showcasing the best of the south west

Artisan & Offbeat : The Anonymous Travelling Market

To me The Anonymous Travelling Market perfectly embodies the best things about Dorset - colourful, a little crazy, with a streak of pure artisan at its heart.

It was set up by Emma House and Rae Stormonth Darling 4 years ago as an antidote to the recession.

Emma says: "There is so much craft and skill in the West Country but people needed somewhere visible to sell their things. And everything was so depressing at the time we wanted to inject some fun.'

They had stumbled upon the world of street markets after selling their homemade fudge - - Fudgepackers of Dorset - at various stalls but found the experience lacklustre. Rae says: 'We were at a market in Blandford at 5 in the morning and it was just so grey and bland. We thought, 'we've got to do something about this.' We wanted to celebrate the colour and quirkiness that is an integral part of Dorset.' One thing that comes guaranteed at an Anonymous Travelling Market is colour - be it the pink  rolltop bath which Emma regularly inhabits with some actor or other - (for the guess who? competition) , the bright bunting which festoons the site, the pyschedelic music tent, not to mention the range of characters who have been selling at the markets from the beginning. What really marks out the ATM though is the philanthropic spirit of its founders.  The concept behind the travelling markets is to provide a networking platform for small, artisan businesses. And it is working. Recently an ATM stallholder felt confident enough to set up his own shop - The Dorset Game Larder - in Blandford. Rae and Emma have watched designers and craftspeople adapt and develop their business through contact with other artisans. And the markets have a visible effect on failing high streets. Emma says: "As well as showcasing some of the best locations in Dorset, we often hold markets in towns because we wanted to bring traffic back to the high street.' They also wanted to foster young entrepeneurship and last year held a competition to find the best school business. The winners from St Andrews School in Fontmell Magna were awarded a free stall at every ATM market for a year to sell their stationery.  Their community spirit hasn't gone unnoticed and last year the ATM won the Make a Difference Award in the Blackmore Vale's business awards. The ATM also flies the flag for the many and varied artisan food producers and craftspeople working in Dorset. The food, whether it's woodfired pizzas, oysters, paellas, or Amanda Baird's amazing cakes, is always a high point. You can shop for the very best West Country cheese, olives, bread, vegetables, fish and meat and pick up a delicious lunch at the same time. Emma says: "The difference is that you know exactly what you're eating and find out the story behind it." Live music has grown from the early days to become a huge element of the ATM. With a music tent sponsored by BV Dairy, the markets have some of the best local bands playing everything from cowboy country to squeezebox rock n roll. The ATM also has a knack of popping up in some of Dorset's most stunning locations - Springhead, Larmer Tree Gardens, Clayesmore School where they recently co-ordinated 60 stalls for Dorset Day. Both Rae and Emma confess to hating shopping and their desire was to turn the shopping experience on its head. At an ATM you can catch up with friends over seriously good coffee and cakes, watch traditional Dorset dancing, listen to some cow punk, drink cider and perhaps snap up a pair of earrings, a vintage dress or handmade soap you didn't know you wanted. Part of the ATM's appeal, I think, is the slight nutter element and both Rae and Emma light up when talking about future (bonkers) plans. Coming soon is a marching kazoo band, a mobility buggy race, a fancy dress dog show (with dancing dogs if they can arrange it), street theatre with country snobs sitting on shooting sticks hurling compliments at passersby. "The potential for utter silliness is huge,' Emma says. Any low points? There have been a few. Having to push a 4x4 that had got stuck on some rocks and the wash out - literally and figuratively - that was the fated Serenata Festival. It rained and rained and nobody came but, says Rae, 'we laughed from morning to night.' For me their refusal to take themselves or the experience of shopping seriously is the best thing about them and probably the reason why the Anonmymous Travelling Markets have become synonomous with celebrating the colour and uniqueness of Dorset. Find details of up and coming ATMs here

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