The seeds for what has become New Zealand`s largest outdoor market were sown in the old Riccarton Mall car park 20 years ago.

On a borrowed trailer laden with discoveries found in garages of fellow Rotarians, it was hoped others would join in the fun. “We were delighted if we had 12 stalls in those early days,” says Ross Binning, market chairman.

The Riccarton Rotary Sunday Market outgrew several sites before finding a home at Riccarton Park, where up to 350 stalls can be found each Sunday. Now owned by the Riccarton Rotary Charitable Trust, profits of $1,508,807 have been generated – with interest enabling the Trust to grant $1,574,453 to a wide range of community organisations and individuals over that time.

Groups to benefit in recent years include the Salvation Army, St John Ambulance, Nurse Maude and Christchurch City Mission, schools such as Riccarton High, Rowley Avenue, Villa Maria and Wharenui Primary, as well as the Rannerdale Foundation, Coastguard Canterbury, Women`s Refuge, Outward Bound scholarships for young people, Hillary Himalayan Trust, New Zealand Wheelchair Tennis and Kimihia Adventure Programme – to name but a few.

Higher education scholarships were established to celebrate the Club`s Jubilee in 2003, and a Rotary Centenary donation of $110,000 went to Cholmondeley Home in 2005.

In 2007, $300,000 went to upgrading facilities at Riccarton Park, including walkways, entertainment arena with staging, toilet block and utilities. The website also launched.

“We aimed for an environment where people can enjoy a fun day out with the family, as well as somewhere to buy their vegetables, seasonal fruits such as strawberries freshly-picked in Waimate that morning, specialty cheese and breads, eggs, preserves, cakes, specialty meats, plants, trees, shrubs, garden ornaments, plus all the traditional market stalls of clothing, footwear, antiques and collectables, and toys,” says Binning.

A number of stallholders operate home-based or small manufacturing businesses – the Market is their retail outlet – several have gone on to launch full-scale businesses.

Community groups often fundraise at the Market – and may apply for a free site.

“We exist to raise money to help people in need,” says Ross Binning. “It`s taken huge dedication and commitment. We estimate that Club members devote 1500 volunteer hours each year – with the bonus of the wonderful fellowship a “hands-on” project generates.”

Club members staff the information office, collect site fees or direct stallholders to their sites and, in the early days, collected rubbish and cleaned the grounds. Now employment is provided for six students each Sunday, along with security and a full-time manager.

“Thank you to the people of Christchurch who have supported us and helped to ensure this venture is such a success. It`s been 20 years of hard work, but worth it” says Binning.

The Riccarton Rotary Sunday Market is open every Sunday from 9am to 2pm – wet or fine – at Riccarton Park.

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