Barnsley Council has appointed Queensberry as development manager for their 500,000 sq. ft redevelopment known as The Glass Works.  This article written by the Yorkshire Post reviews the recently opened Market Kitchen.

In the recent past, a night out in Barnsley meant rowdy pubs, kebab shops and cheap pints. But the often-maligned South Yorkshire market town has been transformed in the past two years by the growth of a new, food-led economy with the flagship Market Kitchen at its heart. The Market Kitchen opened inside Barnsley Market in October and is now almost fully occupied, with just one unit left to let.

The project is part of the huge Glassworks scheme to regenerate Barnsley’s struggling town centre, and the council have worked hard to attract big names while still accommodating the needs of independent traders. Three traditional family-run market cafes were given space in the new food court, and they’ve been joined by a dessert parlour, an Indian restaurant, a coffee stand with locally-roasted beans, a pizzeria, a duck rotisserie stall, a Thai restaurant and Balkan-themed Jar Bar, who already have a presence in Sheffield’s Cutlery Works street food hall. The icing on the cake is cocktail bar Cucina Sky Lounge, whose owner eschewed trendy Holmfirth to open in up-and-coming Barnsley. There have even been expressions of interest from a couple wanting to set up a vegan cafe, and applications for the final unit have come from Mexican and Jamaican vendors. It’s a far cry from the early noughties, when Barnsley was ridiculed for plans to model its renaissance on a Tuscan hill town.

“Barnsley has never had anything like this. People have been promised regeneration before but now they can see things opening and they are surprised that this is in Barnsley. It’s changing the town centre for the better and it’s been a pleasant surprise,” said former Barnsley Chronicle journalist Daniel Richardson.

Council officers began planning the 500-seater foodie enclave in 2015 and have ‘stuck to their vision’ despite doubt and opposition from some quarters. All traders have local links and are encouraged to use produce sourced from the traditional market stalls around them. Surveys have revealed that people are now visiting the town centre from outside the borough and that local shoppers are making more regular trips. The council also made the conscious decision to put the market at the heart of the Glassworks redevelopment, which has secured Next, Nando’s, Superbowl and Cineworld as big-name tenants.

The Market Kitchen is just one part of a thriving and ever-improving food and drink scene in Barnsley. Around 20 new restaurants and bars have opened in the past two years, and the ‘seedy nightclubs’ of the past have been replaced by craft beer and gin bars, a Brazilian grill restaurant and a neopolitan pizza parlour, all independently owned.

“Maria Cotton, Barnsley Council’s group leader for markets, considers the Market Kitchen to be a ‘gamechanger’ for the town.Our original aspiration was to move the traditional market cafes to a larger space, but with the growth of street food we decided to build on our core offer. It’s a huge space and we now have 11 units and a bar.”

Initially, Barnsley was a hard sell when Maria and her team began approaching established street food vendors from across Yorkshire, but they have carefully curated the applications from traders and stuck to their values and vision, rejecting those whom they didn’t feel would complement the ethos of Market Kitchen.

“The operators weren’t all convinced that their audience would be here – they could see the cafes serving fried breakfasts, meat and two veg. But some of them really bought into the concept.”

Three of the vendors are first-time businesses, while rotisserie duck stall Quack evolved from a Huddersfield-based events company.

“In all honesty, they probably wouldn’t have considered setting up in Barnsley if it wasn’t for the commitment the council are showing to regenerating the town centre and the desire we have to make this work. We turned down a few proposals who we didn’t feel made enough difference to the existing offer – we want them to be innovative. That was quite risky but the decisions paid off.”

Traders held their breath before the official opening day last October, but they needn’t have worried – the food court was ‘inundated’, according to Maria, and has already extended its opening hours. Many of the stalls even ran out of food.

“We were closing at 7pm at first but it’s now 9pm during the week and 11.30pm at weekends. We weren’t originally doing Sundays at all, but we are now open 11am-8pm – the demand is there. I was nervous this month as January is quieter, people don’t drink or eat as much, but it’s still been busy, which is really heartwarming.”

Maria has noticed an increase in the number of town centre-based workers visiting the market who may not have done so before and has spoken to visitors who hadn’t been into Barnsley for two years.

“After 17 years of working for the council, it’s not often we get a pat on the back for something! But the response has been overwhelming, and people are proud of the town again.”

In the next few months, Market Kitchen will announce the 11th and final vendor to fill the vacant unit, open their outdoor terrace, which can seat 60, and introduce a monthly pop-up vendor rotation.

“The traditional market traders support the newcomers – Jar Bar buy their meat from the butchers, so that economy goes through the market. It’s been a real gamechanger for Barnsley – there is something for everyone and we’ve done it without alienating anyone.”

The idea of ‘blending’ the new with the old is echoed by the council’s director of regeneration, David Shepherd. He admits the Market Kitchen took inspiration from the likes of Trinity Kitchen in Leeds and Commune in Sheffield – but Barnsley’s blueprint turned out to be forward-thinking and eerily prophetic. Their decision not to rely on a large department store as an ‘anchor’ for the new town centre proved a wise one and unshackled them from unattainable targets.

“People are experiencing something new now, day and night. We have a catchment area of 340,000 people, but there was leakage to Meadowhall, Leeds and Sheffield because the town centre offer wasn’t the right one. It has changed completely now.”

At the end of 2019, Barnsley welcomed inspectors from the Purple Flag scheme, which awards towns that offer a diverse, safe and enjoyable night-time economy the coveted status.

“We had a brilliant night with them – most of the venues were full to bursting and you couldn’t get a table in the restaurants. Barnsley’s evening economy was always wet-led, but now it’s about culture, great eateries and a relaxed atmosphere. We realised the importance of food to regeneration when we began formulating the Glassworks scheme five years ago. We made the decision not to be led by retail or to depend on a department store – we didn’t want our plans held up by an anchor that wants everything their own way. We might as well had had a crystal ball! Then we had the rise of the food halls, so we were able to modify our plans. The success of Market Kitchen is because we have been able to blend, rather than separate.”

The Market Kitchen – what’s there?

Daddy Beanz – coffee made from beans roasted in Barnsley

Dolly’s Desserts – dessert parlour

Rajah – Indian cuisine

Khao Niew – Thai cuisine

Jar Bar – Balkan cuisine

The Breeze Bros – wood-fired pizza

Quack – rotisserie duck

Cucina Sky Lounge – cocktail bar

Paul’s Place, Hilton’s Cafe and Kay’s Cafe – traditional market cafes which have relocated