NEWS  ⁄  COMMUNITY & SOCIETY

First St Thomas winter market brings festival feel to "overlooked" area of Exeter

A community-run event at St Thomas Church combines artisan traders with music, storytelling and craft workshops to create a family-friendly festival atmosphere.

St Thomas Church hosted the area’s first community winter market on Saturday, with stalls and activities spread throughout its Cowick Street churchyard and buildings and festoon lighting strung between the trees to create a festival feel.

Organised by local volunteers, the event was funded with small grants from Exeter City Council and Devon County Council and sponsorship by local firms.

Event organiser Sophie Yeates, a painter and decorator who has lived in St Thomas for twenty years, said she felt St Thomas was an overlooked area but was now “growing stronger and stronger” with “a community feel and lots of families moving in”.

She said: “There’s so many creative people who live in this area and there’s lots of these lovely markets popping up all over the place around the city.

“I thought, ‘Why haven’t we got something like that?’ — that’s where the whole idea came from.”

Crowds and stalls in St Thomas' churchyard Crowds and stalls in St Thomas’ churchyard

Traders sold goods ranging from hand-printed cushions to vegan chocolates inside and outside the church building. A children’s storyteller held court in the church hall, where there was also a festive wreath-making workshop and an exhibition by Theatre Alibi.

Artist Steve McCracken, who is responsible for the colourful birds which popped up across the city’s streetscape during lockdown, held an outdoor art workshop for children and displayed the canvasses they created against the church walls.

Entertainment included a kids’ silent disco and Devon drumming group Tano Taiko, whose members delivered thundering performances in front of a large crowd.

Community groups including St Thomas Community Garden were pitched beside local charities including Refugee Support Devon, Devon Wildlife Trust and Age UK Exeter.

St Thomas Community Garden volunteers St Thomas Community Garden volunteers

According to Sophie Yeates, a “really big part” of the St Thomas winter market was providing support to fledgling traders by offering “mini pitches”, smaller stalls which cost less to hire than the larger stalls which were used by more established sellers.

She said: “There’s just loads of people that have not really done this before. Maybe they don’t have the confidence to put themselves out there, or for whatever reason, but it’s been quite important that we’ve tried to encourage them.”

Kiara Baars was selling handmade friendship bracelets from her mini pitch. She said: “I’m a starting-out trader. I’ve only done a couple of stalls so far and this one’s the best one I’ve been to for sure. There are so many people here and it’s a lot of business”.

Another mini pitch trader, illustrator Marson Wu, who was trading for the first time at the event, said: “I was a bit nervous but now it’s nice to be around people and see different creative things”.

First time trader illustrator Marson Wu sitting at her stall First time trader illustrator Marson Wu

Co-organiser Jocelyn Mills said the event had been a success: “The footfall has been absolutely extraordinary today. We didn’t expect this for a first time event here but so many people have said how brilliant it is to see the space being used, and it’s such a gorgeous site. We’ve had some amazing feedback.”

She said she hoped the market would attract more funding in the future to enable it to programme more artists, musicians, storytellers or other entertainment.

“We’d love to do more of that, and have a broader diversity of people and what they can bring, in terms of what they make or what their skills are.”

She added: “We’re definitely keen; the heart, the motivation, the core driver of us all being residents of St Thomas , wanting to do something to animate the spaces in our community.”

Traders inside St Thomas' Church Traders inside St Thomas’ Church

St Thomas winter market was one of several outdoor markets taking place in Exeter in the run-up to Christmas.

The revamped Eastgate Market opened on Sidwell Street on Friday, where it will trade every Thursday, Friday and Saturday from now on, and Fore Street Flea returned with a festive theme on Sunday. Both are delivered by InExeter.

Exeter Cathedral’s Christmas market also opened last week for its fourth year, and Magdalen Road will be closed to through traffic on Saturday 4 December for the long-running St Leonard’s Neighbourhood Association Christmas fair.


 is a court reporter who did her NCTJ Diploma portfolio work experience with Exeter Observer.

Exeter in brief
Exeter in brief

Royal College of Nursing staff at the ROYAL DEVON NHS TRUST have resumed strike action alongside South Western Ambulance Service workers as healthcare professionals across the country stage the biggest strike in NHS history.

Detailed plans for the Honiton Road MOOR EXCHANGE RETAIL PARK have been submitted for approval. Outline planning permission for the development was granted two years ago.

The police inspectorate says DEVON AND CORNWALL POLICE must make urgent improvements after it was found to be inadequate in three of nine areas including responding to emergency and non-emergency calls and managing registered sexual and violent offenders.
Its assessment found two other areas required improvement while two more were graded “good”. A new chief constable was appointed in December after the force was placed under enhanced inspectorate monitoring last year.

DEVON COUNTY COUNCIL is consulting on its draft Exeter Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plan, which is already nearly six years late, until the end of March.

UNIVERSITY OF EXETER staff have resumed strike action over pay, pensions and working conditions alongside Exeter school teaching staff with dozens more strike days planned during February and March.

EXETER CITY FUTURES published the agenda for its last board meeting on 30 January, two months after the meeting was held. It says it is “committed to being completely transparent and open about the things that are discussed at board meetings”. No minutes were included.

DEVON COUNTY COUNCIL is not making sufficient progress with its children’s services since they were judged inadequate in January 2020 according to the latest Ofsted monitoring report which found that key areas still require significant change and serious issues remain.

The UNIVERSITY OF EXETER has submitted detailed plans for its 1,700 bed West Park redevelopment of 50,000m2 of student accommodation.

Royal College of Nursing staff at the ROYAL DEVON NHS TRUST have resumed strike action alongside South Western Ambulance Service workers as healthcare professionals across the country stage the biggest strike in NHS history.

Detailed plans for the Honiton Road MOOR EXCHANGE RETAIL PARK have been submitted for approval. Outline planning permission for the development was granted two years ago.

The police inspectorate says DEVON AND CORNWALL POLICE must make urgent improvements after it was found to be inadequate in three of nine areas including responding to emergency and non-emergency calls and managing registered sexual and violent offenders.
Its assessment found two other areas required improvement while two more were graded “good”. A new chief constable was appointed in December after the force was placed under enhanced inspectorate monitoring last year.

DEVON COUNTY COUNCIL is consulting on its draft Exeter Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plan, which is already nearly six years late, until the end of March.

UNIVERSITY OF EXETER staff have resumed strike action over pay, pensions and working conditions alongside Exeter school teaching staff with dozens more strike days planned during February and March.

EXETER CITY FUTURES published the agenda for its last board meeting on 30 January, two months after the meeting was held. It says it is “committed to being completely transparent and open about the things that are discussed at board meetings”. No minutes were included.

DEVON COUNTY COUNCIL is not making sufficient progress with its children’s services since they were judged inadequate in January 2020 according to the latest Ofsted monitoring report which found that key areas still require significant change and serious issues remain.

The UNIVERSITY OF EXETER has submitted detailed plans for its 1,700 bed West Park redevelopment of 50,000m2 of student accommodation.

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