DEC/JAN 2022/23 ISSUE
a grand day out
leeds corn exchange
The Shine team take a trip to Leeds Corn Exchange, a beautiful Victorian building that is now the home of a huge host of independent shops and cafes – plus a seasonal Christmas market.
WORDS: PAUL ATKINSON, MALLY HARVEY, ANNE CHITTY
PHOTOGRAPHY: JONATHAN TURNER
Where to Go
Leeds Corn Exchange, Call Lane, Leeds, LS1 7BR
Leeds Corn Exchange is right in the heart of the city centre.
There are toilets and plenty of cafes
Leeds Corn Exchange is right in the heart of the city centre. It’s only a short walk from Leeds Bus Station and Leeds Train Station. Bus numbers 12 and 13 stop right outside the Corn Exchange on Vicar Lane and other services run very close by.
The building is fully accessible to wheelchair users and has toilets on 2 levels. Though there are stairs, all levels are accessible via a lift. If you have particular access needs you can ring the Corn Exchange site team on 07597 699646.
Monday – Wednesday 10am – 6pm
Thursday 10am – 9pm
Friday and Saturday 10am – 6pm
Sunday 10.30am – 4.30pm
Friday – Sunday until Christmas 12pm – 8pm
Leeds Corn Exchange is a grand Victorian building in the heart of Leeds. Many older people will know it as a place of work, but since the 1990s it has been the home for for independent shopping in the city. During the festive period the Corn Exchange plays host to a Christmas Market with street food, live music and local artists. The Shine Team took a Grand Day Out to find out how welcoming the venue is for older people and what you can expect if you visit.
THE CHRISTMAS MARKET
The market takes over the entire basement of the Corn Exchange and promises live music, great quality food and drink and an ideal place to find an arty Christmas present. We spoke to Lee Jones, creative director at Rolling Social Events. “We come from the hospitality industry so we know good food and drink – and that’s what we’re offering.” Musicians perform every day, starting in the late afternoon. “There’s a really good programme of local musicians,” says Lee. “Solo performers on the Fridays and Sundays, full bands on Saturdays.” Indie Makers and Mahogany Makers are running the stalls – there are new artists every week. Older people are welcome – the market is for all ages. “It’s a real mix of people, a really broad demographic,” Lee assures us.
by mally harvey
I haven’t visited Leeds Corn Exchange since before the first lockdown in 2020. The first question in my mind was, “What did it have to offer an older person like me?” I was pleased to see a curving ramp giving easy access for wheelchair users and for disabled people, which led immediately into the ground floor. This is a new and important addition of access to the building. The main entrance is wide and accommodating. On entering the main concourse, the visitor is immediately aware that Christmas is on its way. The extraordinary and magnificent roof (which is the first thing you see) is a masterpiece of design and engineering. A great deal of time and money has gone into decorating the building; wherever you look there are huge blow-up decorations and baubles of every kind, which give a very festive feel. Down in the basement is a huge Christmas tree. The scene was set. However, although the decorations running down the staircases looked very jolly, they did impede the use of the handrail in places.
There are a plethora of independent and unique shops and something for everyone, from clothing to jewellery, roller skating and knitting yarns. You could get your hair cut, have a tattoo or buy some unusual greeting cards. The Sculpture Gallery on the first floor is well worth a visit. Set up by a group of artists to display and sell their work, it has some extraordinary and unique pieces for sale. I was particularly taken with one shop that sold patchwork clothing made from material and clothing saved from landfill. The very helpful assistant said they made bespoke items for customers too, from their discarded clothing. I there was a huge range and choice.
There are two sets of toilets, one set on the first floor and one set in the basement. There are no specific disabled loos, although there are baby changing facilities in the first-floor toilets. Though a bit cramped, both sets of toilets were clean. There were no low sinks, but plentiful hot and cold water as well as soap, hand towels and an electric dryer.
The basement can be accessed off the main street. There is a wide ramp with a handrail so it is probably a better entrance for anyone with mobility issues. While the Christmas market is on, there is a licensed café downstairs. There is lots of room and seating is plentiful. Other than the café and coffee shop on the ground floor there is no other seating round the building. The lift services all three shopping areas and is quite small. Two people would find it a squeeze so a person in a wheelchair who was accompanied by a friend may have difficulties. I have met this problem before in old and listed buildings who try to be accessible; it can be a problem to overcome planning regulations or make the the necessary structural changes needed to make the building fully wheelchair-friendly.
Anyone looking for something unusual or a little bit out of the ordinary would find something to love in Leeds Corn Exchange. it’s a very pleasant venue with an unusual and unique range of goods for sale - and a nice place to browse for an hour or two.
By Paul Atkinson and Anne Chitty
Russell is one of the security guards at the Corn Exchange. He was born and bred in Leeds but now lives in Wakefield with his girlfriend and Cooper, his French Poodle.
I’ve been here 5 years. It’s changed a bit since I’ve been here. They’ve done a paint job inside and out. I’ve done events, football, rubgy, boxing. This place is a lot different. When you’re used to 100, 000 people, this is a bit quieter. At Elland Road I was pitch-side, stewarding. You have to face the crowd so you can’t watch the match!
This place has its ups and downs. Through the week it can be quiet. Mondays, Tuesdays are quiet. But weekends are busy, a bit more lively. The shops can change quite regularly. We had to close the whole place in Covid, I was at home furloughed. It’s good to be back open.
Stan worked all his life as a civil servant but when he retired became a writer and blogger. Stan was reviewing the Christmas Market at the Corn Exchange for his website:
I love it here. It’s an amazing space. When you think it was just a commercial space open for just a few hours a week to flog corn, what they’ve done to it is fantastic. It’s an oasis for independent businesses. What I like about independent shops is that the people can tell you who made what you’re buying and the provenance of where it came from. I lived in Leeds for three quarters of my life. When I was a kid in the 1950s, you’d never dream of coming down here. I was at Central High School in Leeds, near the Merrion Centre. Bang in the middle of town. Lunchtimes, you used to get all over the place. But you never came here. There was no reason to ever come in. It was probably just the shell of the building. There was nothing here. If anything, just offices.
I get all over the place writing reviews for my blog. I’m 73 now and it’s great to be having conversations with younger people. They’ll be talking about where the best place to go for Thai food is; positive conversations like that. When I talk to people my own age, we end up talking about bloody Statins and knee operations! It keeps me young. I was down here at the Corn Exchange the other week to see a rapper - a beatboxer called Testament. A couple of years ago he did a show at Leeds Playhouse called Orpheus at the Record Shop. He was doing a publicity thing at a record shop in the Corn Exchange – this was the shop that started him off. It's a phenomenal place now. Just great.
Penny Pendle Hayes is a sculptor who was born in Essex but moved to Leeds 5 years ago. She is part of The Sculpture Gallery, cooperative of artists who show their work at the Corn Exchange. thesculpturegallery.co.uk
There’s 6 of us involved. We’re all Sculptors and we created this specifically for sculptors because we feel there aren’t many galleries that dedicate their space to the art form. We all put this together so that we can display our work in the best possible light. We started in April and it’s been going really well.
We’re in such a lovely building. The Corn Exchange is just wonderful. It’s had a bit of an unusual history. It goes up and down over the years. It got a bit run down, but there’s new managers who run it now and it’s just a lovely atmosphere. We’re all independent here, every single one. We’re not “chains”, so we all have a vested interest to keep the thing going and make it really work. It’s just the most incredible building. You couldn’t possibly want to be in anything more fantastic than this.
When I arrived 5 years ago, it looked wonderful but a lot of the units were empty. They’ve been trying to get more independent units in. People that are running their own businesses, to give it that unique atmosphere. It’s just so easy to get around - even for older people. We have a lift, so you can come up to the top floor quite easily. People are always saying how nice it is in here and they’re always welcome to come in and have a cup of tea or a cup of coffee.
A HISTORY OF LEEDS CORN EXCHANGE
In 1860, the good burghers of Leeds City Council decided they needed a new corn exchange. The first exchange building was built 30 years before and the traders felt that they deserved a new home. A competition was held and the winning design was by Cuthbert Brodrick. Brodrick had found fame a few years earlier as the architect of the magnificent Leeds Town Hall; he seemed the ideal choice.
Brodrick based his design on the Halle du Ble in Paris, a majestic grain hall built a century before. His original plan was to make Leeds Corn Exchange three storeys high, but the Council decided this was too expensive. Building started on 7th May 1861 and was finally completed and open for business in 1863.
The new building housed 161 traders and it became the hub of the grain trade in England. Huge quantities of grain were imported from North America and transported along the canal from Liverpool to be traded in Leeds. The trade led to a boom in the city that lasted the whole Victorian age and into the early twentieth century.
By the 1960s traders had dwindled; by the 1980s the future of the building was uncertain. There was an ill-fated plan to turn the Corn Exchange into a concert hall, but it came to naught. In 1988, the building was restored and converted into a shopping centre. Remarkably, corn trading did continue for a few years after this, until finally ceasing in 1994.
In the 1990s and early 2000s, the building was seen as a haven for independent shops. More significant was what went on outside: hordes of teenagers used to hang around on the steps. The Corn Exchange became the go-to hang out for alternative young people. Leeds was the birthplace of goth bands like The Sisters of Mercy and the Corn Exchange was one of the places wherein such black-clad kids felt comfortable. Goths shared the space with other youth culture tribes; the Corn Exchange was a melting pot of music and fashion.
In 2005, a new owner bought the lease and sought to clear the building of scruffy youths. Protests were unsuccessful and the building was reopened as an upmarket food emporium. This failed venture never attracted the wealthy customers it needed and gradually the building returned to supporting independent and artistic traders. Nowadays, the Corn Exchange is full of music, art, food, fashion and exudes an independent, creative spirit.