Fight the Power!
I’m back up in Leeds for the week to visit my family. I came up to run the Leeds Half Marathon (because apparently I can’t go anywhere now without running a race while there) and the day before the race, wandered around Leeds with my parents. A visit to the city wouldn’t be complete without going to its world famous market. Leeds Market is the largest indoor market in Europe and it is quite the experience. While there, I decided to get my photo-journalist on so I could share some of the essence with you. The fact is, Leeds Market is in trouble and needs all the help it can get.
The market is not the market of my youth. I have plenty of memories of meeting up with friends there on a Saturday in my teens. Now, many of the shops/stalls lay empty as rents have sky rocketed, pricing vendors out. In a lot of cases, we’re talking about businesses that have been in families for generations.
While the market is often hailed as the ‘Jewel of the City’ it seems Leeds City Council are intent on making the space more profitable at any cost (the market currently nets around £1.5 – £2m profit a year for them). The latest proposals put forth by the council would see the size of the market reduced by 25%, from 400 stalls to just 100.
There are too many issues surrounding this that make my blood boil but mainly this: Leeds has basically positioned itself as a shopping city. Why? I’m not entirely sure. Any ounce of originality the city had has been stripped and replaced with high street chain stores. There is now nothing in Leeds that you can’t find anywhere else. The Corn Exchange used to be a wonderful building full of independent traders until the Council kicked them all out in favour of making it a ‘food hall’ (which promptly fell flat on its face). The only place left in the city with a little flavour, something to offer, something to make you feel like you’ve been somewhere other than ‘Anytown UK’ is Leeds Market. To try to get rid of this is to almost very literally rip out the heart of the city and it is shameful.
Sure it’s not posh and it could use a makeover, but why is the profit currently being made from the Market not being invested back in? Rent for vendors in Leeds Market is currently the highest of any market in the UK, including London. A space barely big enough for two people to stand in rents for £850 a month, larger spaces, upwards of £2000. Businesses are simply being priced out so the fantastic variety that makes the market what it is, is disappearing.
Leeds Market is not just a place to go to buy stuff (although I’m pretty sure there’s nothing you can’t buy there – food, iPhone case, trainers, matresses, wigs, flowers, fabric, bikes, get a manicure! You name it, you’ll find it) – it’s an experience. It’s the very best of friendly Yorkshire folk who know their customers and go above and beyond for them. Liz, for example, is a fishmonger whose family has had a stall in the market for 100 years. My parents buy their fish from her every week. She works there with her husband and son and they always have a kind word, make conversation and have a laugh – somewhat of a rarity at the fish counter at your local Asda. Liz recently spoke at a community meeting about the future of Leeds Market and what she said was beautifully put:
‘A market stall is a small stage and all day we are the comedians, the councilors and the teachers. We service the families, the office worker, the TV personalities who regularly shop and enjoy the market ambiance in Leeds on location, say hello to the homeless and lonely, we embrace the strange and even the loopy and help those having difficulties, every day, every week. That is what a market is all about. It’s special and it can’t be replicated. It evolves, it cannot be created. And it needs protecting so that money, greed and shortsightedness doesn’t destroy it.’
There are so many talented people in Leeds from crafts people to bakers who could use a space to showcase their goods. I’m no economist, but surely it just makes good business sense to give stalls to those people at a reduced rent (and while we’re at reduce all the other rents too), rather than have a bunch of empty stalls there generating nothing. Get the market full again, inject some new energy with new traders. With a little imagination and creativity, it will not only be the largest market in Europe, it’ll gain a reputation as the best, which it rightly deserves.