THE business community is slowly, mercifully, getting back on its feet after the challenges of the pandemic.

Lockdowns and restrictions have had a crippling effect on firms both big and small, up and down the country.

However, closer to home, there are green shoots of recovery and some of our smallest businesses now have a renewed hunger to succeed and get back on track.

Prime examples can be found just from wandering around and close to Colchester Market, which trades throughout the town centre up to seven days a week and has been helping local traders since 1189.

It offers a nurturing environment to support start-up businesses and small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

Stallholders benefit from an affordable stepping stone to grow, or recover, their local independent business - and it could be the perfect place to get on the ladder.

Beverley Oxford, Colchester’s councillor responsible for communities, certainly thinks so.

She said: “Colchester Market is a fantastic platform to launch a new venture, build your profile or recover your small business after struggling through the pandemic.

“Starting a business doesn’t need to require a huge investment and some of the most successful businesses and entrepreneurs, including Marks and Spencer, Dunelm and Superdry, began their journey selling on market stalls in their local town.

“Market stalls provide the perfect start for many, through gaining skills and valuable experience in buying, selling and fighting competition.

“Our regular traders say what a wonderfully strong sense of community there is and that it’s a great space that enables them to grow their businesses.”

Various market traders have gone on to own bricks and mortar premises in Colchester.

One is Jay Channon, owner of Sir Isaacs Artisan Coffee.

Gazette: Smell the coffee - Sir Issacs Artisan Coffee market stall

Mr Channon made an application to join Colchester Market weeks before lockdown in March 2020.

Unperturbed, he was one of the first essential provision traders back on the High Street in May, selling coffee beans, hot chocolate and freshly-made coffee for the many key workers in town.

By the time non-essential shops were open again in June, he was well-established with a loyal clientele.

Gazette: Put the kettle on - Sir Issacs Artisan Coffee Shop

While trading, Mr Channon was also planning and curating a shop on Sir Isaacs Walk, which opened to a great reception on September 8.

Speaking about his experience of joining Colchester Market, he said: “I was welcomed by the other traders and market team right away.

“It’s a real family and you hook up with the community.

“That, in part, is why I want to keep a stall going as well as the shop.”

From a market pitch to bricks and mortar in three months during a pandemic is a phenomenal achievement.

Mr Channon now employs three staff and will continue to set up his stall on the High Street alongside his shop.

Another success story is Rebecca Jones, owner of Vanilla Blue Flowers.

Miss Jones started her florist career in a family flower shop, at the age of 14.

Read more >> New market bringing together independent traders from Colchester set to launch

She knew she wanted to be a florist, set up her business in 2014 and took a regular pitch on Colchester Market in September 2019.

She was part of the successful relocation trial at Lion Walk Shopping Centre that November.

While trading, she worked on her business plan to move to bricks and mortar premises and proudly opened Vanilla Blue Flowers, in Red Lion Yard, while staying on as a casual at the market at the beginning of 2020.

Like so many small businesses affected by the pandemic, Miss Jones had to adapt so moved to a workshop she had built at home and focused on online sales and local delivery.

She hasn’t looked back since, though is itching to get back to her market pitch.

“It’s such a lovely community and I miss the traders and regulars,” she said.

Marwan Salih is the owner of Falafel and More.

He started his Syrian food business by becoming a trader on Colchester Market in 2018, alongside cousin Mohamed.

They had settled in Colchester as part of the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme, supported by Colchester Council with Essex County Council.

Their tasty falafel was a popular addition to Colchester Market’s burgeoning street food offering but, unfortunately, Mohammed had to give up the pitch as he was relocating again to be with family in Kilmarnock in early 2019.

Thankfully for Colchester, Marwan’s recipe was staying put and he quickly set up a kitchen in Queen Street.

It has survived the pandemic and is still going strong as a friendly, family-run restaurant serving high-quality, home-made Syrian food.

Mr Salih said: “The six months we spent on the market gave us the chance to share our food with the community and opened the door to realising my dream of having a restaurant again in my new home.”