“We’re surprised the council aren’t bending over backwards to make this work” – the uncertain future of Levy Market

Following months of challenges, Levenshulme Market’s board of directors have taken the decision to shut the market for the remainder of the year. Whilst its future hangs in the balance, Mancunian Matters visited one of the final Levy Markets to get a sense of how those involved feel about the announcement…  

Early on Saturday morning, Lesley Walker can be found hanging bunting around her illustration stall at the market.

She has been trading there for three years alongside a full-time job and family commitments, primarily because she values the community spirit within the market so highly. 

But in two weeks, her access to that community will change, and her store will need to find a new home. 

Lesley outside her stall, Doodles of Beamish

She said: “I feel like I’ve lost a member of the family, I’m devastated.

“It’s a real community market, it’s part of Levenshulme and it’s going to be a huge loss. 

“A lot of us have been coming here as traders for multiple years, we’re all hoping it will be back in March.” 

Paul Bower, director of Levenshulme Market, says that an ongoing battle with Manchester City Council surrounding the market’s site licence agreement lies at the heart of the decision.

Financial difficulties, fly-tipping, and staffing issues are also factors that have culminated in the decision after months of talks. 

Paul said: “It’s a perfect storm of various elements.

“But for the past two years, we’ve been distracted by this great uncertainty of not knowing whether we’re going to have a home for our market, even after ten years.

“We struggle to see what the city council thinks they can further extract from us.” 

He hopes some clarity on the market’s long-term future will be made in a meeting that has been arranged with the council in the coming weeks. 

“We are very close to getting a date in the diary now, but the market isn’t a tap, you can’t just turn it on and off”, he said. 

“If we do come back, and we really do sincerely hope we do, it will be 2024 now because we have lots to put back in place to enable the market to continue.” 

Negotiations have been taking place over the past two years due to Manchester City Council – which was approached for comment – revaluing the land on which the market is based. 

Because it takes place in a public car park in the centre of Levenshulme, the market also requires planning permission which must be renewed every four years.

Whilst this was approved in 2021, the financial pressures and complications resulting from the site’s revaluation have threatened to crush the market entirely. 

There is a sense of exhaustion among the volunteer group of directors who run the market, which has been a landmark in the community since 2013 – one trader describes the closure as a kind of ‘sick leave’ for the market itself. 

Speaking to other traders, it is clear that the past few months have taken a toll on all involved. 

Zygmunt Wysocki runs Coffee Cranks Cooperative, which has been trading at the market for almost 10 years. 

Zygmunt Wysocki, owner of Coffee Cranks Cooperative

He describes himself as one of the market’s success stories, having previously opened a cafe owing to the stall’s profits.

However this venture was short-lived, also as a result of conflicts with the council. 

He said: “It’s very short-sighted, it’s difficult to see how the council will achieve anything through antogonising local people who are actually involved in trying to do something for their community.

“I felt like this is exactly what we need in the age of high rents, everything being more expensive, people are struggling.

“Some people are trying to do all they can to generate some income in the local community and the council are just blind to this.

“I think the issue here is they think that the people organising the market have the resources to talk and work with the council as if they were a multinational corporation, same goes for the amount of money they think is feasible to extract.

“If everyone just raises rents and thinks that is going to yield sustainable development in the local community, well that’s just not going to happen.”

Visitors at the market echoed his frustrations. 

Liam and Ally moved to Levenshulme in 2020 and have been attending the market for the past two years following the easing of lockdown restrictions. 

They come to the market every Saturday to get food and coffee. 

Liam and Ally on their weekly visit to the market

Liam said: “It’s obviously devastating because it’s so good for the local community.

“It brings loads of people to Levenshulme and we feel like when it’s gone, there’s fewer reasons for people outside of Levenshulme to come here, it’s disappointing. 

“We don’t know the exact details of what was going on but we know the council were making it a little bit tough for them, there were parking issues, we’re surprised the council aren’t bending over backwards to make this work.” 

Others were unaware of the market’s closure, and many more were unclear about the reasons behind it. 

Susan and Colin can’t remember just how long they’ve been coming to the market, but they initially valued it for its accessibility due to Susan’s mother being in a wheelchair. 

Susan and Colin did not know that the market will be closing for the rest of the year

They still come to the market every week, and did not know it would be taking a break for the foreseeable future. 

Susan said: “It’s awful, it’s a sad day.

“We tend to come in the morning, we come get our coffee, get our bread and cheese, get a pie for our dinner. 

“Usually that’s our Saturday sorted, and it won’t be anymore.” 

The sentiment across the market, buyers and sellers alike, is the same: a sense of grief. 

But all retain hope that come 2024, the gazebos will return once more. 

All images by Eleanor Storey

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