Dawn Colgan carefully unwraps one of her beautiful, handmade plates and puts it down on the table, alongside a flowery mug and a little blue-and-white clay salt pot.

‘This is the first time I’ve made one of those,’ she says, gently placing on the lid. ‘I’ve been experimenting with different glazes.’

Former foster carer Dawn is one of a growing band of makers and crafters who sell their wares at one of Exeter’s many markets.

The city has built up a packed programme, including the Exeter Independent Market on the Cathedral Green and the Fore Street Flea in the West Quarter. As well as other pop-ups, Exeter is also hosting the regional finals of a national award scheme for young traders in August.

Great British Life: The Much loved Fore Street Flea. Photo: Paul CourtneyThe Much loved Fore Street Flea. Photo: Paul Courtney

For artists and craftspeople like Dawn, these events have become the reason they do what they do. Face-to-face chats with their customers, building strong friendships with other stallholders and growing their business are just some of the rewards.

For the city, these markets bring fun, footfall and finance for Exeter’s independent shopping scene.

‘I wouldn’t have got anywhere without the markets, simple as that,’ says Dawn, who never dreamed she would be able to make an income from her hobby, Wonky Pots by Dawn. ‘It was my hairdresser who first suggested I should do a market,’ she adds, explaining that she set up her first stall outside Elevate Hair Studio in Fore Street during one of the much-loved Fore Street Flea events. ‘I thought, nobody will want to buy my stuff,’ says Dawn (she hovered in the background at first while her hairdresser took charge). ‘But then, people did want to buy my stuff! It was such a good feeling.’

Great British Life: Artists and stallholders Rosie Johnson and Dawn Colgan. Photo: Chrissy HarrisArtists and stallholders Rosie Johnson and Dawn Colgan. Photo: Chrissy Harris

Artist Rosie Johnson agrees that setting out your stall for the first time is a big deal. The former primary school teacher runs Rosie Johnson Illustrated, selling cheerful prints, cards, T-shirts and accessories. She did her first Fore Street Flea back when the market started in 2016.

‘I didn’t have any expectations,’ she says. ‘But it was so much better than I could ever have imagined. I thought, if I make £10, I’ll get my parking money back. In the end, I made more than £100.’

But it wasn’t just the money that made it.

‘It was building a rapport with people,’ says Rosie. ‘I mean, I love a cha-ching noise on my phone (an alert to inform her of a website sale) but, selling online... you just don’t get that lovely buzz that you get from selling at a market.

‘You’re able to talk about your products and people ask questions. You also get to know your customers. There’s a woman who comes to every single Flea and she always asks me what earrings I’ve got for her this time. I spot her in the crowd and I know she’ll come over. I try to design something new for her if I can.’

Rosie, who lives in Exmouth, says she has always loved markets as a punter, but as a seller, they’re even more exciting. Both she and Dawn talk about the friendships they’ve made with other stallholders and the tight-knit community that unites the independent businesses across the city.

‘Exeter does do markets brilliantly,’ says Rosie. ‘They’re busy and exciting and I’m proud we’ve got them our doorstep.’

Great British Life:  Lottie Stanley is markets manager for InExeter. Photo: Paul Courtney Lottie Stanley is markets manager for InExeter. Photo: Paul Courtney Sat listening to all of this is Lottie Stanley, markets manager for InExeter, the city’s business improvement district (BID) company. Dawn and Rosie are keen to stress that they’re not just saying all of this because Lottie’s here, but it quickly becomes clear that she’s been pretty instrumental in making markets matter.

Since arriving to the role in October 2021, Lottie has worked with businesses and traders across the city to promote and encourage existing events, as well as bringing in new ones.

She’s keen to nurture emerging talent and is also working with Maker Mart in Gandy Street to introduce a ‘suitcase pitch’, a way of encouraging start-ups to start small.

New traders have just a suitcase and a square metre of space to sell their products, allowing them to try their hand at selling without any overheads.

‘It’s a big step, going from thinking I’m just a crafter to I’m running a small business,’ says Lottie, who has been there, done that. She had a stall selling her handmade bags in a market on the Quay. ‘It’s really validating when you can see people like what you do,’ she adds.

Great British Life: The Exeter Independent Market has the beautiful setting of Cathedral Green. Photo: Sarah Brittain-Edwards The Exeter Independent Market has the beautiful setting of Cathedral Green. Photo: Sarah Brittain-Edwards

Lottie and the team at InExeter see markets as a way of ‘incubating’ small businesses, allowing them to start out on a stall before perhaps gaining the confidence needed to open an independent shop.

Markets are also seen as a way of keeping businesses going if owners can’t afford the bricks and mortar of a retail unit.

‘Everything we do here is for the businesses,’ says Lottie, adding that happy traders will mean a happy, vibrant and cultural city in the long term.

‘Nothing I’m doing would be possible without the power of the BID behind me, and that all comes back down to the commitment from our board and the support of our levy paying businesses. 

‘This whole thing has been an amazing learning process,’ she says, as we wave goodbye to Dawn and Rosie and make our way back up Fore Street towards Cathedral Green.

Great British Life: Lottie Stanley on her stall. Photo: Stephanie MaciukLottie Stanley on her stall. Photo: Stephanie Maciuk

‘This is where the Exeter Independent Market is held,’ says Lottie. We agree this is an awesome venue for many reasons – iconic building, a captive audience and the time and space to browse and buy.

It’s also beneficial to the local businesses too because people tend to spend at the stalls then visit the shops.

‘It’s easy to see markets as a threat or competition but research shows that it’s not the case,’ says Lottie. ‘With some careful curation, the markets should support the businesses around it.’

The Independent Market will be here this month and in August and September, plus Cathedral Green will be hosting the regional finals of the National Market Traders Federation’s (NMTF) Young Traders Awards in August.


The Fore Street Flea will also be running in July, September and November. Other events are planned for the city’s Magdalen Road area and that’s as well as the city council-run weekly farmers’ market on the corner of Fore Street and South Street.

Sounds like it’s going to be a busy browsing and buying season.

‘Markets are great, though, aren’t they?’ says Lottie. ‘It’s like treasure hunting - you never know what you’re going to find.’