How the Corn Exchange is playing a vital part in the future of Leeds - from corn traders and raving to shopping
It opened in 1864 as a corn trading hub, it became a raving venue as time went on, and today, a home to independent retailers and a monument for Leeds shopping.
The Corn Exchange is not one missed by any walking or travelling through Leeds city centre.
A landmark building, a space for local businesses and most recently the centre of an area undergoing a multi-million transformation to provide better access and more surrounding green spaces.
It’s a reflection of Leeds culture, Leeds independents and showcases real shops owned by real people who are passionate about and dedicated solely to their businesses.
Adam Warner became centre manager of the Corn Exchange around three years ago, and he wants to make sure it’s constantly revitalised, growing and is the ultimate destination for Leeds’ people.
Mr Warner told the YEP: “It’s really important for us as management to realise that we have a responsibility, not just as owners, but as custodians of a really special place.
“We work in an iconic building and we reflect Leeds culture and independence, which although has always been here, has become more prominent over the last few years.
“People want to be involved in the independent culture scene in Leeds and we have a responsibility to make that as good as it can be.
“As a business we must play an active role in the city, and we work closely with the council, LeedsBID and other retail, hospitality and leisure friends to make sure that happens.
“Especially after Covid - we are all in this together and the only way to make things a success is to work together in partnership.
“I’ve said it an awful lot in the past but in Leeds we do that very well.”
He added: “The Corn Exchange’s history is really interesting and there are people that would tell me stories of the old days when it was used for trading corn, but also people tell me stories of the days they’d come here and rave.
“Everyone has a Corn Exchange story and that’s always important for us to understand, especially in my job.”
The Corn Exchange is now home to anything and everything from fashion, food and music, to beauty, plants and lifestyle.
According to Mr Warner, these independents are a part of “something bigger” and the centre prides itself on allowing its customers to speak directly with shop owners about each individual product.
He said: “We help with projects here and we have created an environment where our current vendors can flourish, but also an environment that attracts new ones.
“It’s a comfortable space where people of all ages can come, hang out, and enjoy themselves.
“It’s no secret that good food, good coffee and a mix of nice retailers will provide that space for you.
“Our strength is in our people and I think that if the Corn Exchange continues to be vibrant and buzzing then other people will naturally want to join us.”
He added: “There is, and always will be, a role for the bigger high street brands, but especially now there’s such a huge role in the city for our independents.
“That’s one of our main selling points - people can support and get to know our independents and talk to owners and understand where a product has come from, who made it and the story behind it.
“We’ve got that in buckets - it’s what we do.”
The area around the Corn Exchange is currently undergoing improvements to create public green space, pedestrianised streets and so-called “pavilion” building in the area immediately surrounding the Victorian structure.
It’s part of the council’s “grey to green” plans, which aim to create more green spaces in dense, built up areas.
Mr Warner said: “This is going to be a game changer for the Corn Exchange.
“It’s going to remove lines of traffic and better connect us to the city centre, while also allowing for more outdoor space for our traders and our party event operators.
“We’re looking at it as a long game and we know that when the works are complete, our already-good offer is going to be ten times better than it is.
“In the interim we would stress the Corn Exchange is still open and our tenants and independents need support more than ever, but as part of Leeds’ cultural fabric, we definitely have an exciting future.
“Roll on, let’s do it, and bring on 2022 for the Corn Exchange.”