We have some news.
As a volunteer-led organisation we’ve found operating our community market difficult for a while now. From ongoing issues with our site licence agreement with Manchester City Council, the knock on effect of the pandemic and cost of living crisis, staff changes, a hacked Facebook page, our battle with left behind cars, increased fly tipping onsite and more, it’s felt like everything has been thrown at us and it’s really taken its toll.
So, with a heavy heart, we’ve made the difficult decision to take a break from trading from mid July this year (both our Levenshulme Station and Bridgeford Street site). It’s clear we need some time to figure out how we move forward in a sustainable way. We need to reset. Take a step back. We really want to future-proof the market we love, so you, your friends and family, can enjoy it for many more years to come. So our final market of this year will be Saturday 15th July.
We know lots of you will be disappointed and this news will come as a shock, but we fear if we don’t do this now we may find ourselves in a position where we can’t bounce back. We care deeply about the community we’ve created and to help you understand our decision we want to touch on some of the key challenges we’re facing.
For two years now we’ve been trying to renew our Site Licence Agreement with Manchester City Council off the back of a painful planning permission process. The Council own the site we trade on and at the point of renewal we were made aware they wanted to re-value the site in order to ask for additional fees for our weekly market. This would be on top of the Market Rights Licence and various events permits, insurances and permissions we need to possess and pay to legally hold a market in Manchester. These proposed additional fees would end us financially. We’ve co-operated fully over this period by attending a number of online meetings and exchanging numerous emails, as well as providing accounts and relevant information when requested to do so. This cloud of uncertainty around our site licence has also resulted in the loss of grant investment in the site. We had funding awarded to us but then couldn’t spend it on the improvements we wanted, because we didn’t have this agreement in place. We reached out on a number of occasions to our local Levenshulme Councillors for assistance but to no avail. This has taken huge efforts on our side to keep following and chasing this long-running saga, as well as having caused a large amount of stress for a small volunteer-led social enterprise to cope with post-pandemic.
Costs have risen for everyone and money is very tight for people at the moment. Traders are having to spend more on ingredients, fuel, materials and this means they need to make more to break even and earn a profit. On the flip side customers are spending less because their purses are being pinched too. It’s a vicious cycle. Like our traders, our running costs have also shot up considerably. We operate on a shoestring budget and re-invest any profits into the market operations, improving the site and supporting the neighbourhood and local businesses. We know how difficult it is to run a business on tight margins so the one thing we’ve always tried to do is keep our stall fees at affordable prices (often lower than competitors) so they are accessible to all. This not only encourages new traders to take that leap into the unknown but also makes it easier for established traders to experiment with their products and test out new ideas with less financial risk. An affordable stall fee opens up opportunities for a wider number of independent businesses.
Like many in the hospitality industry, we’ve found it difficult to recruit contracted and casual staff. Our small but mighty team does a brilliant job transforming our site into a community hub each week, come rain or shine. But weekend work, with often long hours, is not something folks are jumping at in the current climate.
As a 10 year old responsible social enterprise with an established waste management system in place, we routinely ensure the site is cleared and safe to open to the public before, during and after a market on site. But for the other six days of the week we are not on site and we’ve seen flytipping dramatically increase. We report this regularly but have yet to see any sustained action directed at it. Our customers, traders and staff deserve to experience a safe and clean environment.
Parked cars remain an ongoing problem on market day. We use barriers to cordon off our section of the train station car park each week before we trade. However we’re constantly having to change layout plans with vehicles left on site. We envy markets who have road closures or designated car-free areas to trade on. Our team shouldn’t have to deal with disgruntled drivers trying to retrieve their vehicles mid market.
And earlier this year our Levy Market Facebook page was hacked and all admin rights to our page taken away. Like many small businesses, Facebook is an important promotion platform for us to drive engagement and footfall. We’ve reported this through the official channels, re-reported, chased up constantly for weeks on end to still have no solution offered to us. A small social enterprise like ourselves clearly isn’t a priority for Facebook. But for us it was a loyal online community we had built up over 10 years.
We’re telling you all of this because as a small volunteer-led team we’re exhausted. Tackling these challenges head on has meant we’ve not been able to do what we wanted to do – develop the market and explore new ways in which to grow and move forward sustainably. We need time over this extended hibernation period to reassess how we operate, look at the frequency of our markets, review how we adapt to the current climate and best serve our wonderful wider community.
In the meantime our 10th Birthday Weekender on Fri 16th and Sat 17th June is fast approaching and will be a moment to come together and celebrate our amazing community and the people that have made the market what it is to date. We’re extremely proud that we’ve reached ten years of trading and have provided a welcoming and supportive space for so many independent artisans, makers, performers and businesses. If you cherish the market and the community we’ve created over the last 10 years please join us for this special 2-day celebration. We couldn’t have gotten where we are today without you, for that we want to say a big thank you.
So how can you help? We’ll be recruiting new volunteer directors and part-time staff to take us into 2024. We’ll want to hear from, and work with, people passionate about their local community with a range of skills to help us thrive on the next leg of our journey. You could contact our local councillors or MP showing your support for the market and what it means to you. You can of course get out and support the talented and hard working traders at our remaining markets. After the pandemic and now the cost of living crisis, they need your support more than ever. And if you know someone who actually works for Facebook who can pull some Meta Support strings then please hook us up.
Levenshulme has changed so much since we started back in 2013 – and we’re proud to have played a key part in its flourishing independent scene. We have weathered many storms over the years and if you can just allow us to take shelter for a while we’ll do our very best to come back stronger than ever when we pop the gazebos back up in 2024.