"You get to know your customers – they are not just a number on a till roll.”

Butcher David Crompton, proprietor of Pickups Butchers in Bradford’s Oastler Market, talks passionately about the role of markets in towns and cities across the country.

“We are third generation and I am serving grandparents, parents and children. They are people we know, not just a number as they would be in a supermarket. Around 90 per cent of our customers are regulars. ”

Pickups has operated a stall in Bradford for half a century. David is among the many market traders who know their customers by name and who know the value of a market to local people.

He speaks as Love Your Local Market Fortnight is about to begin, with a raft of events across the district from tomorrow, many held in conjunction with Jamie’s Ministry of Food in Bradford.

“Markets provide a sense of community – visiting their independent market trader they form relationships and trust develops,” says Diana Greenwood, Bradford Council’s market promotion officer.

“They are also important for the economy of a town and contribute to the high street shopping experience.”

Over the past five years the number of vacant stalls in Bradford has increased by ten per cent. Bradford’s two city centre indoor markets – Kirkgate and Oastler, have 358 stalls, with around 40 available to rent. Keighley has 85 stalls, with two vacant.

Both the recession and competition from other shops is believed to contribute to the number of stalls unoccupied. “This is a national picture,” says Bradford Council’s markets manager Colin Wolstenholme. “There is more competition at the value end through online trading and more discount stores offering products typically found in markets.”

This year in Bradford, a test trading initiative is being launched, offering new traders the opportunity to try out an idea. For six months, they will pay half rent, and receive business advice and support, plus a year’s membership of the National Market Traders’ Federation. Flexible terms allow one month’s notice for the first year.

“We offer help with social media and give website training, too,” adds Colin.

Across the UK, local produce markets such as farmers’ markets have also been hit by the recession. The monthly Saturday produce market in Saltaire – which sells goods including local cheeses, pickles, honey, ice cream and fresh fish – has relocated from Caroline Street car park to Exhibition Road car park.

“It will be more visible to passing traffic,” says Colin. “We hope this will see the market take off and become more established.” Already, around 15 new enquiries have been made.

Bradford’s first city centre Asian bazaar is going to make a mark on the district, from its base in Rawson Market, adds Colin.

“Hopefully that will bring more people into the city, to take advantage of good ethnic produce.”

He stresses the importance of having a “good fresh food offer” at a market. “People like to know about where their food comes from and markets give them chance to meet the producers.”

Colin sees a bright future for local markets. “They are a focal point, where different people can come together for a common purpose.”

David Crompton is among stall holders in favour of a plan to amalgamate Kirkgate and Oastler markets.

“Bradford traditionally had three markets and the town could sustain that. Now we are ringed by supermarkets and have two markets. Both have a few empty spaces, so it would be good to bring them together.”

Gunther Giangregario, who runs Roswitha’s Delicatessen in Oastler Market, also supports the plan. “The city centre markets are really important to Bradford and the surrounding areas – a good market is the heartbeat of a city centre.”

He believes the two markets would benefit from joining together, close to Westfield.

“Nowadays a market is a different kind of product – there is such a variety of shops, from high-end to value shopping. Local business and repeat business is what we survive on. We need to attract new customers which is why bringing the two markets together is a good idea. Markets need to move into the 21st century.”

Adds Diana Greenwood: “Traders and customers alike are recognising the importance of markets as part of the offering in a town or city. Traders see a financial benefit due to cheaper rents and rates and also get more help with business advice than renting a shop on the high street. Customers are realising the quality and range of products they can find in the markets, including value for money.”

For details of events, see bradford.gov.uk/bmdc/ministry_of_food.