It's Thursday afternoon and the second hand flea market at Salford Precinct is bustling with people raking through stalls, looking for a bargain. There are plenty to be had. For a few quid you can pick up old cassette players, designer clothes, top toys…there's even a bloke selling tyres and another with a huge 1841 Bible up for grabs…
Anyone searching for Salford's soul would do well to start here. Both traders and punters have been coming here for years, some since it began over two decades ago. The market has got a character of its own, one of the last places where old Salford doesn't fear to tread as the sterilised, regenerationalised, glass fronted future attempts to wipe it out.
MediaCityUK has almost become a curse on Salford, as everything within a couple of miles radius gets bulldozed and (sometimes) re-built, with Ordsall and Langworthy already `treated'. And Pendleton, with its PFI project and the Precinct at its core, next in line.
In the summer the (in)famous Flat Iron pub on the market corner was closed and flattened with indecent haste (see here). And two weeks ago planning permission was granted for the modernisation of Salford Precinct (see here) which will see the site of the current outdoor market replaced with a car park and a retail unit.
Traders who run stalls on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, and those who trade in the current indoor market, will be re-housed in a glossy new purpose built Market Hall. But there's nowhere in the plans for the Thursday and Sunday car boot and flea markets to go. It's now an open secret amongst traders that the markets will close, possibly as soon as the second week in January.
"I've heard that the bulldozers are moving in during January, and I spoke to the market manager and said `Realistically there isn't going to be any room for us' and he said, `Realistically, no'; but officially we've been told nothing" says Deborah Hall who has been selling second hand and vintage clothing here for over twenty years.
"A lot of the customers don't know about the closure either" she adds "I think it's disgraceful. You ask anyone in Salford and they will tell you, the market is the heart of Salford. And they're ripping the heart out of it to make it bland and the same as everywhere else. It's not the new market that people are bothered about, it's this. This is something different. Here, it's not all the same shops like in every town now but they don't care about that."
Deborah, and other traders point to the economic recession and how Salford people need cheap goods, almost to survive.
"That's what they want around here, they don't want yuppified shops, they can't afford it, and if they do want it they go into Manchester or the Trafford Centre" says Anne who has also worked on the market since it opened, and now sells toys, CDs, books and anything else that the stall will hold.
"On a Thursday and Sunday it's absolutely heaving with people here" she adds "What are they going to do? No bargains for the Salford people any more."
While the traders say that they can find other markets, the loss of Salford's second hand markets is something that touches them deeply.
"Salford just won't have a market" says Anne Brander, who runs a second hand clothing stall and has also worked this market since the day it opened.
"A lot of people don't drive or they come here on the bus, where are they going to go?" she adds "There isn't another market anywhere in the vicinity they can go to. Once we go, it's gone. There'll be nothing. They're going to kill the whole place. It's crazy. Absolutely crazy."
Meanwhile, people milling around the flea market are totally horrified that their market is about to disappear. For many, not only is it an economic lifeline, it's also a social lifeline.
"I love a market and I think it's a disgrace that it's closing" says Barbara Walker, who is browsing the stalls "I've been coming shopping here for years – for a bargain. And you find things on here that you don't see anywhere else, or are cheaper. A lot of poor people in Salford want a bargain. They've already ripped the heart out of Salford and I think they should keep the market.
"I'm a pensioner, I've lost my husband and I'm on my own now" she adds "This gets me out of the house for a couple of hours, and I meet my friend here every week, have a coffee and a natter, and put the world to rights. It gets me out of the house."
Her sentiments are echoed by Elsee, who points out that everything she's wearing has come off this market…
"Jeans? £1…Jacket? £4…At one time people wouldn't shop in a flea market but now you've got to do it you get some good bargains" she explains, adding "I'd have nowhere to go on a Thursday and nowhere to go on a Sunday. This is my day out – this is my outing – I look forward to it. And you meet friends you don't see the rest of the week…"
One of those friends is Joyce, who again has been coming here for years and just doesn't see the logic in shutting the market.
"I think they're closing it the two days it does the best and it's wrong" she says "You come here on the ordinary market days and there's no stalls but look at it today – packed."
Indeed, in contrast to most others days on the Precinct, the car parks are full and the place is alive. Traders fear that not only will the closure affect themselves and their customers, the economic fall-out will also hit the centre's main shops.
"The shops will suffer because customers come for us and while they're here they go and do other shopping on the Precinct" explains Anne Brander "Nobody's going to come on the Sunday if there's no market so they will suffer and on Thursday too. Why kill a whole Precinct trade?"
With a giant Tesco looming across the road, the Precinct is already under threat. Now traders on the second hand markets are convinced the closure will drive even more customers away.
"Everyone in the food hall says it's only busy on a Thursday" says Deborah Hall "What are they going to put on this site, another car park? Well there'll be nobody here to go on it. This keeps a lot of people going and the shops feed off us. I don't know whose decision it was but if you ask the people of Salford they would love to keep the flea market."
The Salford Star asked Precinct owners, Salford Estates, about the closure and the reasons for it – but a spokesperson wouldn't even confirm the closure…
"No decisions have as yet been taken regarding the Thursday and Sunday casual market and we are reviewing a number options with the Market Traders Federation and the City Council and hope to make a decision in the coming weeks" the statement read "A key component of our proposals is a fantastic new covered market fit for the 21st century. This was designed with the help of the existing market traders and the Market Traders Federation and when open will be a great environment in which the market will thrive…"
But the plans show no room for a big outdoor second hand market. The Star asked Salford Council for a comment but none was forthcoming, a press spokesperson saying that it's not the Council's decision (despite Councillor Peter Connor having sat in on all the meetings).
We were also pointed to John Winder, Chair of the Salford branch of the official Market Traders Federation, who couldn't really add to anything that had already been stated.
"All I can say to the traders is that no decision has been taken on the casual market" he said "We are reviewing a number of options that will be best for us with Salford Estates and Salford City Council, that will be in our interest to maintain a thriving market Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday."
Reading between the lines, it seems obvious that the flea market and car boot market don't fit into the plans for a market "fit for the 21st century". A market that doesn't include room for Salford pensioners escaping loneliness. A market that doesn't include poor people hunting down essential bargains. A market that doesn't include the `anyone can set up a stall' ethos, and traders who have been keeping the heart of Salford beating for over twenty years...
…Traders and top characters like Biffo, who has the £1 Christmas goods stall and a big sign up reading `Not Worth Nicking – When Everything Is Only £1…'
"I've been working here on and off, man and boy for years" he says "I know Salford is a city but it's always been a market town. I don't know what I'm going to do - I'd be better off joining Yoko Ono in the jungle. She is going into I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here, you know, and she's a cert to win… Anyone who can live so many years off a dead Beatle deserves to win. And if you want a view from the Council, I'll give it you…`DILLIGAF!'– they'll know what it means…"
Biffo insists on getting his photo taken behind his illuminated `Bah Humbug' sign. Christmas is coming but there isn't much festive cheer around here.
There is an online petition against the closure of the markets on Salford City Council's website – click here to sign it.