Camden undergoes digital revolution

Kasmira Jefford
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Camden Market’s shopping stalls are being hauled into the modern age

Camden Market and its eclectic mix of stallholders sell everything from vintage clothing to lava lamps and general bric-a-brac. The shopping haven has remained the unchanged for years – its punks and goths mixing with the millions of tourists who flock to the neighbourhood for a taste of London’s alternative scene.

But over the course of a year, Camden’s markets and canal sites have been snapped up at record speed by one company looking to unify the area under one “Camden Market” brand and drag it into the digital age.

Israeli technology entrepreneur Teddy Sagi’s Market Tech Holdings, which raised £100m floating on the London Stock Market last year, has amassed 14 acres of land.

It now aims to link up its estate with a string of technology acquisitions it has made to create a global online market place for Camden’s 1,000 independent retailers.

As well as launching new version of the website www.camdenmarket.com yesterday, the company also announced plans to lure tech and creative firms to the neighbourhood by converting underused space in Camden’s Stables market into co-working space for 1,000 workers.

“We are working with key designers including Tom Dixon to design a cool and creative place for business to work,” chief executive Charles Butler told City A.M. as Market Tech unveiled its maiden results.

“So rather than just having retail in Camden Market it is about effectively creating an ecosystem where people can shop, live and work,” he added.

The company said revenue in the year to 31 March rose to £30.1m, while pre-tax profit increased to £44.1m from £16.9m, thanks to an uplift in its portfolio valuation to £753.7m.

Plans to spruce up the estate have been met with some opposition from locals, who fear that plans could lead to further gentrification of the area.

“The general feeling of the branding is that is will destroy the unique character of the markets,” local compaigner and chairman of Friends of Regents Canal said, who added that “going electronic was not what people go there to see.”

Butler denied that the markets were being taken upmarket or undergoing gentrification: “We do not want to make it the Bond Street of the north.”

“It really is about investing in unique and creative brands and businesses and keeping the market feel about it. It’s about taking it back to those creative roots that Camden is famous for.”

He also defended plans for a new hotel at Buck Street market, saying the market would be expanded onto two storeys while the hotel would be “in keeping with the local area”.

Phil Cowan, a former market stall holder and a campaigner for Camden and Primrose Hill, said: “If they are careful enough to balance the culture and heritage of Camden at the same time as offering inward investment and stop it from stagnating – if they can do that then I think they are doing a really good job.”