For the next couple of months access to Kirkgate Market will be trickier still as George Street is reduced to single lane traffic while the contractors work on the drains for Victoria Gate.
Meanwhile the 1976 Hall stands empty, with no sign of building work. Some of the stalls are gone forever, while others are dispersed around the rest of the market.
The good news is that Kirkgate Market is still open for business and well worth visiting, if you can get there. Unlike the formerly lively shopping streets, the Headrow and Briggate, which are now minus Dwell, Burtons, Primark and many other once iconic stores and increasing filled with pawn shops, pound shops, betting shops and charity shops.
The Yorkshire Evening Post recently ran a photo feature on Bethell’s Fish Shop, the 100-year-old seafood stall which they described as “the heart and sole of the market”. Kirkgate Market has many more treasures so don’t forget to visit.
Dr. Ellen Duff and Dr. Anjula Gupta
I have lived in Leeds for nearly four years, and have shopped at Kirkgate Market (LKM) most weeks since I arrived. It was a place where I could buy my groceries, stop for a bite to eat and get a feel for the history and culture of the city that is now my home. A walk around LKM tells a tale of Leeds, past and present – the lavish (but poorly maintained) 1904 hall with its proud tribute to the origins of M&S, established family businesses passed down through the generations, later expansions of the market to meet increased demand as the city’s population grew, stalls reflecting immigration from all over the world and a number of vacant stalls. As well as my personal connection to LKM, I am a Clinical Psychologist who is interested in how communities operate to support those within them. I conducted a project in 2013 for a Community Psychology placement as part of my Clinical Psychology training. My aim was to explore ways that belonging to market community may impact on psychological wellbeing.
Research on markets like LKM shows that they:
- meet the practical needs of local communities – i.e. provide healthy food and other goods at low cost
- offer opportunities for people to start small businesses so they can support themselves and their families
- provide a welcoming environment for people who might feel excluded from other places due to their age, cultural background, financial means or mental health (Morales, 2009; 2011; Watson, 2009).
Recently though, there has been a nationwide move towards gentrification of markets – making them more attractive to more affluent and middle class customers – which may jeopardize their important social role (Gonzalez and Waley, 2012). I wanted to consider the impact that these changes could have on a market like LKM. The project involved spending time at LKM: observing and talking to customers, traders and market management about their engagement with the market. The findings discussed here derive from conversations with people and my reflections as a community psychologist using available literature on the social functions of markets and community psychology.
I saw countless examples of social inclusion, social support, caring, compassion and community spirit in action at LKM. It is a place where people from diverse backgrounds and otherwise marginalised groups can share the same space, challenging prejudice and nurturing tolerance (Watson, 2009). This was evident in watching people’s interactions, however fleeting, and hearing traders saying that people ‘won’t be judged’ and that ‘everybody is treated the same’* whether they are homeless or a celebrity. Traders and customers alike described a ‘sense of community’*.
I have seen a man, perhaps in his 60’s, in shabby clothing, walking the streets near where I live and in the city centre. He talks to himself, doesn’t respond when I say hello and stops to point at something I can’t see in the sky or pulls up his trousers to examine his socks for a minute. I don’t know who he is, if he has a home, if he accesses any social or health services. All I know is that I have only ever seen him walking the streets alone in all weathers, except for the time when I saw him sitting in a cafe in LKM, tucking into a large slice of chocolate cake. It is a place where he can rest, nourish himself and be part of social life.
Ken**, a widower and war veteran in his 90’s described to me his daily routine. He goes to LKM for breakfast at a cafe where he sits until the pub opens where he goes for his lunch, spends the afternoon then takes the bus home for dinner, cooked by his neighbour. This informal care network literally sustains him. I saw him sit, nursing an empty cup of coffee, exchanging greetings with people as they passed and having a long conversation with a barmaid from the pub in which she enquired after his family and his health. I got the sense of him as a proud man – he told me that he lived off his savings rather than receiving benefits – and I wondered if he was able to accept this level of support from others due to its informality, without the stigma and cost potentially attached to professional care services.
A trader told me about a homeless man who used to come to the market daily. He did not buy anything from her stall, but they would greet each other and exchange some words. One day the man looked very jaundiced and extremely unwell. The trader urged him to go to hospital, then did not see him for some time. When she saw him again he told her he had indeed been seriously ill and had gone to hospital where he had spent three weeks in intensive care.
Threats to Community Values
The market is managed by LCC, and whilst I saw strong community values amongst traders and customers, this was less evident between traders and management. Established traders and a former member of the LCC market management team told me that until around 20 years ago managers were a constant presence on the market floor. They were well known by traders, had ‘friendly banter’* and disputes were generally settled quickly, face to face. Since then management was described as increasingly ‘arms-length’* and seen as corporate and distant, not an active part of the market any more. Walking around LKM with one of the current LCC management team, a couple of hellos were exchanged, but on the whole traders did not acknowledge the manager with familiarity. Some traders feel increasingly excluded from negotiations regarding the future of the market over the years and evidenced this in LCC’s refusal to recognise the (now disbanded) Leeds branch of the National Market Traders Federation (NMTF) as representative of traders’ views.
The management representative I met said that they had as much presence on the market floor as ever, collecting rent in person from the outdoor stallholders and ‘patrolling’ on a regular basis. They also said LCC as had gone to great lengths to include customers and traders (including Friends of Leeds Kirkgate Market and NMTF) in consultation exercises regarding the future of LKM, but said that they had been poorly attended. When asked why, they speculated that this may have been due to ‘mistrust’.
Traders spoke about the sense of loss when well established businesses were bankrupted and had to leave the market, and the fear that they would meet the same fate as they struggled to pay their rent and rates. Whilst I saw plenty of evidence of traders supporting and caring about their customers, this also appeared to be threatened by financial concerns, with one trader telling me that when customers try to barter with her, she feels like telling them ‘you don’t understand the pressure we’re under just to pay the rent’*.
LCC’s Equality and Diversity Policy states that “The council is committed to … advancing equality of opportunity; and fostering good relations within and between our communities with a view to building good community relations,” (LCC, 2011). LKM provides a welcoming space that fosters the social inclusion of low-income and marginalised groups in Leeds in a way that is informal and non-stigmatising. The sense of community among traders and users of the market seems to be remarkably resilient. However, financial worries of current traders and plans for a ‘day market’ of transient traders risk undermining these values. Users, traders and management were all aware of the impact of gentrification of LKM. Although many of the values outlined above are shown to exist in gentrified markets (Watson, 2009), it is feared it will lead to higher costs for traders and customers and would exclude those who arguably need the market the most, threatening the social inclusion and social care approach so valued by users, traders and LCC.
Gonzalez, S. & Waley, P. (2012). Traditional retail markets: The new gentrification frontier? Antipode, 45 (4), 965-983.
Leeds City Council (2011). Equality and Diversity Policy 2011-2015.
Morales, A. (2009). Public markets as community development tools. Journal of Planning Education and Research, 28 (4), 426-440.
Watson, S. (2009). The magic of the marketplace: Sociality in a neglected public space. Urban Studies, 46 (8), 1577-1591.
*I made notes, but no recordings of conversations at LKM so quotes are from memory and not necessarily verbatim.
**names were changed for the purpose of anonymity.
A sharp-eyed market worker noticed this tiny (and blue, unlike the normal yellow) notice near the Fish Row in Kirkgate Market.
Leeds City Council have applied for an entertainment licence to allow the perfomance on the premises of:
E Live music
F Recorded music
G Performance of dance
H Anything of a similar description to that falling within (E), (F) and (G)
Furthermore these performances will take place from 10am to midnight.
It’s too late to object. The council has already approved the license.
So look forward to an all-singing, all-dancing late-night entertainments venue coming to a market near you.
A Happy New Year to the outside market traders who will now have their rent reduced by 20 percent from today after the management climbed down from their original decision of telling the traders “You know what to do if you don’t like it”. The outdoor traders have suffered as much as everyone else from the car parking fiasco and also have had to put up with the constant noise and dust from the Victoria Gate building works. In September they petitioned for a rent reduction; it was falling on deaf ears but as FOLKM drew attention to the difficulties Councillors have responded.
Interestingly, the YEP article also mentions that “Council market bosses have held regular meetings with lobbying group FOLKM (Friends of Leeds Kirkgate Market) to discuss concerns.” They have in fact met with us just once, but we are pleased they have committment to regular meetings as we go into the New Year given the imminent evictions, the 1976 Hall in disarray, and no clear decision on the board being set up to represent traders and the public.
FOLKM will continue to lobby MPs, including Eric Pickles, to avoid long-term traders leaving the market.
Oh Come All Ye Faithful!
Come to Kirkgate Market
Sing ye, oh sing ye our Christmas songs
Here is our songbook, come and join our sing-song
Oh come support the traders, oh come and praise the market
Oh come and tell the Council they’ve got it wrong!
FoLKM will be singing at the main entrance to Kirkgate Market on Monday 22nd December from 12:30pm. Come and join us!
Councillor Scrooge sat in his counting house, overcome with generosity. “I have bled Kirkgate Market dry for 20 years,” he thought, “now is the time to pay it back. I shall borrow 12 million pounds and watch the money roll in even faster when I refurbish it to a high standard and put up the rents.”
That night Scrooge was visited by the Spirit of Markets Past. He was swept into a scene of stupendous bustle, as shoppers dashed hither and thither, stuffing their bags, baskets and trollies with all manner of meat, fruit, vegetables, cakes, sweets and toys. The stallholders were full of merriment and cheerful banter. For it was Christmas, the season of high spending. He saw his contituents, low-paid Bob Cratchit and disabled Tiny Tim, loading their bags with festive fare for their annual celebration.
The next night Scrooge was visited by a more austere spectre: the Spirit of Markets Present. As he wandered through the echoing halls of shuttered stalls, he heard traders complaining that they were being moved to new stalls where they could not afford the rents or the wherewithal to re-equip them, and he saw customers searching for cheap cabbages and cut-price pies.
“They are suffering from austerity, unemployment, zero-hours contracts, the bedroom tax and universal credit,” said the spirit, “so they have to watch their spending. Poor Tiny Tim is finding it hard to manage on his employment support allowance and Bob Cratchit is struggling on the minimum wage.”
Are there no food banks? Are there no pound shops?, said Councillor Scrooge.
On the third night the Spirit of Markets Future manifested itself
“At last!” thought Councillor Scrooge, “I shall see my grand plans come to fruition. A happy place with neat and tidy stalls, selling all kinds of goods to a grateful population. There will be non-stop entertainments in the 1976 hall for people to enjoy while they refresh themselves at the cafes or browse among the day traders’ barrows.”
But he was met by a scene of appalling desolation. The 1976 and 1981 halls were gone, demolished to build offices and mean blocks of flats. The outside market was a car park. Only the 1875 hall remained, now rebranded as the Victoria Gate Heritage Experience and selling luxury goods at eye-watering prices. Even the Council Crest was gone.
“What happened?” asked Councillor Scrooge in despair.
“It worked for a while,” said the Spirit of Markets Future, “But once the rents were put up, the usual customers could not afford the prices and the high-spending John Lewis and Victoria Gate customers were never comfortable buying goods without a recognisable brand name. So the prettier parts of the market were bequeathed to Hammersons and the rest was sold off to pay back the 12 million pound loan. Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim are reduced to scouring the discount sector for sell-by-date bargains and have lost the spirit of community that the market provided.”
The next morning Councillor Scrooge awoke a changed man. “I must undo all that I have done,” he said, “The market is an asset to the community and must be preserved.”
But it was too late. The Council had already approved the plans with hardly any discussion.
God help us every one!