For many independent businesses, the pandemic left them feeling like they had nowhere to turn for support.

Traders found they were not eligible for furlough and chances of a loan or grant were limited.

During the first UK lockdown, Wirral Chamber of Commerce looked at ways it could support independent businesses to trade throughout the pandemic.

Paula Basnett, CEO of Wirral Chamber of Commerce, told the Globe: “A lot of businesses in Wirral are sole traders and don’t have employees so during lockdown all their income was cut off.

“There was furlough for limited and trading business, but our independents didn’t have anything at all or premises to be eligible for a grant.”

In 2019, online website Independent Wirral was launched as part of a new initiative of the Chamber of Commerce.

The website features over 100 local businesses and aims to give them a brand identity as well as a platform to encourage people from the Merseyside region to shop locally.

Wanting to take the support a step further once the pandemic hit, in spring 2021 the Chamber of Commerce applied for charter market status and Independent Market @Woodside was born.

Woodside Ferry Markets

Woodside Ferry Markets

The new market is located on the Mersey waterfront in Birkenhead and is a collaboration between Independent Market @Woodside, Woodside Area CIC, who developed Woodside Ferry Village, a foodie hub which hosts independent food and drink vendors inside the terminal building, and Independent Wirral.

The 20 purpose-built wooden chalets were opened in July 2021, offering a flexible retail space for Wirral’s independent entrepreneurs to showcase and sell their products.

Paula said: “We wanted to support them first and foremost alongside promoting them through the Independent Wirral brand.

“Yes, these traders have social media to sell their products online, but for us we wanted that physical capability.”

The markets have been operating nearly every weekend since opening and have been at a 70-80% capacity, a figure which the Chamber is working to increase.

Hannah and her Chalet for Cakes by Hannah

Hannah and her Chalet for Cakes by Hannah

“We need to build on that, but we have to remind ourselves that it’s still early days and it’s a brand-new initiative,” said Paula.

As well as helping businesses survive the pandemic, the Chamber said people have continued wanting to shop local since the lockdown ended in July 2021.

“We’re pushing on an open door,” Kate Eugeni, Executive Director at Wirral Chamber of Commerce, said.

“One thing that’s come from covid is that everyone wants to continue supporting local businesses by shopping locally.

“Some people have lost their jobs and have ended up doing things that maybe they’ve always wanted to do, and the markets have given them the opportunity.

Janet with her chalet for Ena Spices

Janet with her chalet for Ena Spices

“We understand business and we can take what we know from the corporate world and turn those intentions into something that people may see as ‘fluffy’ when actually it’s the backbone of this town and this is what we should want to continue.”

Collette Carter, who runs Luna Cole Jewellery, booked her first chalet in July after she “dreamed” of having her own business.

After taking redundancy in 2018, Collette from West Kirby, decided to take the chance of fulfilling her lifelong goal and began making and selling her own jewellery.

Collette said she first discovered the markets through social media but was unsure about taking the leap.

“At first I had a little bit of self-doubt on whether I should apply for a market space but then I just decided to bite the bullet and book one,” she said

Collette Carter from Luna Cole

Collette Carter from Luna Cole

“The environment is so lovely, and everyone is so friendly. Being at the markets has benefited my business so much more than it would just being on social media.”

Collette has traded at Woodside on three occasions since her first weekend and has already pre-booked four more.

She said: “Naturally things did go quieter during covid but coming to the markets gave me something to look forward to.

Jewellery on sale at Luna Cole

Jewellery on sale at Luna Cole

“Online sales can be slow, but the markets give people the opportunity to see your products in person which means you can get feedback and find out what people prefer which is absolutely fantastic.”

Collette has earned two weeks’ worth of online sales after spending one weekend at the markets, something which she says has helped instil confidence across the traders at Woodside.

She said: “It’s a massive confidence boost especially now when it’s not feasible for a lot of small businesses to have their own physical shop.

Luna Cole Jewellery

Luna Cole Jewellery

“I like playing shopkeeper for the day and I love being able to have the opportunity to sell face-to-face to customers instead of just messaging or emailing them.

“I think it’s important that it does give people like myself and other small businesses the opportunity to get out there and for people to see the face behind the website.”

Collette and her chalet at Woodside

Collette and her chalet at Woodside

As well as traders being able to trade face to face with their customers, the markets are also helping to build what they call a “new community” in Wirral.

“The traders support each other when they come down here. It’s not just a chalet, it's an opportunity to network with other local businesses and find out what they do and where they source their items. They all help each other,” Laura-Jane Dodd, Independent Wirral, said.

Paula added: “We as businesses want to support each other so we are now sourcing our supply chain and we do want to stay local.

“We can’t source everything locally but first and foremost we will look at what is on Wirral and then the wider city region.”

With the markets still being in their infancy, it is still uncertain to know how much money individual traders will generate at the markets each weekend.

Despite the potential risk, the Chamber is confident the markets will be a destination for visitors across Wirral and beyond.

“The stories are nicer than the numbers,” Kate said.

“We hear of people who have been slogging away at their nine to five desk job and have alway dreamt about being their own boss.

“That to me is the rich narrative of what this has allowed them to do.”

“That’s where we come in,” Laura added.

Arron and his chalet for his bussiness North West Chili Heads

Arron and his chalet for his bussiness North West Chili Heads

“We can support those going from a fulltime job to following their dream. We want to help with that transition.

“We are starting to gather data on how much the individual traders are starting to generate every weekend which will help us to understand how much people are spending.

“Certainly within the next three or four months we’ll know how much is being generated in the markets.”

What’s next for the markets?

Independent Wirral are developing an app which will allow visitors to see a map of Wirral and what independent businesses are in each area.

Paula said: “Social media is critical and as a team we are looking at how we increase that footfall and raise awareness of traders and encourage residents to shop and spend locally.

“Right now our target destination is getting residents from West Wirral over to Birkenhead but we know we can attract Liverpool visitors.”

Wirral Globe:

Alongside increasing footfall, the Chamber is also looking at extending the outside area by bridging both Woodside Ferry Village and the markets together.

“Ideally we would like to start trading Friday, Saturday and Sunday and then eventually four to five days a week so for us at the moment everything and anything is possible.”

Have you noticed something that has worked particularly well (or not so well) in your area? Or own a business that has adapted to the pandemic in a unique way? Contact