Traders returning to the reopened Walthamstow High Street market criticised the council for losing them business by moving their stalls.

Waltham Forest Council announced on Monday (June 1) that Europe’s longest street market would reopen from yesterday, with stalls spread along the street to allow social distancing.

Many stalls found themselves placed in a very different part of the market, while others were in or near their usual spots, making it harder for their usual customers to find them.

The council said it was only able to accommodate half the normal number of pitches but had waived pitch fees for three months and offer grants to stall holders to support them.

Read more: Waltham Forest markets begin phased reopening

Philip Prince, who has had a clothing stall for around 40 years, said he was very happy with his first day returning to the market.

He said: “It’s been three months and I’ve not changed my gear so I’ve still got winter clothes. To sell jumpers in this heat is unbelievable.”

However, he added that he was “very upset” with the council’s decision to move his stall to a quieter spot.

He said: “I think they have rushed it without concentrating because they did it so quickly.

“Others who have not been here so long got their usual spots. I asked them [the council] for their criteria and they have not come back to me yet.

“This is my life, my living, when a lot of other people have got other jobs and I think they should take that into consideration.”

The traders are not happy at all. There is still no social distancing.

Others had even worse days of trading, with one market trader saying he had not sold anything the entire day after being moved from his usual spot.

Sunny Mahmoud, who usually runs a stall selling groceries, said: “The traders are not happy at all. They are changing the plan and then after people lose their trade, there is still no social distancing. What is the point?

“In the market, people do not seem to care about social distance. They forget about the coronavirus, show me one other person wearing a mask.”

Mirwais Rahmaly also said business had been unusually quiet, compared to pre-coronavirus times when he earned between £80 to £150 a day.

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Mirwais said there were lots of people but few customers

He said: “I’m not sure of work this week, we will see how it’s going. If it’s still like this, we will have to relax some days because there’s no point coming down.”

However, other stall owners, such as Joseph Benjamin, were more optimistic that business would pick up soon.

He said: “People are around, it’s nothing special. We’re hoping the days and weeks ahead of us will be a bit brighter.

"People are fed up of staying at home so they are coming out. It’s not a bad start.”

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Joseph and his clothing stall

Margaret Nadeem, who met her husband after buying bed sheets from the stall they now run together, said it was nice to see familiar faces after so long away.

She said: “The customers that know me have been asking how I am, which they don’t normally do. It’s nice to know they’ve got your welfare at heart, it’s lovely.

“There’s plenty of people about but right now people have not got a lot of money. Still they are buying bits, trying to get back into it again.”

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Margaret met her husband through the market

Cllr Simon Miller, cabinet member for economic growth and high streets, said the council had "worked extremely hard" after first being told markets could reopen in June on May 24.

He said: "My priority has been to ensure shoppers and traders alike can operate safely and in line with social distancing rules.

“Throughout Covid-19 officers have been considering ways to introduce social distancing at Walthamstow market, Europe’s longest street market, to allow it reopen and traders to resume operations.

"This meant reducing the number of pitches by 50 per cent, being mindful of the impact of socially distanced queuing on nearby shops that are open as well as those due to reopen from June 15. The new layout has space for 150 permanent traders.

“We spoke to every trader on the first day of operation to let them know the pitch layouts would be fluid and may be subject to change as more traders return and high street shops reopen.

"All traders’ pitch fees have been waived for three months, including this month. Traders can also apply for discretionary grants to offset the lack of earnings.

“On the first day trading, the market operated at 61 per cent of the pre-lockdown average – other areas’ markets have been operating at a far lower capacity if they have been able to reopen at all.”

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