Melton Mowbray Market celebrates 150 years of trading on its current site this year, and organisers believe it has a strong future – having invested £5.5 million in its redevelopment. Clemmie Gleeson reports.
When they are run well, markets are the best way of doing business, says Melton Mowbray Market CEO, Hugh Brown. “It doesn’t matter if you are a big business or someone with just a few lots to sell – a market offers a level playing field with fair and transparent price formation.”
Melton Mowbray is celebrating its 150th year at its current site, although it is thought that there has been a livestock market in the town for 1,000 years. Hugh is a relative newcomer, having taken over as CEO in 2016. His background is markets, rather than livestock, with a career that began at the London Stock Exchange.
After leaving the stock exchange, a spell in market consultancy saw Hugh working across commodity, currency and energy markets. He says; “I came across livestock markets at this time and thought they were amazing!”
Hugh spoke with organisers of various livestock markets and learned about Melton Mowbray. The partnership behind the market was at a crossroads with partners due to retire, a new lease needed and investment required to bring the site up to date.
“I brought in external investors to help them do all of those things,” says Hugh. “Both the partners and the local council helped the transition so a lot of credit is due to them.”
Hugh’s first big task was re-development of the livestock site in 2017. It was a £5.5million project with the new cattle building forming the main element. With capacity for 1,000 head of cattle, the new building has separate sale rings for calves, stores and prime cattle and was officially opened by Princess Anne in March 2018.
“The calf ring is pretty ground-breaking as it has a drive-through element where calves are offloaded and loaded much easier, which contributes to better animal welfare. The whole building is airy and the pen design looks after the animals, plus the humans as well – health and safety is a priority with excellent gate design and escape routes. It has helped to secure the market on the site for at least the next 20 years.”
Scott Ruck joined as auctioneer and head of sales in January 2019, having worked as a freelance auctioneer for the market previously. A graduate of the Royal Agricultural College in Cirencester, Scott has worked in farm management and as an auctioneer for Thame market. He also believes that Melton has a bright future. “It is one of the largest town markets and they are continuing to invest. It is accessible from all directions and you can buy almost everything from a cabbage to a cow!
“Typically, the market oversees the sale of 3,000 sheep, 100 fat cattle, 250–600 store cattle and 200 calves, all in a day. With sales taking place between 10am and 3pm it also allows buyers and sellers travel time,” Scott says. As well as the physical advantages of the new building and the fact that Melton sells every class of livestock, including pigs and poultry, on the same day, the market plays an important role socially for farmers and the wider community, too. “I really enjoy the interaction with farmers and the public who can understand the process of farming and food. We are completely transparent and all are welcome,” he adds.
The new building has enabled Melton to host more prestigious sales – it held the second Limousin Cattle Society sale in October. “We wouldn’t have got those without the new building,“ explains Hugh.
The changes were made carefully and with an understanding of the market’s history. “If we never change anything, we would be in trouble, but we have to be conscious of the history and traditions and not do too much too fast,” Hugh adds.
Looking to the future
Livestock markets across the country have been consolidating with fewer owners running a smaller number of set-ups, which Hugh expects to continue. This is not unique to livestock markets, he says. “In the 1960s there were 25 different stock exchanges in the UK, now there’s only one essentially that operates the whole of the UK, half of Europe and makes most of its money from North America. Consolidation will continue to happen and may even accelerate.”
In the future, Hugh expects Melton to have other markets under its wing. “We fully intend to cement our place as the premier market group in the East Midlands.”
Hugh credits Melton’s town centre location for playing a key role in its success. Its wider location in the middle of the country has also played a part. “Having bucked the trend to go out of town, we have something to offer people they don’t get elsewhere. We have the town centre, hotels, restaurants and so on, so people visiting get more than a motorway service station experience.”
As well as the livestock market, Melton hosts a farmer’s market, antiques market and general produce sales. “It really is the countryside coming to town for the day,” he says. A recent addition is an award-winning on-site brewery and taproom which brings people in on different days and times – breathing additional life into the market site. “We intend to do more things like that as well,” he adds.
While the official opening of the new cattle building was a great moment, “every week is a highlight in the market,” says Hugh. “There is such a buzz with so many different things happening.”