• Art for Art’s Sake

    That know-nothing newspaper the Guardian recently ran an article claiming that the John Lewis/Victoria Gate development was damaging Leeds’ artistic quarter in Mabgate:

    “The new Victoria Gate shopping centre has brought a super-casino, high-end boutiques and a towering John Lewis store to Mabgate, Leeds’ gritty, graffiti-smeared artistic hub. Now locals fear the city’s ‘beating heart’ is at risk”.

    Well, Guardian, the new shops are not in Mabgate and the beating heart is not there but in Kirkgate. But have no worry, artists: there is no shortage of art in Kirkgate Market. There are many fewer shops than before, but visitors can marvel at the Welcome To Leeds mural slapped all over the handsome brickwork on the Outdoor market wall,

    or stare in wonder at the enormous picture in the Waste of Space.


    There are also elegant photographs on the shutters of the empty outside shops

    and slogans on walls instead of stalls in the erstwhile Fish and Game Row.

    So what is Kirkgate Market now? An art gallery? A museum? A heritage monument? Because it certainly isn’t the “bustling centre deeply sewn into the fabric of the city” we all remember.

  • Many Stories Told

    “Many Stories Told” is part of the branding of the new-look market, painted on walls surrounded by empty units. Here is one story from Facebook:

    …My family have been at Leeds Market for forty years and I don’t think I’ve ever seen it as bad as it is at this moment. The “development” which has cost a whopping £16m … is a white elephant and has had massive repercussions on the traders and shoppers. Nearly three months on, it still hasn’t taken off and is continuing to ruin people’s livelihoods. This is the master plan of the market management, run by Sue Burgess, who is doing her utmost to destroy the market (she has previous with nearly ruining Stockton market). Traders turnover has dropped in some cases by 80% and there is no sense things are picking up. Then there is the roof which still leaks, with the improvisation of using buckets to catch water. The outside looks like a place where work people dump their cars and vehicles without any care or thought. The fencing still blocks the view of the outdoor market. These charlatans who “run” the market are either incredibly stupid or they have a desire to kill the market, either way a part of our history is being destroyed…

    Meanwhile the “Heart of the Market”, which, according to the story told by Sue Burgess would be:

    …A new activity area – complete with its own eight-metre LED screen [which would] host live music events, exhibitions, sport events, demonstrations and more in the coming months.

    remains a giant empty shed, currently hosting a pair of ping-pong tables, a couple of deflated bouncy castles, an 8-metre display of advertisements and a selection of drip-catching buckets.
    It’s the same old story.

  • Ping Pong

    Back in the days of 2014 when the 1976 hall was still a thriving hub of business, a corner was cordoned off for a ping pong table to amuse shoppers. It was universally ignored.

    But that was then and this is now. The “leisure village” now has two ping pong tables for punters to ignore.

    There is nothing else going on at all. The home of hordes of shops selling everything from tripe to haberdashery is now a vast uncomfortable seating area with a few overpriced cafes.
    At least there was something going on last week. A cheese and chilli stall and a bunch of schoolchildren selling home-made cakes.

    The average village fair would be ashamed.

  • Castles in the Air

    Market Forces returned for a second look at the 1976 hall to see how it had fared after the Grand Opening on Saturday. The day traders had all disappeared, half the food outlets were closed (apparently they are only open for special events) and no fewer than four bouncy castles had sprung up.
    The entertainment space was given over to a children’s bicycle track which nobody was using.
    It is just so different to the vision market manager Sue Burgess outlined to Friends of Leeds Kirkgate Market when they questioned her about her plans for the hall. It was intended to be filled with dynamic microbusinesses hawking everything from vintage clothes to cupcakes while a constant rolling programme of entertainments beguiled customers as they browsed the wares.
    This fine opportunity to watch children playing with nothing else to do was brought to us by Breeze who might as well have held the event in an empty warehouse instead of an expensively created simulacrum of an empty warehouse. The 1976 hall was formerly a place where a shopper could buy almost everything they wanted; now it’s an incredible waste of prime city centre retail space. Apologies, it’s actually a Leisure Village.

  • The Dream and the Reality

    Well over a year since the 1976 hall closed for business, it has reopened. This was the dream of the developers, a vibrant cultural space:
    And this is the reality, a vast echoing warehouse with half a dozen food stalls, a smattering of uncomfortable benches and a dozen tables against a far wall for purveyors of locally made sweets and jewellery, and an 8 metre display screen showing advertising:
    Customers were universally disappointed. Seventy or so stalls have been lost, businesses have gone under, traders have incurred the expense of relocation and refurbishment, the constant building work has made life hell for traders and customers alike, and for what? £13.3 million, apparently.

  • Work on George St but Nothing in 1976 Hall

    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. georgest
    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. fish

  • The social functions of Leeds Kirkgate Market: a community psychology project

    Dr. Ellen Duff and Dr. Anjula Gupta

    Leeds University


    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.

    Community Values

    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.

  • Council Gets Planning Permission for Singing and Dancing Late into the Night

    A sharp-eyed market worker noticed this tiny (and blue, unlike the normal yellow) notice near the Fish Row in Kirkgate Market.
    photoLeeds City Council have applied for an entertainment licence to allow the perfomance on the premises of:

    A Plays

    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.