‘We still need help to get back on our feet’ – Leeds Kirkgate outdoor market traders respond to June 1 reopening

Traders have welcomed Leeds City Council’s decision to reopen the outdoor section of Leeds Kirkgate Market from next week, but have warned they will need further help to get their businesses back on track.
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In a statement released today, Leeds City Council announced the outdoor market would reopen from Monday, June 1.

It added the market has put in place additional measures ‘for the safety of staff, traders and customers’, and that shoppers would be asked to respect two metre distancing and use contactless payment where available.

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While she welcomed the announcement, outdoor traders’ representative Lisa Stebbings said many stallholders may have to make a loss to get rid of stock, and will need further help from the council.

Leeds Kirkgate market from the air.Leeds Kirkgate market from the air.
Leeds Kirkgate market from the air.

She said: “We will be back on Monday and, as far as I know, so are the majority of the other traders.

“It’s been 10 weeks without work, and we need to get back to work. We worked right up until the day we went out into lockdown.

“We are hoping they have something in place by then to get us back on our feet. We have winter stock that we need to get rid of, probably at a loss, because nobody wants to buy zip-up hoodies in the summer.

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“We are going to have to build up our businesses again. We have had support from the government.

“We need to call on the council to do their bit – they should be helping the traders get back on their feet.”

The outdoor market has been open throughout the lockdown, but only for shops selling essentials. So far, no rent has been charged to outdoor traders during the lockdown.

Shaun Dolan has worked on his family fruit and veg stall on the market since 1980. He says the past few weeks have seen takings reduce by around 80 per cent.

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“The weather has been lovely,” he joked. “Coming here at least gets us out of the house.

“We are not earning anything – and as I’m looking out now at 2pm and there are not 20 customers in the outdoor market.

“It’s the quietest I’ve ever seen it. Usually the end of Ramadan is really busy, but even then we had barely anything.”

He said although he welcomed Leeds City Council’s planned reopening of the market on Monday, June 1, he said he was concerned the market may not see a return to previous footfall levels for some time.

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“It’s good news,” he added. “But I don’t think it will increase the footfall.

“A lot of our customers are older. If you’re only allowing a certain number of people onto a bus, people won’t be coming into Leeds as much.

“I know the virus is dangerous, but we can’t do this forever.”

A Leeds City Council spokesman said: “During the ‘lockdown’ situation, traders on the open markets have been in receipt of a 100 per cent rent discount since March 20. This includes those that have still been able to trade.

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“Following the government’s recent announcement that outdoor markets can re-open, the immediate priority of markets staff during the last week has been to make sure that Kirkgate’s outdoor market can open safely to traders and shoppers on Monday, June 1.

“Once we have reopened, we will be in a better position to discuss what further support we will be able to provide to traders.”