Campaigners rally to save closed St John’s Market

Traders, activists, and customers came together outside St Johns to campaign against the shuttering of “the public’s market”.

Just over a week since the locks were bolted on the city centre market, dozens of people gathered to make their voices heard in opposition to Liverpool Council’s move to shut the doors. Holding colourful placards and chanting, campaigners expressed their dismay at businesses being locked out of the historic market.

At one stage, the gathered crowd delivered its singular message: “Save St Johns.”

Last Autumn, Liverpool Council said it would seek to recover three years’ worth of arrears from the dozens of businesses located within the market. Traders said they were left shocked by the move to close the site last week despite an initial request for £1.7m in unpaid rent being made last October.

Speaking to the LDRS on Tuesday, Cllr Liam Robinson, leader of Liverpool Council, said the city was left with “literally no option” but to close St Johns Market amid the ongoing row. The Labour group leader said it was “sad the way it’s panned out” but council payers expected the city to collect revenue it was owed.

Among the gathered crowd was Colin Laphan, chair of the St Johns Market traders association, who said questions needed to be addressed by the local authority. He said: “They haven’t answered why they didn’t fix the lifts, why they didn’t fix the escalators, why didn’t they fix the refurbishment after the refurbishment?

“Everything they promised they would do.”

Credit: David Humphreys

Mr Laphan said he had been heartened by the backing he and the businesses had received from the public since the closure 16 days ago. He added, “The support has been overwhelming, on the internet in particular it’s been absolutely fantastic.

“We expect the court to reopen the market in the next 10 days. We are going through the process now.”

Jon Dixon has worked as a butcher in St Johns Market since he was 14-years-old. He told the crowd how it was “devastating” what had happened to the location he described as “the public’s market”.

Calling on the council to work with traders to get the site back open, he added, “It’s an old fashioned way of trading but it still has its role.”

Rev Jean Flood, the market’s chaplain, said the closure was “detrimental” to the city and a “break up of a community”. She said “I can’t think of a crueller way to end than pulling up the shutters.”

The LDRS learned last week that the process is underway to ensure all stock is removed from the market by the end of the month. City leaders have said given ongoing negotiations with legal representatives, it “shouldn’t have been a shock” that the market closed.

This was rejected by trader Siama Kayani, who told the LDRS of her experience turning up for work earlier this month. She said, “I literally came in as normal and they wouldn’t let us into the building.

“I had stock in my car I’d just bought for the week ahead, spent over £1,000. There were white sheets over the doors saying we couldn’t get in.

“I was completely baffled, had no idea, we knew nothing. It’s disgusting behaviour what they did, I had medication in there that I take when I get in.

“There were enforcement officers stood all down one side, it’s like you’re a criminal, like you’d done something. I just burst out crying there and then like ‘what have they done?’

“They’ve given us access to come in from 10am to 4pm to empty the stock one-by-one accompanied by a security guard. I’ve got five stalls to empty, I physically can’t do it alone.

“Everyone’s just been so nice, I’ve got customers ringing for stuff but we’re having to refuse because we can’t access anything.”

Siama took over her stalls following the death of her father Ken who ran his business for more than four decades. She said the closure of the market had hit her hard.

She added, “It’s coming up to the anniversary of my parents’ death – my dad passed away during covid – and for me mentally, I’m back where I was four years ago. Completely broken, shattered mentally and physically.”

Opposition politicians in attendance at the demonstration were critical of the council’s handling of the situation. Cllr Carl Cashman, leader of the Liberal Democrat group, described the market shutting as “despicable,” adding, “This belongs in the city centre and there should always be a market in the city centre.”

Lead image: Protestors gathered outside St John’s. Credit: David Humphreys

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