An update from us ahead of our final market of the year

These last few weeks have been an emotional rollercoaster for our small volunteer-led team. First we sadly announced we’d be taking a break from our operations due to ongoing challenges. Then we were hit with a wave of overwhelming support from our community to the news. The love continued onto our Birthday Weekender where so many of you celebrated our community market reaching the grand old age of 10. But the celebrations were too much for our trusty generator who packed up for good with only weeks to go. And last week we met with our MP, councillors and members of the wider Manchester City Council team to discuss moving forward with our Site Licence Agreement. We’ve experienced real highs and lows, the most heart-warming moments and acute frustrations. 

Let’s talk about the meeting with Manchester City Council. We were very grateful to our MP, our Levenshulme councillors and members of the wider council team for meeting with us to try and resolve our ongoing issue with our Site Licence Agreement. To recap, the council has been looking to re-value the site we trade on (a site which they own) in order to ask for additional fees from our weekly market. It’s worth saying at this point we already pay just over £7,000 to the council each year for our Market Rights Licence. This grants us permission to run our market for one day a week each year between March and December. So what do we get for this money? It’s a good question. We just get the right to hold a market for one day a week – that’s it. So we already pay £7,000 to the council and get next to nothing in return and on top of this they would like to extract an additional fee from us. 

A flat five figure sum was talked about in previous conversations – and something we knew would put an end to the market for good. However in last week’s meeting we were offered a profit-share deal – 25% of our ‘surplus profit’ would go to them each year on top of the usual fees and permissions we currently pay.

Everyone in the meeting agreed the market has social value and has been a success. So why were we made to feel like we can’t be trusted to spend our own profits on the things our community would benefit from? From the very beginning of the meeting (before introductions had even been made) we were told this meeting could be as short or as long as we wanted it to be. We were made to feel like time wasting trouble-makers and there was certainly no acknowledgement made of the stress and strain this situation has caused us.  

Throughout the meeting we were told the council has made every effort to engage and support the market. If we’ve been supported so much why do we find ourselves in the same position as we were 2 years ago with a large cloud of uncertainty hanging over our future. We should be on the same team – working together to make our market the best it can be for our community. Instead, in a post-covid world and already difficult economic climate, we find ourselves being squeezed for money that should be reserved for reinvestment back into the Levenshulme community. We have shared our accounts and cooperated fully with the council so they know as a volunteer-led social enterprise we operate on very slim margins.

We understand the council wants to get the best value out of their land. Once again ‘Section 123 of the Local Government Act’ was cited by a member of their team, where local authorities must demonstrate ‘best consideration/value’ for its assets (such as property or land). We get that. What we don’t get is the car park we trade on is currently free so the council don’t lose any revenue from us trading there once a week. Despite facing a climate emergency the council choose to support a free-of-charge car park alongside choosing to charge additional fees to a small social enterprise. We struggle to make sense of this situation.

You may be thinking if we make so little profit this profit share model should be cool right? Wrong. We were also told numerous times that there needs to be a blanket approach to markets in Manchester. Every market needs to be treated the same. Agreeing to this additional 25% profit share deal would lay the foundation for Manchester City Council to start charging other markets even more fees. We don’t think this is fair and certainly don’t want to be the market that is the catalyst to making things more difficult for our fellow markets. Our belief is markets, like our own are community resources and social spaces first and foremost that require protection and support. And the council must understand that when it places additional financial burdens, uncertainty and stresses on such ventures, especially when they’re led by local volunteers that they are putting vital community assets at risk unnecessarily.

This uncertainty around our future is not the only challenge we’ve faced recently but it’s certainly affected every aspect of our business. The distraction and stress has been significant and it’s taken precious time away from areas we should have been working on – for that we are sorry. Whatever way we move forward we know we need a solid break. We need time to step back and future-proof our market for many years to come. We care too much about the community we’ve created over the last 10 years to just cobble something together in the interim while we figure things out. We owe you that much. So much love and care goes into running our market – we can’t turn it off and on like a tap. We remain in conversation with Manchester City Council and we are dedicated to finding a resolution to help secure the future of our community market here in Levenshulme.

We’ll also be speaking to traders, customers and the wider community to help us hatch a plan for our return. But in the meantime we have one more market to enjoy this Saturday. Let’s bring a whole lot of Levy love down to the train station car park one last time. Our temporary generators might struggle with the load but our community spirit will carry us through Saturday and the rest of the year. 

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