The South London’s hub comes to life every Saturday between 10am – 3pm and offers everything from colourful vegetables, to creamy milk, to freshly grounded coffee and Jamaican cuisine. What is most special about this market are the people who create here the most personal shopping experience in London.
Walking around with a camera hanging around my neck, I was immediately spotted by many traders who were standing devotedly by their stands. First, I was very reluctant to take photographs, nervous, that people might tell me off. Then some guys started posing for me, and after the beardy man promoting his life-changing milk spotted me passing by for the third time, I put my shyness away together with my fresh veggies, and indulged into a chat.
The camera proved to be an excellent conversation-starter. After confirming that I am not a tourist, I played it on my tote bag proudly carrying the UAL logo (University of the Arts London). As such, I presented myself as a student working on a ‘community-focused’ project. This topic seemed to resonate with all the traders I did business with. (And no, it was not just because they wanted to sell me their product).
“A ‘community-focused’ project (…) seemed to resonate with all the traders”
First, at the grocer’s, I learnt that a guy who studies history and politics admire people who do arts, calling it a much more sophisticated and challenging subject than his own. Second, the delicious-milk guy, Oliver (discover his work here), discussed the idea of introducing an equal society where everybody is encouraged to pursue their dreams and talents. Sounds great but if it was that easy to implement, we would probably not be participating in the capitalist society we live in today. Last was the guy with seedy breads, which I spoke to a month ago but obviously, due to the volume of customers, was not remembered. He defined the word ‘local’ as anyone within the range of 100 miles. Slightly shocking but given the fact that he only comes to the market twice a month, he might be living terribly far but would still like to consider himself ‘local’. Let me not ruin his naïve thinking, although, personally, I avoid calling ‘local’ anything outside the five miles’ radius.
Most helpful of all was the guy in the community café, located at the basement of the St Mark’s church. I was pointed in his direction by Oliver, a gentle pessimist who believed that the people who gathered around the Oval market where not the locals (who he defined as dangerous, yet challenging and therefore attractive people), but those attending a wedding, walking their expensive poodles, or jogging in the Kennington park. Although they live in the area, they are not locals, Oliver stated. From a distance, I can understand his point, but still what I saw felt pretty communal to me.
“[One] defined the word ‘local’ as anyone within the range of 100 miles “
After spending an entire year living in Kennington, I would not claim myself a local. Neither a Londoner, though I have been making my mark here for almost three years. Anyways, the debate about belonging is a subject for another post.
What I discovered at the Oval Farmers’ Market was that, even without makeup, high-heels, and with body covered in the after-work out sweat, people in London can be friendly and open-minded. They might not smile back at you on the street, but they will not be shy to spend a word or two when they see that you are generally interested, not necessarily in their business but in the community within which they operate. After all, everybody should have his or her own opinion and the only way to share it is by not being afraid to speak and be opened to interact with people and create some real meaningful connections.
Oval Farmers’ Market is located by the St. Mark’s Church, The Oval, Kennington, SE11 4PW and takes places every Saturday from 10am to 3pm.