The town's market traders worried about their future after council buys their market to turn into offices and flats

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“This business is my livelihood, it pays my mortgage and it’s the only job I’ve got.” These are the words of Leigh Richards who owns shoe repair stall The Shoe Box at Caerphilly Indoor Market. Just a few days earlier, the 59-year-old found out the council wants to demolish the near 100-year-old building in a bid to turn it into flats and offices.

“We had a feeling something was up, but when we were actually told, it was a shock,” he said. “It made me feel a bit sick.” Leigh, who is from Pontypridd, has been repairing shoes in Caerphilly for 43 years. He said if the plan goes ahead outlined, it would see him packing his toolkit up for good.

Leigh said: “There’s no way we can afford to trade in a town centre shop, the rates are too high. There’s talk from the council about possibly putting us somewhere in shipping containers, but try moving my equipment, it’s about a tonne in weight. If this does shut, I’m gone. I wouldn’t do this again and it’s gutting. I’m not sure what I’d do next as this is all I’ve done since I left school, but I’m also too young to retire.”

Read more: Ice cream made at Caerphilly parlour from old family recipe is voted the best in the UK

The plans are part of the council’s ambitious £50m Caerphilly 2035 programme which is set to transform the town centre over the next 15 years. The strategy includes a new boutique hotel, a new leisure centre, a £30m station, and a new visitor centre at the castle. Work has already begun on several projects.

The new plans for the market will see the redevelopment of the entire building as well as adjoining properties in Pentrebane Street. The space will be completely repurposed to make way for office space and around 74 flats, WalesOnline understands.

© John Myers Leigh Richards

However, this is a complete U-turn on the council’s Caerphilly Basin Masterplan which was approved in 2018. It included a blueprint to enhance the existing market into something akin to t he recently revamped Newport Market. The previous plans stated: “There is a need for significant refurbishment or redevelopment of the building itself, and a rebranding and marketing exercise which could be based on a specific theme or niche (for example artisan products, vintage clothes, vinyl, etc.) in order to emulate the success of markets elsewhere.”

The council has enthusiastically described its 2022 vision as an “exciting new multi-million-pound redevelopment scheme”, but on the contrary most traders at the market appear to have been left to worry about their future.

© John Myers Most traders would be happier to see the existing market improved © Jonathan Myers Market traders said high street is to expensive for them to go solo

Stephanie Lennon owns traditional sweet shop Sweet Shack at the market. She took the business over around a year ago and said it had helped her overcome anxiety and depression. This news, she said, has left her and other traders in limbo.

She said: “I suffer from depression and when the lockdown hit I realised my life hadn’t changed, so my step-father bought this for me. Later I took over as the official owner when I made enough to buy it off him. It gets me out of the house and seeing people so I have a life for myself. I found out it was closing when the council came on Thursday (June 9).

“I heard they were coming the week before that so I didn’t buy stock in case we were going to get shut down [at short notice], so now I’m running low. I was gutted when I heard the news, but it’s not just that – we’re still in limbo. We still have no timeline or anything.”

© Stephanie lemon Stephanie Lennon

Stephanie said aside from owning her own business at the site, there were still plenty of other reasons why the news upset her. Not only does the building bring her past childhood memories, she would also miss the traders she works alongside who have become her close friends.

“With my depression and anxiety, I like the people here, they make me feel comfortable and we help each other out a lot,” she said. “It would be a lot better if we could stay together. We threw some suggestions at the council such as relocating to the old Argos building, but wee told it might not be viable.

“Even if I didn’t have a stall here, this would make me sad. My gran has just been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and I have memories coming here with her.” You can get more Caerphilly news and other story updates by subscribing to our newsletters here.

Stephanie said she didn’t disagree that the building is in desperate need of renovation, but wonders why the market can’t be restored. “I don’t disagree that it needs a facelift,” she said. “Even keep the top as flats and keep the bottom as a market.”

© John Myers Catherine Livermore with husband Paul (right) and butcher Sean Thompson © Jonathan Myers Fresh meat offered by the family business

Catherine Livermore runs the Up Market Family Butcher along with her husband Paul and butcher Sean Thompson. The 39-year-old described the situation as a “nightmare”, but said she is hopeful that the council will find somewhere suitable for them.

She said: “My father-in-law started this business 20 years ago, then my brother-in-law owned and my husband and I took over in January. It means a lot to us, it runs in the family and we’ve given up our careers to be here. My husband has given up his career of 30 years to be here.

“There have always been talks about something happening to the market, but because we’ve heard them for so many years, nobody thought it was going to happen any time soon. It is a big shock but on the other hand the council hasn’t said they’re just going to kick us out or that there’s nothing they can do. They are looking into rehoming us somewhere else.

“They are looking into putting us in shipping containers like the market down in Barry. They were thinking of putting us where the old Specsavers is which has been demolished to be a boutique hotel as that won’t be built until years to come. The shipping containers are moveable so they could move us somewhere else when the hotel is being built. However, that area is nowhere near ready though so that’s no good for now. It’s stressful because ideally I don’t want to have to find another premises on my own because the rates are so expensive.”

Kevin Grant has traded at his fishing stall Castle Tackle and Bait in Caerphilly for the last five years. The 52-year-old recently set up an online petition to save the market in the hope that the decision will be U-turned. You can visit the petition here.

Kevin said he is concerned about what will happen to the 15 businesses and their employees if the decision goes ahead. He believes a market is far better suited to the space than offices and homes.

© John Myers Kevin Grant from Castle Tackle and Bait

But even the pressure of not knowing what’s to come can be enough to send owners packing, Kevin said, pointing to nearby vacant stall, Emma’s Cafe. A week before council workers broke the news to traders, the cafe shut following “speculation and rumours” of the market closing.

He said: “I was told in this market in the 90s you couldn’t get in here because of the queues and we want that back – I don’t want to move.

“I felt angry when I found it. I’m not just thinking about myself, some of the traders in here have been here for 10 years. It’s not just about me, it’s about everyone else. There are about 30 people affected and 15 businesses. I feel like the council want to come in and tell us what’s happening, but then want to be seen as saviours of the market.

“I tried the high street, but I couldn’t afford it. It’s double the rent a year. I can see the potential of the market if it’s invested in. I wouldn’t have kicked up a fuss so much if they said we’re going to have shops in here rather than offices. When I heard the word offices I thought ‘why?’ because they’re all empty because people are working from home. There’s more demand for a market – every town needs a market.”

© John Myers Cheryl Ford

It’s not just traders in the market who are affected though. The plans will see a number of businesses either side of the market on Pentrebane street closed – although it’s not clear exactly which ones. Cheryl Ford, who owns House of Sparkle directly opposite the market, said she is one of those unfortunately affected.

“I started my shop just before Covid, then got cancer, and now this happens,” she said. “You just feel like one thing after another.. It’s taken so long for the Caerphilly people to know I’m here because it’s not a street they walk up so I’ve spent hundreds and thousands on advertising to let everyone know where I am and I’m just in limbo now. We don’t really know what’s happening. I felt devastated, I’ve gone through so much to then have this.”

A spokesman for Caerphilly council said a definite date as to when the changes will begin cannot yet be given to traders or the public. He said: “The most recent licenses signed by the traders is up until the end of August. However we still have a way to go with the owners over the legal matters surrounding the sale, so putting a timeline on this is difficult. Once legals are completed the owners will have six months to give vacant possession.”

He added: “We are working with [surveyors] Cooke and Arkwright [to support traders] and liaising with the traders to understand their needs and aspirations. We are doing everything we can to support the traders and find alternative premises within the town centre. These discussions are ongoing.”