Kirkgate Market – a student paradise
by Federico Venturini, research postgraduate student at the University of Leeds
Usually the University students shop in the Merrion Centre or in the St. John’s Centre. It is very easy to get there: abandoning the campus’ bubble, just follow the Woodhouse Lane / Albion Street to the city centre. We can see, all day long, a queue of taxis waiting, students or everyday people walking uphill with their Sainsbury’s or Morrison’s shopping bags. Occasionally, the bravest or the top-shop brand followers go to shop in the city centre boutiques, full of latest fashion. The Market is there, on the border with the outskirts, a rough area. We normally walk to Vicar Lane, we know the nice Edwardian façade of the Market but… how many of us have actually shopped inside there? How many of us had the courage to venture inside? I did and I discovered a new world.
What is the Kirkgate Market? Well, it is a very big market, one of the biggest in Europe! You can find practically everything there, from the Spanish oranges, to the Yorkshire eggs, to African textiles, from socks to hoovers, etc. You can really find all that you need; I started believing it totally since I found the fresh yeast in the Polish shop. But it is not only a question of quantity; it is also about quality and price. Try to buy some food (whatever you want: eggs, fish, vegetables, it doesn’t matter…) at the Market and compare it to the ones from the super market. Hey! The food from the
Market has a real taste, it does not seem plastic! (and, as I am from Italy, I should know the taste of good food!). And it is cheaper!
I am always impressed when I do my weekly shop at the market discovering that I spend much less of the cash that I would spend elsewhere. As Basak from Turkey say to me, when you shop at the Market you decide where and from whom to buy, you are not pushed in to a designed itinerary with artificial lightening: “There is always surprise in the market”! Moreover, if you are one that worries about the environment (and you should be!), it is definitely true that shopping at the Market you use less packaging and your fresh food travels fair fewer miles in the getting there, so it has a less
impact on nature.
Of course, you can also buy crap things there, but this is all part of the game!
And, of course, it is not only about shopping…
The Market is a free space: you can easily go inside, have a look, walk around, buy something, chat with an owner of a stall, take a tea. You can have incredible encounters: you can meet your friend, your teacher, an old woman with funny anecdote, a devout Christian, a farmer from the Dales, a peasant from Brazil, etc.
As Joy from China told me, in the Market the big difference with shopping centre is the contact with people. “I feel part of a community rather than just shopping”: after a while you will feel to be part of something and not only a student/ foreigner in Leeds passing your time there simply for learning and returning back home. To me, supermarket’s shelves never seem friendly or bright; try the difference with a row in the Market: people of different ages and origins, real colours, different vivid odours that assails you.
For foreigner like me, the Market gains also a different taste: it is a real multi-ethnic space where we can feel a bit at home. It is not only thanks to the flags of all the countries of the world appearing everywhere or to the fact that you can easily find real food from your country (things that in any case can help), but mainly because you can see that different communities gather there together peacefully. In the Market you can start feeling not a completely stranger lost in the Yorkshire, but more as part of a multicultural community, composed of people in the same situation as you or who accept and not judge you.
The Market is an incredible space where local people’s ordinary life dwells and a moment for socialising and meeting different people without any pressure or social barrier.
Recently, both Universities have started to actively support the Market, suggesting that students shop there and organising trips to the Market.
And now the Market needs all the support that we can offer: not only to promote its initiatives and encourage refurbishment (a natural work of maintenance in an old building) but also to preserve it against some projects that can put its future in danger. The City Council is the current owner and it is planning to reduce the size of the external market, refurbish inside and substitute the inside stalls with top-shops: to sum up, to gentrify the space, maximize the profit and try to conform to the rest of the city centre.
I love the Market and I unfortunately waited an entire year before discovering this magic world: I confess that I was one of the students who stop in the shopping centre. Do not do as me, please: do not hesitate and try it, you will be fascinated.
I would like to make a proposal: why not to try to shop one day a week at the Leeds Kirkgate Market? I suggest Saturday morning. Go there with your friends, spend a couple of hours together, leave the University bubble (you spend enough hours there!), discover the city centre. If it is a sunny day you can even walk outdoors. If you start to shop at the Market you will love it, I promise. And… tell this to your friends!
We have to preserve the colourful and living place and, as Faith from China told to me, “History, culture and heritage, the Market should be conserved!”