It’s been there so long it’s easy to take it for granted. But the Oastler Centre, or John Street Market as it was known, is one of Bradford’s greatest assets. A melting pot of cultures creates a microcosm of Bradford that includes Polish meats, West Indian vegetables, Middle Eastern street food and South Asian spices. At a time when we’re encouraged to shop local, this ought to be the heart and soul of Bradford’s burgeoning independent quarter.
But it’s not without its faults and most would agree that it’s in desperate need of a makeover if it’s to survive for future generations. With developments such as Broadway bringing investment into the bottom end of town there’s a real danger the market could become isolated and left behind. Thankfully the council are in agreement and have put aside funds to finance a huge redevelopment of the site over the next five years. The redevelopment will see the area around the market transformed into an events space, something the Markets Service team, including Market Promotions and Marketing Officer Diana Greenwood, are keen to encourage. With this in mind they’ll be hosting their first Food And Drink Festival over the last weekend of October, and we met up with Diana to discuss what they have in store.
Diana said, “We’ve been given permission to redevelop the indoor market and as part of that we’re looking to use the market and surrounding area as a regular events space. So the Food and Drink Festival event came out of those discussions as a way of testing the space and celebrating Bradford’s food and drink offering.”
The Food And Drink Festival will take place on Northgate and Rawson Road, which will be closed to traffic and filled with local produce stalls, street food vendors, bars and a giant marquee. Inside the marquee top chefs such as Gennaro Contaldo and Sean Wilson will be performing cookery demonstrations alongside local food professionals.
Italian chef Gennaro Contaldo was mentor to none other than Jamie Oliver, whose Ministry of Food Academy are taking a big part in the event. Fans of Coronation Street may also recognise the event’s other big name, best known for playing the role of Martin Platt in the soap. Sean Wilson is now a respected cheese producer and the author of several cookery books. But despite the big names this is an event very much aimed at promoting the market and what it has to offer.
Diana said, “It’s about getting everyone involved, including local businesses and the community, to make it an event everyone can take ownership of. I think it will be good for this end of the city, especially with Broadway opening the following weekend. It’s a good reminder to everybody that the market is here and there’s great produce and a good friendly experience to be had.”
The response from the traders has been good, and many of them will be directly involved in the festival, whether running a stall or offering demonstrations on the importance of using locally-sourced produce.
Butcher David Crompton said, “It’s a great idea in light of the developments at the bottom end of town. If we can get people coming up here for festivals and events like that it can only be a good thing. We’ll be doing pulled pork sandwiches and handing out samples, hoping to find new customers and promote what we do.”
Meanwhile Gunther Giangregorio, who will be teaming up with the Sparrow Bar to serve cooked Polish food and beer, said, “Going forward, food is the thing that’s going to take this market to a new level in the coming years.”
The development plans have come about following several years of consultation, which included plans to merge the Oastler Centre and Kirkgate. However the team have now settled on a plan and work is set to start in the new year.
Diana said, “We had a consultation process with all our traders to find out whether they wanted investment to be made in the Oastler Centre or Kirkgate, or whether they wanted the two markets to merge into one big market. In the end we’ve decided to keep the two markets separate and invest in the Oastler Centre over the next few years. Once that phase is complete we will look at the Kirkgate Centre and see what needs to be done there.”
The development of the Oastler Centre will be delivered in two phases, the first of which will see a canopy put up over a newly pedestrianised area around Rawson Road and Northgate. This space will be used to host events and outdoor markets and the Food and Drink festival is seen as an opportunity to test-bed that concept.
The second phase will be the redevelopment of the inside of the market, which will take place over the next four or five years and will see widespread improvements to the layout and functionality.
Diana said, “At the moment the market is quite linear and we’re looking at opening it up to have a food court as its centrepiece with different zones around that. It’s really about trying to modernise the market and make the most out of what we have there. And we’ll be helping traders to develop and improve so that in 10 years time we’ll be looking at a very different kind of market.”
The plans have been well received by traders, who see it as a timely boost. Fruit and veg trader Imty Mahmood said, “I think it’s something that will be welcomed by the traders and the public. This market has been here for many decades and I think it’s vital for Bradford to have a successful market. With the investment that’s been put into Broadway and the bottom end of town, I think it’s important that the top end also sees some improvements, and the market is central to that.”
Gunther added, “We’ve already had a meeting with the architects and the canopy is going to be amazing for events and outdoor markets. We’ll be seeing the plans for the inside in the coming weeks but I think the vision will be to have open spaces and bespoke shopping areas. I think it will offer a better shopping experience and be a better place to work as well.”
The markets team see it as an opportunity to change the type of customer that uses the market. “We’ve got the regular customers who go in there and will always go in there, but what we’re looking to do is see how we can attract new, younger customers. That’s what we are going to need if the market is going to continue.”
“We’ve got a good offering already in terms of food and that’s what we are looking at enhancing, because that’s ultimately what will bring people into the market.”
So where would Diana and the team like to see the market in five years time? “I think it’s really important that people recognise the value of shopping locally and supporting independent businesses. Now more than ever we have a responsibility to show that support, or things like the market will fall into decline. What I’d like to see is a really buzzing environment with local businesses getting involved and working together, and hopefully this new development will do that.”
The Bradford Food and Drink Festival will take place from 29 to 31 October and is a free event, ticketed in order to monitor response. Diana and the Bradford Markets team are still on the lookout for people to get involved in the festival and if you’re keen to contribute please contact email@example.com