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Home » headline, People and Places, Speakers' Corner

What’s the matter with Kirkgate Market?

Submitted by on February 27, 2011 – 9:30 am42 Comments

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There’s a long history of market trading in Leeds, stretching back to the Middle Ages.  Since the mid 1800s, though, Leeds’ markets have been dominated by Kirkgate, which, with its six hundred  odd stalls, is the biggest covered market in Europe.

This is where Mr Marks set up stall with Mr Spencer, where the fishmonger has been in business for over a century.

It’s a huge place, packed with traders hawking everything under the sun, but it’s seen better days, and despite several bursts of investment over the last couple of decades, it seems to have lost its way.  Footfall is down, and there are plenty of empty stalls.

Somewhere down the years, Kirkgate lost its swagger.

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It’s hard to tell why, and even harder to work out what to do about it.

The easy option would be to propose ripping the place to bits and filling it with posh little shops selling artisan wares at exorbitant prices, but somebody tried doing that with the Corn Exchange and never got to the launch pad, let alone off the ground.

That’s not the answer, and it isn’t even a particularly good idea, either, because it would undermine any sense of what a traditional market should be, or what it’s for, and Kirkgate is nothing if it isn’t a traditional market.

This isn’t to say that the place doesn’t need investment – it does…badly – but it doesn’t need gentrification.

It needs some work on the fabric, smartening up a little, some tinkering with the layout and better extractor fans around the fishmongers and the greasy spoons, but it doesn’t need turning into the Victoria Quarter.

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A market should fulfil two main functions…it should be a place of trade, and a social place, a meeting place, a microcosm of society. It’s a place where people should spend time, talk, eat, laugh and cry, and a stroll through Kirkgate on any Saturday afternoon will probably reveal people doing all of those things, often all at once.

Kirkgate understands the first part, but neglects the second.  It does little to support the role of the Market as a cultural or social hub, and this is a key failing, and it impacts directly on trade.

Changing that isn’t going to be easy, and it’ll take more than a flashy new website and some positive marketing to change people’s perception of the place as a bit of a dump, but there are many things that the council, the market management and the traders could do, and some of these things are happening already.

The huge twice monthly farmer’s market, for example, brings together small producers from across the North and attracts a crowd or people who probably wouldn’t otherwise set foot in Kirkgate.

It’s a huge success, but the market’s challenge is to convert these twice monthly visitors into regular shoppers.

Another little step in the right direction is the Ministry of Food, a cooking school planted right in the heart of the market, which teaches people to cook good, easy food using ingredients they can buy just outside the door.  The branch in Bradford taught my nearest and dearest to cook a mean chicken saltimbocca, so they’re clearly a talented bunch of people.  It’s a brilliant example of connecting people to place, and equipping them to use that place to the best of it’s potential.  The Ministry of Food seeks to kindle enthusiasm, and Kirkgate benefits.

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Other solutions rest in investment.

The importance of the building as a Leeds icon shouldn’t be underestimated, and in the magnificent 1904 market hall, Kirkgate has one of the city’s architectural jewels.  Smarten it up, get people interested in it, bring its history to life and use it more imaginatively.  Think of the stories that hall could tell, and think of the things you could do with it!

A building itself can’t bring about change, but a great space sets a great tone.

There are other options.  The range of stalls could be widened, and, yes, despite my earlier mini rant, there should probably be the odd posh shop or two as well.

The reason for this is simple.  The Market proves twice a month that it can sustain this type of trade – the farmer’s market is packed with artisan producers selling premium product.  It encourages people into the place, and maybe some of those producers need to be encouraged to take a permanent berth.  Anything that makes a broader range of people comfortable in the place has got to be good.

I’m not suggesting that Kirkgate needs to transform itself into Borough Market overnight, but it should and could work harder at speaking to the people who in years past were probably some of the Market’s best customers, but who now see it as too ‘downmarket’.

Kirkgate needs to prove it isn’t, and to do that, it needs to talk about the quality of its goods, its prices and start to attract the sort of retailers that this group will feel more comfortable with, selling the type of products and produce they want to buy.  I suspect that there are huge numbers of people in Leeds who simply don’t realise that some of the best produce in Yorkshire is available right under their noses for great prices from Kirkgate’s butchers, grocers and fishmongers.

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Kirkgate needs to keep hold of its roots as a traditional market, but broaden its appeal, to find new ways to tempt those people who’ve quietly stopped using it to fall back in love with the building, with the idea and with the experience.

The big question now is ‘what does the future hold?’

Big change can happen.  It has in other places, none of which have the obvious advantage of being in Yorkshire.

There are plenty of examples of vibrant, inclusive markets selling top-notch produce at good prices, backed up by rich programmes of cultural events that seek to develop them as social places, places of fun and entertainment.

I admire Barcelona’s markets for this, and Santa Caterina in particular.  Here’s an example of a market done well – clean, open, light, beautifully designed with a diverse range of patrons shopping together and eating exquisite tapas side by side at some truly exceptional bars.  There are plenty more across Europe and beyond.

There’s much for Leeds to learn from the likes of Santa Caterina and La Boqueria, from Paris’ markets, even from London’s, but the council and the market needs to look, listen and learn.

And they need to be brave.

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So, Kirkgate needs a new lease of life.

Yes, it needs a new direction, but guiding that new beginning, it needs a vision, and that vision should be ambitious and far-reaching.  It should seek to realise its underused potential, to take a proud place at the heart of the city’s life again.

To do this, it needs to connect, connect with the thousands of people who live on its doorstep, who could be shopping there every day, connect with the office workers out on their lunch breaks, connect with the families out shopping on a Saturday.

Kirkgate needs to talk to people, to stand up and brag about itself a bit more, because it really is a fantastic place.

It needs its swagger back.

Kirkgate is too valuable an asset to let go to waste.

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Richard Ramsden spends too much  time in markets and visits them whenever he goes somewhere new.  Sometimes, he writes about the stuff he buys in them and the things he cooks with it at them apples. His kids are  sick of the sight of the places.

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42 Comments »

  • JulesLt says:

    The single biggest problem I have with British markets – including Kirkgate – are their opening times.

    There seems a blind refusal to acknowledge the shifts in society that mean that those of us with jobs can’t shop in the day, that very few families can afford for one partner not to work, and than even fewer employ domestic staff to do the shopping.

    The supermarkets have embraced this – in fact, to a large degree they have enabled it – office hours could not have extended without later night shopping.

    European shopping culture also seems to understand this, with shops and markets typically remaining open a couple of hours after the office.

    The corollary of this is that the market has instead focused on the people who are able to shop there – which is the non-working population – by which I mean pensioners and the part-employed as much as those on benefits. It’s a negative spiral – the opposite of gentrification.

    (What we need is something more Tesco, rather than Asda or Waitrose – relatively classless).

    The other thing that would help Kirkgate would probably be doing something with the car parks – i.e. ‘free’ parking vouchers for people who spend X at a stall.

    • Absolutely, I knew there was something I was going to add to my comment and this was it, opening hours. Just on the parking, I believe there is an offer of free parking, on George Street, BUT just for the new extended opening hours of Wednesday afternoons, a move to get rid of the traditional ‘half day’.

      Not helpful, as Jules states, to the typical family shopper but maybe a trial that could be extended, if the opening hours could extend, coupled with free parking, then that would start to be significant, open until 8, with free parking between 6 and 8.

    • Such a good point, I’m so glad this is the first reply because it’s such an important issue. People who work 9-5 might have the means to support markets, co-ops, independent shops etc but often can’t actually get to them when they’re open. Sometimes it’s hard enough getting to the bank and the Post Office.

  • There is little I can add to Richard’s fine observations, I agree, wholeheartedly. Kirkgate does have a range of products that would put most ‘out of town’ shopping jungles to shame, where, in Traffordhall or Meadowcentre can you find the hottest chillies, alongside designer hats, a cardigan shop, 4 haberdashery stalls ….

    As for quality, butchers row, fish & game row, frequented by top chefs, an opportunity for us mere mortals to access the same produce that is found on the menu in many a Michelin * restaurant. With a range of multicultural speciality food stores alongside, you can source ingredients for even the most ‘way out’ recipes, only last week I responded to a Tweet from someone in Harrogate looking for Thai rice, it’s at Kirkgate, not Harrogate.

    Prices, just did a quick compare of the one price featured in the photo, in KG’s, Chicken Fillets in Kirkgate £5.92 per KG, I went for the cheapest at ‘My Supermarket’ Tesco £7.81, Asda £7.50, Sainsbury £6.92.

    I know Leeds City Council is committed to protecting the future of the market, with more support and some TLC Leeds has yet another unique offer to be very proud of.

  • Really good post.

    I’ve just started shopping at the market and I’m really enjoying it. Started going because it’s cheaper, but I’m also discovering that there are tons of things like spices and more exotic fruit and veg that it’s difficult to get elsewhere readily available.

    I’d certainly second the comments about opening hours. If I don’t get there on a Saturday, I don’t get there at all.

    I also think a greater range would be a massive help. I know the fresh stuff is what the market’s best for (and the stuff I’m supposed to be most excited about) but if there was more frozen food and a slightly better selection of general packaged groceries I could cut out the supermarkets altogether and get a full week’s shop. I also think, as Richard mentioned, that a few higher-end food shops selling posh pies and deli goods would a) be nice and b) draw in new visitors who’d then go on to spend cash elsewhere.

    I also think I’d gladly spend more time at the market if there was somewhere in the old hall that looked like it served a decent cup of coffee.

    Oh, and some takeaway food beyond the usual suspects, please! (Although I acknowledge that Kirkgate’s not terrible on that front with Maxi’s rotisserie and whatnot, it could do better).

    And maybe a stall guide for the indoor bit? It can be a bit daunting wandering round aimlessly trying to find more specialist produce.

    I’ll stop typing now…

    • Vincent says:

      Hi,
      I know this is an old post but just wanted to add that there is a lovely creperie that does a decent cuppa (and a fantastic breakfast crepe). This is a fairly recent addition. Also just opened is an Italian catering stall that seems to be affiliated to Casa Mia and looks to do a good coffee. I have to add that i think there missing a trick by not doing breakfast, but i have had their almond biscuit at Casa Mia and it’s AMAZING!.

      I love the Market and it’s cheaper than Aada and when i do go to asda now I find it really soulless.

      I would like more free range meat.

      Also I made a fantastic rabbit pie and the meat cost….£1.80!

      I’ll stop typing any minute now…

  • CarlQ says:

    I guess the only things I would add are that the market would benefit from being better signposted and better grouped into types of shop – If I’m not after food then I never know where to go to find things and often end up walking around for ages before I find what I need.

    I agree opening hours do need to change but will have to overcome the traditions of existing market traders.

    I also think it would benefit from a communal space that can accommodate performers and communal events – maybe even a temporary picnic area in the winter months? For example, having a comedy or other gig in there on a Thursday evening with stalls staying open would attract a whole new group of people.

  • Dave says:

    Interesting post. I’ve thought that Leeds doesn’t really make the most of it’s market for a number of years now. For a comparison closer to home, Manchester seems to me to be making more from its much more meagre resources. There isn’t even a proper market hall in Manchester city centre, the Arndale market is little more than a spare corner in the shopping centre, but the takeaway/eat-in food area is thriving.

    Development of a similar area in Leeds market would encourage people into the place at lunchtime, and hopefully over time this would increase trade for the rest of the stalls.

  • Leigh Good Stuff Leigh says:

    GREAT peice. Kirkgate Market does need gentrification, I agree. The shops are varied, as are the clientele, and we really don’t need to push it toward being something it isnt (a la the Corn Exchange). What it needs is tidying up – especially the lower Market – and promotion in both its cultural significance and shopping opportunities. LCC need to reduce rents in order to attract start-ups and keep businesses in business. KM *should* be one of the Jewels in Leeds’s crown, and at the moment it isn’t. Let’s hope LCC see it that way too and take initiative to make sure it is in the future.

  • Tom Riordan says:

    Great posts. Went down on Friday with the family and it was v busy. Council actively listening at the moment and v keen to up our collective game on Kirkgate.

    Personally I think it’s a major asset for the city to have Europe’s largest covered market but typically Leeds doesn’t shout enough about it. For example, I didn’t even know about the Jamie Oliver Ministry of Food but I knew Rotherham had one!

    Solution has got to come bottom up as it’s local people and Market traders who will dictate success. Fresh produce (look at how Morrisons transformed their brand), value for money, heritage (especially the M and S link), scale, and diversity all seem to me core strengths we should try to enhance.

    A key question is how to increase footfall, especially in advance of the likely arrival of John Lewis in the adjacent development in a few year’s time, which we need to make sure helps the market. Our retail offer isn’t just about the big shopping centres.

    • Chris Lovell says:

      Nice to see you reading this blog and replying to stuff like this Tom. Like you say, any change must come from bottom up but people need to be empowered by the council to make these changes and not held back.

      • Mike Chitty says:

        This may seem like a pedantic semantic point. But the council cannot empower a community. It may be able to create the conditions in which a community can build its power – but that is about it. It cannot ‘give’ or ‘lend’ power. It maybe able to give authority – but there is no guarantee that power will go with it.

        When we ask for a community to be empowered we are in essence asking for a group of people to behave differently. To adopt new relationships and roles amongst themselves and with those around them and to achieve new and different results.

        Such transformation has to be worked on and takes time. And it is not just Kirkgate market but lots of communities throughout the city that might want to transform themselves into the type of place where we live full of optimism and hope.

        So when do we start?

  • Alex says:

    When I lived in Leeds we shopped at the market a lot because it was so much cheaper than the supermarkets. The market/council/traders need to make a big deal about this because after doing my veg shopping at the market I used to faint at the prices in the supermarket!

    Also – the range available in the market needs to be shouted about. If you’re at the supermarket and they don’t have any fennel or it’s manky then you’re stuffed, but at the market you can shop around.

  • Tim Chorlton says:

    I think KG is possibly one of the most overlooked assets that Leeds possesses.

    Think Camden, Spitalfields or Portobello – these are all major tourist attractions as well as established markets in their own right.

    Personally, I would like to see a ‘cull’ of some of the lower grade units and as some one earlier mentioned, a ‘sectioning’ of the market. The Butchers Row and Fish Market are both very easy to find but then it all gets a bit fragmented.

    Also, free parking and an understanding of the opening hours required to suit the modern ‘shopper’ (although I appreciate, many of the stalls start work when we are all tucked up in bed).

    Personally I’d like to see a ‘second hand/antique/curio’s’ section to the market.

    Another problem I feel the market suffers from which doesn’t seem to be addressed here (perhaps out of politeness) is the shear volume of ‘undesirables’ that linger around that end of town.

    I think a bit of ‘moving along’ would also help the overall experience?

    • Steve Dransfield says:

      Spot on Tim, you took the words out of my mouth!

      The range of fish available is fantastic, but having to dodge past groups of special brew quaffing folk to get some just puts me off.

      The comparison with continental markets is interesting, especially La Boqueria from an architecture point of view – Europe tends to get these things “right”, whereas we seem to be “almost there” … I think it’s a deeper cultural thing which sums up a lot of what is wrong with our country.

  • Mike tattersall says:

    What a great piece an interesting debate. I have one main comment which is I don’t believe the Farmers Market is a huge success. I know a number of traders who have pulled out because numbers are falling in terms of attendance. I also know traders who have worked hard to try to get the market organisers to be more proactive and listen to traders suggestions of improvements but that offer of learning from best practice the traders see elsewhere falls on deaf ears. As i understand it the extent of investment and promotion by the organisers has been limited to signage. Until the organisers and Leeds City Council listen and invest in ideas such as many given above I fear the Market will continue to fail to reach its potential.

    • I have been to the Farmers Market and found it to be limited and expensive. For example, we picked out two slices of cake and were pretty shocked when we were charged almost £5. The other stalls were selling mainly non-essentials like vats of olives etc. It is a nice luxury (yes, the cake was amazing) but not something I can really afford to work into a monthly shopping routine.

    • Rosie says:

      I love shopping at the market and it’s SO cheap! I almost fell over when I saw how much meat/fish was at Sainsburys the other day. I have been enjoying bargain eating Mackerel and venison while non-market shopping friends are barely affording cheap chicken.

      I do think there are some things that the market could do better though. There are lots of mobile phone type shops that I don’t think do anything to enhance the market.

      Also there are no cake/bread stalls! The only baker is in the top part of the market only has a very limited range of buns/bread. There was, last year, a lovely stall on the corner of Fish Street selling breads and homemade pizzas but that vanished. Also the olive stall that was in the big stall near the clock had to close down because of increasing rents. It seems someone is shooting themselves in the foot!

      I think that the Farmers Market would benefit from longer opening hours – it’s all but over by 1pm on a Sunday! Please make it stay open longer. Not everyone can get there in the morning. I think I’ve only managed to get there a couple of times!

  • Doreen Ward says:

    I have responded to a number of surveys about the market and completely endorse the comments about Barcelona for instance. But a more local comparison is Leicester Market which has much the same potential customer base and is absolutely full of shoppers every day. There is something about the way the stalls are laid out there that catch the eye. The produce looks fresh and tempting.

    I really dislike the fruit and veg stalls in our indoor market. They look like mini supermarket stalls – loads of pre packed stuff. The outdoor ones are better and very good prices but off putting in lousy weather.

    I find the indoor market depressing and the meat stalls actually make me consider being a vegetarian – the smell and the way the meat is displayed. In my opinion the fish counters are the best part of the whole market.

    I love markets and always visit ones abroad to have great value lunches. Nothing would tempt me to eat at any of the food outlets in Leeds market. It doesn’t have to be ‘posh’ to be good

  • Dougald Hine says:

    I remember the impression that Kirkgate Market made on me as a kid in Leeds, though I haven’t been back since we moved away when I was eight. But there’s a sensory intensity to markets which you don’t get in any other kind of shopping space.

    The points you make about the dual function of the marketplace as a trading space, but also a sociable space, are ones I make in a talk I gave about Space Makers Agency and our role in the transformation of Brixton Village/Granville Arcade:

    http://www.psfk.com/2010/11/video-dougald-hine-psfk-conference-london-2010.html

    From that experience, I’d also say that it’s incredibly difficult to achieve the balance of the kind of revitalisation you’re talking about, without it tipping over into a gentrification spiral that loses what makes the market special. We walked that line in Brixton, and I think we came close to getting the balance right – but while the project has had huge support, I know that there are a few dedicated people locally who believe that it went too far. The truth is there’s no easy way to manage such a process.

    Anyway, I’d be happy to talk to you and others about our experiences, so feel free to get in touch.

  • Simon says:

    Excellent article, and comments, I hope the council are reading carefully! It needs some new ideas, fast. I’d like to see a permanent farmer’s market and a food court with street-food type stalls. Food entrepreneurs face enormous start-up costs, this would allow new businesses to get a foothold at a lower cost.

  • Seaneeboy says:

    I love Kirkgate Market! Easily one of the best shopping places in Leeds…

    However…

    1) Parking – thanks to the NCP it’s a fortune to nip in – minimum charge of 2 hours, even if you’re only in for 20 mins to pick up some cheese…

    2) Opening hours – it needs to be open longer. Sure, some stalls will have been going since the crack of sparrowfart, but the option needs to be there to pop in and pick up some things on the way home from work. That said, no one’s going to “pop in” while they have to pay for 2 hours parking.

    3) Clutter – Some stalls are so hugely cluttered, spilling into the path (usually with fairly tatty looking toys etc) that it can get very claustrophobic). With stuff piled up so high it’s very difficult to get bearings too, which leads me to…

    4) The Layout – it’s a baffling ordeal trying to get from one section to another. Are there sections? I’m not sure. I know of “Fish row” and “Butchers row”… but that’s it.

    There you go. Fix that please.

    Seanx

  • Phil says:

    Great post and a very lively debate too. I agree with almost every word Richard has written. I’m proud of the market in Leeds but it does need a vision to make it a market for the people of Leeds in 2011 and beyond.

  • Gail hardwick says:

    Just one late night opening per week would be awesome, buskers/entertainers would really add an ambience and please better signposting

  • Great post – and best debate I’ve seen so far on the future of the market.

  • Simon says:

    Perhaps the policy of offering only long leases – up to 4 years – on prime spots is a factor. Makes it more of a shopping mall.

    Great piece btw

  • Alexandra says:

    I agree with nearly all the comments above. A thriving market can be the heart of a community- my friend has chosen to move to Leicester, after 5 years in Asia, because she found a lot of that same asian family/community social, activities spirit abounded in Leicester market.

    One point though- I think many people need to ‘learn’ how to shop in markets. Many people are so used to supermarket packaging, that open produce feels unhygienic, even dirty. Supermarkets present items in such a way that shoppers barely need to make decisions. Huge numbers of people (me) know absolutly nothing about weights and measurements. Hour long ‘Introductions to market shopping’ may help the nervous. There’s a need to make the entire experience not just more interesting, cooler, attractive, but also less intimidating.

  • P says:

    Small things like how the meat is laid out need to be sorted out – time and time again I’ve considered buying chicken breasts, only to note they are overlapping with beef or pork on the display. Meats I can’t eat, so I don’t want their juices near the meat I can – it can’t just be me it puts off, for either dietary or religious reasons. It also makes me wonder about hygiene elsewhere if they can’t get that simple thing right. I also don’t appreciate buying a kilo of mussels to find that 50% are already dead (and therefore useless). People seem to praise the meat and fish sections more than anything else, but quality control is a must.

  • E B Snare says:

    Great article and constructive, interesting comments: hooray.

    As part of the Leeds City Centre WI committee, I and Gloria Lindh have been talking recently about helping out Friends of Kirkgate Market with some of their promotional stuff, including – like Alexandra mentioned – tours of the market.

    There’s clearly a great number of people who would like to be involved with changing and developing the market, both internally and externally in the perception of it in Leeds and the surrounding area. If people are interested, we could attend the Friends of Kirkgate meeting? It’s on 9th of March, 6pm at O’Neill’s (Great George St). If people would like to attend I will happily meet up with them before hand or at the venue. Could be a good opportunity to get some inside info on future publicity projects and lend help where needed.

  • Gloria says:

    as Ellie mentioned, there’s a meeting on 9th March at 6pm by Friends of Kirkgate Market if people want to get involved.

    I would like to echo Dougald Hine’s point however about a spiral of gentrification. One of the major reasons I shop at the market (and I’m there mostly every week for my fruit and veg!) is that it’s cheap. I don’t want gourmet ingredients, I want un mucked about fresh produce. I used to live in South London (near Brixton!) and never bought an item in Borough market, because I couldn’t afford it.

    I also think there are very few shopping spaces in Leeds City Centre that are not managed, smoothed over and homogenised. Brixton market is great but has still maintained the character of a market: it’s noisy, it smells (good and bad!) and there are some characters about. I sometimes wonder if all the angst about the market is just a wish to make it into some kind of fictional market that is tidy, pretty and….whisper it…more like a supermarket?

    That’s not how the best markets work. Real markets – not Borough market, or sadly even Spitalfields now which are fantasy retail places, not a market – have mess, they have smell, they have stalls with weird stuff on. The market is where a lot of lower income people shop and to be honest I’m a bit sick of schemes tidying up areas of central Leeds (cough Corn Exchange cough) and moving on ‘undesirables’ as mentioned above. Do we mean undesirables or do we mean poor people? There’s nothing wrong with extending appeal but please let’s not tidy the place up to be a market theme park, full of some ideals of a retail space that probably never actually existed.

    There are a number of things that could be done to improve the market. I do wonder though, how many people commenting actually shop in the market? It’s still pretty busy whenever I go in, and I can find what I need there. Is the market failing? Or with a few tweaks, could what’s already there be even better?

    • Dave says:

      I agree that Brixton is great, and I think it has managed to achieve a pretty good balance between gentrification and retaining a traditional market shopping environment. I would love Leeds to manage something similar, but I just can’t see it happening. I don’t know of anywhere in this country like Brixton markets outside of London, and I think that’s a reflection of the differences between London and the rest of the country.

      London is much less segregated geographically between the wealthier middle classes and the urban poor. Brixton is a prime example of this, it has significant areas of poverty and deprivation but plenty of young well-to-do professionals as well. It makes people more accustomed to interacting with, or at least sharing space with others from different social backgrounds. Franco Manca, a feted pizza place and about as middle class as it could be, is in one of the arcades pretty much surrounded by discount hardware stalls and butchers selling cow foot. No-one bats an eyelid.

      In an ideal world people could think beyond the constraints of places not being for them (e.g. the markets full of undesirables/wino’s, but just as much oh the Corn Exchange has gone all snobby).

      I guess what I’m ultimately trying to say is how can the market become a valuable place for everyone. I don’t think it’s failing, but it could definitely do with some improvement and getting people through the door who wouldn’t normally dream of it without scaring off the current punters is key in my opinion.

  • Katie Buffalo says:

    I would like to know where the great meat that everyone is talking about is being purchased. Which stall, specifically. Because what I see at every single stall are massive, hormone- loaded, water-injected chicken fillets going so cheap that it’s scary. Whole chickens selling for two pounds. Not one trader sells free-range chicken – I’ve asked, believe me. As for the other meat, I’ve purchased pork fillet before that I had to throw out because by the time I was ready to prepare it the next day, it smelled of rot and ammonia. I’ve also purchased braising steak that looked nice on the counter, only to find that what was packaged for me as I glanced away was more fat and gristle than good meat.

    So what about fish? Aside from mussels and mackerel, what is there for purchase that is in any way sustainable? Not the sea bass going for £1 each, I’m guessing.

    And the vegetables – occasionally, very occasionally, there’s something locally grown and in season to be had. More often, what you see has been shipped in from all over the world, even when there’s no reason for it. Peruvian asparagus on sale in April. Giant, sour, pale strawberries from Spain in June. The market traders by their veg from the exact same suppliers as the major groceries, the difference being that they take what’s imperfect, a little faded, a little wilted at a much lower price and pass the savings on. And that’s fine – I don’t need perfect veg, especially if it’s going in a stew. And I think it’s important that people who can’t or won’t buy veg at supermarket prices have a place they can shop. But to pretend that it’s better quality or otherwise superior to what’s on the shelf at Morrison’s is ridiculous. It’s the same stuff, just a bit older and more beat-up.

    So what’s the solution? I don’t know. I love to have a wander through the market to people-watch. Sometimes I buy some mussels or clams. I used to get rabbits from a certain stall, until I found out they were farmed (rabbit farming is as bad as intensive chicken farming, wild shot rabbit is the way to go). But until what I see as serious quality issues are addressed, I’m not going to be doing much shopping there at all.

    • Gloria says:

      I think you have to shop around and find the stalls you like, and stick with them. I’ve had some produce experiences I wasn’t happy with, but that was simple – I didn’t go back. However I’m surprised that you haven’t found anything you see as good quality.

      I do shop with certain expectations, there’s things I buy at the market and things I don’t. Great quality produce I get there I don’t elsewhere: ripe plum tomatoes (can’t get them in a supermarket), sweet globe grapes (can’t get them in a supermarket), spinach grown in the ground (not available in a supermarket), local rhubarb, local potatoes, redcurrants (couldn’t find them anywhere else!), seville oranges (couldn’t find them anywhere else). Free range eggs, manchego cheese, pigs trotters (making stock for a pork pie…not an experience I wish to repeat but hey, I found them in the market!, sweet British strawberries (gluts of them) in June. I buy most fruit and veg in the outdoor market.

      I disagree that veg bought at the market is simply supermarket veg, older. There’s produce there that I can’t get at the supermarket. The supermarket prioritises shelf life and uniformity of produce – they don’t prioritise taste. There are less miles of transport, less packaging in fruit and veg you buy at the market.

      I think it’s unrealistic to expect all market stalls to offer sustainable, local food. If a stall offered only local veg between November and February it would be mostly root vegetables only for three months. supermarkets have massively changed our expectations of the availability of produce. The stalls are businesses, they cater to the demands of the customers, and this is reflected in the market at large: there are less retailers selling local, free range produce. There are plenty of stall holders selling this kind of produce at the Farmer’s market.

      There is a difference between quality concerns and sustainability concerns. Sustainability doesn’t always indicate greater quality. it would be very interesting to see how locally focused, perhaps community agriculture schemes could be represented as a retail presence in the market, but I think that’s a seperate argument to quality questions.

      • Katie says:

        I’m not asking that every stall sell what I want to buy, but it would be nice if even one did. My problem isn’t even necessarily from a sustainable/ethical/green standpoint, the biggest problem is quality. I see very little of it. It seems to be sacrificed for cheap prices.

        I would be interested to know specifically which veg stall you’re buying from, though, because I’m not seeing the produce you just described.If I did, I would buy it up. What I see are beaten-up, bruised veg (wholesaler seconds, which are fine for the price to be honest) and apples, asparagus, and strawberries shipped from thousands of miles away even when they’re in season here. Maybe my problem is that I can’t get to the market other than the odd Saturday, at which point anything good has been sold out – and that takes us right back to the problem of the unfriendly business hours.

        • Gloria says:

          Katie, we should meet up and do ‘my favourite stall’ tip sharing! I also go on a Saturday, mostly…and will admit to waiting for the magic hour of 3pm when everything starts to get reduced. But if you get there early there is better choice, even on a Saturday.

          Friends of Leeds Market are doing a ‘shop at the market week’ between 3rd-6th May, have wondered if it might be fun to get people to do ‘my market’ personal tours. Maybe one tour of the fabric stalls, another of the favourite veg stall etc…

  • Peace says:

    “it should be a place of trade, and a social place, a meeting place, a microcosm of society.”

    This is the key to its future in my opinion. However, the representatives for the market, such as Friends of Leeds Kirkgate Market, are constantly making announcements against this. The number of anti-gentrification and the market is only for the poor statements I have read are very sad. I firmly believe these are putting people off helping more directly.

    Of course the market should have fresh food at prices anybody can afford but no market was established for one sector of society. You just have to look at the Vicar Lane entrance to understand this. It needs to be the heartbeat of the city.

    The market hall obviously needs investment for its upkeep and should not be used just as a funding mechanism for the rest of the city. I firmly believe that the traders should be in charge.

    I think one key change, that is relatively simple (from an outside perspective), could make a world of difference.

    Firstly, group all the cafe’s, deli’s, greengrocers, fishmongers and butchers at the top of the market to create a food hall. Then market the hell out of this as a place to eat and shop for food. This doesn’t have to be through expensive media and word of mouth will help a lot. Extend the opening hours of this section so that people can begin to use it after work. This could be a place where all levels of society can come together.

  • Kirkgate Market can’t be underestimated as an asset to Leeds.

    I would love it to retain it’s simple, useful stalls, combined with more social places to stop and enjoy, as well as the more exotic – I’m not saying it should become Borough Market but it needs to embrace a certain level of interest to ensure it maintains visitors and can cement it’s place in the city centre.

    Some developer probably sees it as a prime target for another Victoria Quarter and the last thing we need are more shops and the majority of the population can’t shop at.

    P.S. And it definitely needs a decent beer shop in there!

  • Harriet says:

    Here’s a bit of future gazing to put into the mix.
    ‘Business must address energy-related risks to supply chains and the increasing vulnerability of ‘just-in-time’ models’.
    (see Sustainable Energy Security: Strategic Risks and Opportunities for Business
    Chatham House-Lloyd’s 360° Risk Insight White Paper).

    Or as the NEF put it a couple of years ago, with our current food supply we’re always just 72 hours from anarchy – because almost all our food is supplied through supermarkets using ‘just-in-time’ models.

    Its quite possible that with the best will in the world, the supermarkets will not be able to supply at a price most of us can afford. Food security and supply in future is likely to feature farmscale, small scale agricultural, and hyperlocal production, which require different distribution systems. We’d be daft to dismantle an existing, low entry cost, centrally situated food distribution infrastructure for Leeds….

    Whatever plan is hatching for the markets, I hope its remembered that when food costs more than people can afford, priorities change rapidly.

  • Amy says:

    I shop at the market every week and I love it. So cheap, and generally great vegetables and fruit that last twice as long as supermarket stuff. I agree, I have had less than amazing food from there, but cost- wise its incredible. I pay less than half what I would at Morrissons.

    It would be great if the market had a nice deli, on the outskirts, to lure people in. Something akin to ‘Out of this world’ with specialist dried food, meats and cheeses to accompany the fresh stuff on offer at the other stalls.

    Later opening times would be superb too. You have to plan your visit to the market due to the restrictive opening times- which I think puts alot of people off going there.

  • Thought this might be of interest to people who care about the future of the market, a real threat to it ever getting back on its feet:
    http://kirkgatemarket.wordpress.com/2011/04/19/9-days-to-object-to-the-eastgate-quarter-planning-application/
    If you care please write to the Council and object to this planning application.

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