A man at the heart of independent trading in Durham for more than a quarter of a century has quit his executive role with the city markets’ company.

But Colin Wilkes MBE, who has been dubbed ‘Mr Durham’, has pledged to continue to champion the city’s markets, albeit from a slightly less hands-on position.

The managing director of Durham Markets Company retired from the executive role on last night (Tuesday, October 31), but will continue to support the stall-holders as a non-executive director.

Mr Wilkes joined Durham Markets Company, the private company which operates the city’s Market Hall and Saturday Outdoor Market, in 1990, as a director.

The Northern Echo: Colin Wilkes MBe, who is quitting as managing director of Durham Markets Company, with whom he has

He stepped up to become managing director in 1996 and was part of the management team which oversaw a major refurbishment of the Victorian Market Hall, along with a transition from three to six-days per week trading later that year.

The following year Mr Wilkes co-founded the initial Durham Christmas Festival, an event that has grown extensively in the following 26 years.

It is now seen as a vital retail opportunity for numerous small businesses in the North East, and the city’s most successful shopping weekend each year.

His work saw him recognised with an MBE for Services to Independent Businesses in Durham and the North East, and his overall role to the City of Durham, in 2020.

The position he has performed with the markets company will now be divided between the current management team, operations manager, James Wilson, and marketing and administration manager, Alice Wilkes. 

Speaking on his years backing the market traders and retailers in general in Durham, he said: “It has been a joy to oversee Durham Markets Company for more than a quarter of a century, to watch it modernise, to organise supporting events to bring people into the city and to work alongside so many dedicated traders.

“Whilst I will still be very involved in the future of the city’s markets, I’m confident that with James and Alice at the helm it is in great hands. 

“Not only is it inspiring to see new businesses such as Boondoggle , Quirkshop UK and Upcycle Me find homes in Durham Market Hall, it also gives me great pride to know that businesses such as Garnhams Pet Supplies and Clarke’s, which preceded my involvement with the Market Hall by many years, are still here, ever-popular with their established clientele, and attracting new customers each week.”

Mandy Clarke, who runs Clarke’s Linen and Lace, with her brother Jimmy, said: “We owe Colin so much for his help over the years, particularly during the Covid lockdowns. “He is clearly passionate about the markets, and passionate about the city of Durham.

“Everyone in the Market Hall wishes him a long and happy retirement, but we are sure we’ll still be welcoming him in here from time to time.”

Mr Wilkes concluded: “My message to shoppers remains the same now as it always has been.

“We all love a vibrant and varied high street, and the only way to ensure its survival is to support the small independent businesses, the kind that you find in the Market Hall and at our other markets.

“There are many organisations working together to help keep Durham unique and attractive, to help retain its character.

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“The more people who live in the region come in to the city and make the most of all it has to offer, the more Durham will thrive.

“I for one will be back in the city often.”

He is looking forward to visiting over the course of what was his brainchild, the now annual Christmas Festival, between December 1 and 3.