With Leeds Kirkgate Market hoping to transform itself into a foodie hub, Sarah Freeman reports on the search for artisan bakers and speciality cheesemakers.
It’s Monday afternoon and as the main lunchtime trade dies away, Malcolm Leary is doing his best to whip up some business.
Outside the butchers unit he runs in Leeds Kirkgate Market, he’s shouting out the latest offers to anyone willing to listen.
Today it’s half price pork chops. Tomorrow it might be burgers or sausages, but there will always be bargains to be had.
“Everyone likes to feel like they’ve got a good deal,” says Malcolm, who opened the butchers with his uncle some 30-odd years ago.
“When we first started there was a real rhythm to the working week.
“Tuesdays and Thursdays were market days and then Saturday was when you got the real crowds. Those peaks and troughs are gone. People don’t shop like they used to. Now it’s pretty steady right throughout the week.”
Other things are changing too.
The market, which first opened its doors back in 1857 in response to the growing demand for food halls, is undergoing a major renovation costing some £13m.
The first phase, which is due to be completed next month, will see the market’s existing butchers, fishmongers and greengrocers move into a revamped trading space.
The hope is that the development will attract a raft of other businesses from speciality cheesemakers to artisan bakers, turning the market into a bit of an upmarket foodie hub.
Malcom said: “This isn’t us completely changing what we do, but it is a new chapter and that has to be a good thing.
“You know, all our staff began as Saturday boys and they’ve been with us for years.
“Our customers like the fact that they see the same faces week in week out, but we also have to move with the times. Plans to breathe a bit of new life into the market have been talked about for a long, long time and it’s just great that we are all now moving in the right direction.”
Kirkgate, which lays claim to being the biggest indoor market in Europe, was recently named Britain’s favourite at the Great British Market Awards. The plaudit couldn’t have come at a better time for the traders. While everyone recognises the Victorian architecture is historically important, in recent years the market has suffered from a bit of an identity crisis.
“When I first began trading 27 years ago, as well as the food stalls, the market was where you came if you wanted to cheap clothes and household goods,” says Stephen Myers, who runs a fishmongers business next to Malcolm’s butchers shop.
“If you look at somewhere like Borough Market in London, that’s what Leeds needs,” says Stephen. “It’s a real destination. People go there to shop, but they also go there for something to drink and eat.
“There’s no reason why we can’t do that here.”
The most recent figures show that nine million people visit the market each year. However, if Kirkgate can capitalise on the John Lewis effect, not only should that figure rise, but the amount each of those customers spends should also increase.
Over the last 160 years, Kirkgate market has witnessed many chapters in its long history, from being the base for the Ministry of Food during the Second World War to the major redevelopment of the 1970s, in part the result of a fire which swept through place just a few days before Christmas 1975.
Each new decade has brought challenges and opportunities for the traders of Kirkgate and the successful ones have learnt a few lessons on the way. Leeds City Council is keen to introduce homemade pies, speciality cheeses, organic produce, artisan breads, wine and beer, homemade chocolates, smoothies and patisseries to Kirkgate Market.
Council officers will be holding information sessions on Monday, February 15, from 5.15-6.30pm and Wednesday, February 17, from 7.15-9pm.
Places are limited but can be booked via kirk1.eventbrite.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. Those who can’t make either session, but would like to find out more can call 0113 378 1950 or email email@example.com