Fair trade centre could move to Lancaster

Assembly Rooms, Lancaster.
Assembly Rooms, Lancaster.

The world’s first ever international fair trade centre is being earmarked for a move into Lancaster’s last remaining indoor market.

The Fig Tree is in talks with Lancaster City Council about relocating to the Assembly Rooms, which has been struggling for trade.

The King Street market hall has been identified as a possible new location for the pioneering centre, which is currently based in Garstang.

The director of the Fig Tree claims the centre is being forced to move out of Garstang after a row with Wyre Borough Council over the expiry of its lease. The Fig Tree houses an exhibition on Lancaster’s history as a fair trade district and as Britain’s largest slave trade port, a fair trade cafe, and a gift shop selling fair trade and local products.

The Assembly Rooms’ future has been in doubt since a city council review in November 2013.

If the Fig Tree moves in, it would mean the end for the market in its current form, although there may still be some space for existing stalls. There are seven traders currently operating businesses in the hall in King Street. Fiona Gordon, a trader, said: “The uncertainty isn’t good for business. We think we have a unique offer here. We are in discussions with Lancaster City Council about the future.”

Malcolm Brooks, who runs a vintage clothes stall at the Assembly Rooms, said: “I’m quite happy here, I’ve been here since July 2000.

“The rent is very reasonable here. If we can hang on until Primark opens that would make a big difference.

“People come and go from here all the time. The cafe hasn’t been open for 12 months.”

Lancaster’s well known First Age Comics stall, which was previously based at the Assembly Rooms, moved out into new premises on Moor Lane earlier this year.

The Fig Tree is based on High Street, Garstang, in a community centre owned by Wyre Borough Council. Its lease is due to expire in November 2014.

Bruce Crowther MBE, centre director, wrote in a recent newsletter to Fig Tree supporters: “Wyre Borough Council has offered an extension of the present lease that was set to terminate in November. The Fig Tree Board’s reluctance to leave its present location and determination to stay in Garstang is its aspiration, but it is long term sustainability must remain paramount.”

A council report says the Fig Tree had also shown interest in moving to the City Museum. Lancaster City Council cabinet will meet next Tuesday at Lancaster Town Hall to decide whether to work with the Fig Tree to develop a business model for the Assembly Rooms’ future.