved in the assembly of sites for a number of high-profile City of London commercial schemes.
Drew Cullen is director of corporate communications and marketing at the Chartered Institute of Public Finance with wide experience in marketing, brand management, comms, media relations, events and public affairs.
Tim Lang is professor of food policy at City University London’s Centre for Food Policy. His work examines food supply chains and their relationship with health, environment, social justice and culture. He has served on the government’s Sustainable Development Commission and Council of Food Policy Advisors.
Bengü Said is a scientist working in health protection. Her research interests include gastrointestinal and zoonotic diseases and she provides expert advice on managing and preventing public health threats. Bengü is also chair of the exclusion and admissions appeals committees for a London Education Authority.
Matthew Flood is the global general counsel at Ingeus, an international provider of employability programmes, skills training and health-related support. As well as legal and corporate governance expertise, he has developed an exceptional record for promoting workplace diversity. In 2014 he was named in the FT Top 100 list of LGBT executives.
Claire Pritchard is CEO of the Greenwich Co-operative Development Agency, a social enterprise. Food has played an important part in her work, with urban growing, school food projects, community cookery clubs and street markets all featuring prominently. She currently sits on the London Food Board.
Sean Ramsden founded Ramsden International 20 years ago and has since turned it into the UK’s largest export wholesaler of British food and drink and a three-times winner of the Queen’s Award for Enterprise. He holds a number of non-executive posts within the food industry, including a seat on an advisory body to Defra.
Julia Tybura is the managing director of Zenon Consulting, an organisational transformation and HR consultancy based in Southwark, which works mainly with non-profits, SMEs and healthcare organisations. She has brought her expertise to the boards of numerous charities, including the United St Saviour’s trust.
Camilla McGibbon, a writer and playwright based in Southwark, sits in an advisory capacity on the Tate Modern Council as a champion of culture as a force for local regeneration, and is a trustee of United St Saviour's Charity, the oldest charity in Southwark, which seeks to improve the lives of people in this area.