Traders plead with city council to reopen Cambridge market
Traders say the city council’s decision to close Cambridge market from New Year’s Day until further notice is putting their livelihoods at risk.
Angelika von Heimendahl sells around 80 per cent of the meat from her herd of Red Poll cattle that graze on some of the city’s green spaces at her market stall on Sundays.
But she says traders were left shocked at the council’s decision on Wednesday (December 30) to close the market from January 1. Cllr Rosy Moore, executive councillor for climate change, environment and city centre, said then that the council “haven’t taken this decision lightly” but had to act to in the face of “a rapidly rising rate of coronavirus cases in Cambridge”.
Angelika said: “We were sent an email from the council to say they were closing the market. Rosy Moore says that there is a rising rate of coronavirus cases in Cambridge and she hasn’t taken the decision lightly - but she has no evidence that the rise is caused by people visiting Cambridge market.”
Angelika said the council has to take responsibility to enable local businesses to survive, saying: “How can you close down a whole market rather than making it work? Where is their duty of care? The market is the second biggest earner for the council after parking fines and they have pushed all responsibility to the market traders.
“Surely it is possible in such a huge square to organise queuing and make sure it is Covid-safe, the same way other food businesses like supermarkets have organised things. People buying food outside is safer than in a supermarket. At Christmas, we had people queueing from King’s College Chapel to the market.
“There are a lot of local farmers who sell their produce in the market on a Sunday. We have been trading all year - people have been selling meat, vegetables, eggs - and we have built up our customer base as more people are cooking at home and they care about healthy food.”
She said the market's closure threatened the viability of her herd of cattle. “I have about 50 grass-fed Red Poll cattle, I buy them in and keep them for a year or a year-and-a-half and they graze on Midsummer Common and Grantchester Meadows. I have been selling meat at the market for 14 years, I only sell to one butcher so about 80 per cent of the meat is sold at the market.”
Angela and Brian Kearns have been selling chicken and eggs from their small holding at Hawthorne Farm, Cottenham, at the market on Sundays for about 15 years.
Brian said: “We had spent the week preparing for Sunday [January 3] and this came as a shock to us.
“We have built ourselves up for that market. We have been there for about 15 years and we’ve only had three or four Sundays off, that is how regular we are. We think we produce the best chickens in the area. We pluck the chickens each week to sell on Sunday and they always sell out completely.”
He said the Sunday market is their primary source of income. The couple keep 400-600 birds, rearing them from chicks to be ready for sale in about four months.
Brian said: “I can only speak for the Sunday market, because we spend our week preparing for Sunday, but we have done everything that we were asked to do over the past few months to make our stall Covid-secure. We covered it on three sides, we were asked to wear masks and provide hand sanitiser, and we have done all that religiously.”
The city council’s Lib Dem group have asked why Covid marshals could not be deployed to organise social distancing and for full compensation to be provided by the council. Cllr Josh Matthews, Lib Dem spokesperson on the city centre, said: “The market’s greengrocers, bakers, and other essential stalls operated safely during the first lockdown and we’re unsure why this couldn’t be the case once again.”
The council initially said it would review the closure every two weeks but on Thursday (December 31) said the decision “will be kept under review”.
Cllr Moore said: “Public health and reducing the spread of this dangerous virus is our priority and that is behind our decision to temporarily close the market. There is a risk of serious overcrowding in the market square and we know that crowded outdoor locations, where people can’t socially distance, help the virus to spread.
“We need to ensure people can maintain a safe two-metre distance from one another and when the market square is busy that is not possible. The market closure is under constant review and we are looking to reopen it for essential trade as soon as possible.”
Angelika said the uncertainty will make it extremely difficult for traders to plan ahead when they don't know when the market will next open. She said: “We hang our beef for three weeks before we sell it, so we would have a lead-in time of five weeks. I don’t know what I will do with the cattle if I can’t sell the meat.”
Glenys Self, a trader and spokesperson for Friends of Cambridge Market, pleaded with the council to reconsider its position. In a letter to councillors she said: “While I understand your reasons for closing the market for health reasons, and believe you are doing your best in difficult times, it would seem there are far greater dangers being put at risk by doing so for the vulnerable in this city.
“I urge you to find it in your hearts to look creatively at the positive options to reopen this vital commercial venue for those who are in the 'at risk' category from catching Covid-19 and for whom it is far safer to shop outdoors than in the supermarkets.”
A petition on Change.org to reopen the market has already attracted more than 4,000 signatures at chng.it/vWd6Q4Khwf. It states: “We petition Cambridge City Council to reverse its decision to close the market such that essential foods stalls can continue to trade immediately.”