We talk to Councillor Pat Karney, who tells us straight

There’s been a lot of jibber jabber recently in the local press about whether Manchester’s Christmas Markets will be going ahead or not. Many popular events have had to be postponed or cancelled since March in order to limit the infection rate of the coronavirus pandemic. Most recently, significant parts of the Manchester Food and Drink Festival had to be hastily dropped at the eleventh hour - despite a number of social distancing measures and systems having been put in place.

It’ll just be like in war years, if you didn’t have some kind of celebration in life just to cheer people up

To be fair, over the last six months, Manchester City Council has been finding ways to support a number of event organisers who have had to postpone or cancel public events, by moving content online where appropriate.  

Events represent a major element of the city’s economy, supporting thousands of jobs across a range of industries - from event management, to sporting fixtures and hospitality - and they attract millions of visitors to the city each year; visitors who eat in local restaurants, spend money in shops and stay in hotels.

Christmas Markets Credit Mark Waughmw Nov13Bus 0057
The Christmas Markets usually start to take over Manchester City Centre from the end of October Mark Waugh

Following a period of review around all major events in the city, Manchester City Council has confirmed bonfire and community firework displays events in November and New Year’s Eve will not be happening this year due to Covid-19. However, although there will be no Christmas lights switch-on event, there will be Christmas lights around the city centre as usual, and Manchester’s Giant Santa will return to Piccadilly Gardens along with a trail of light sculptures through the city. 

The Skate Manchester ice rink in Cathedral Gardens will go ahead with limited entry numbers to ensure social distancing (tickets can be booked here.)

2018 11 12 First Street Ice Rink 3
The Skate Manchester ice rink in Cathedral Gardens will go ahead

But what about Manchester’s Christmas Markets, which – love them or hate them – bring thousands of people into the city centre, all eager to drink syrupy gluhwein or overpriced beer and munch on sausages of suspect origin. How can they possibly go ahead when all public events are still very much subject to Covid regulations and restrictions?

Stalls usually start to spring up as early as Halloween, taking over the city centre streets and hawking everything from pick and mix sweets, to jewellery, ornaments and even wooden ties (THAT’S what you buy the man who has everything, BTW). Also, it’s no secret that what the council collects in rent from these stalls each year could keep them in tea, biscuits and white board markers for a few millennia.

We thought it would be a good idea to give Cllr Pat Karney, Manchester’s Christmas spokesperson, a call to ask him straight.

Pat Karney Manchester 54F

Firstly can you confirm that you are the person in charge of Manchester Xmas Markets and absolutely the right person to ask?

PK – “Yes, and I have been for about 500 years.”

Do you have an official title?

PK – “Mr Christmas, or Councillor Christmas, whichever you fancy.”

So what can you tell us about what’s happening with the Xmas markets this year?

PK – “What we’re doing is a million miles from the Christmas Markets of previous years, for obvious safety reasons. We would never jeopardise the health of Mancunians. So there will be no wall-to-wall markets anywhere in the city and will be no traders coming from abroad because of the regulations.

“We haven’t made the final decision yet, it’s still with the Public Health Department to be given the green light. But we’re looking at having three Maker’s Markets; in Deansgate, Cathedral Gardens where we’ve got the Skating Rink, and Piccadilly Gardens around Santa. There would be a single line of stalls, which would have to pass all Covid safety tests - very different from our normal market operation. So the recent story in the Manchester Evening News was just alarmist tosh. We’ll make a final decision in the next few weeks and every day in the Town Hall we’re balancing the economic crisis and the health crisis in Manchester, which overlap. So these are not straightforward decisions but our guiding mantra would be to keep everybody safe and healthy."

2019 11 26 New Santa
Santa will be social distancing in Piccadilly Gardens this year

Manchester Xmas Markets attract so many people from all over. How are you going to monitor entry numbers?

PK – “Well this would be more of a Maker’s Market. We’ll have very very few food and drink stalls. So there wouldn’t really be that element to it. As I said, it’s going to be a million miles away from previous markets, nothing like the markets in Albert Square. Like I say, it won’t be like that at all.

“At the moment, legally, since the end of June/July, you can have outdoor markets. Just last weekend there was a market in Piccadilly and a market it Great Northern Square. Outdoor markets are seen as a safer option than going indoors, so we would be looking at the movement of people around a single line of stalls. There would be entrances and exits and there would be marshals manning them. But the food and drink thing wont be a big part of it”. 

Manchester Christmas markets usually start setting up around this time of year, so when are you thinking this might take place?

PK – “Probably late November, if we get the clearance from Public Health. Our Xmas markets usually start in late October. Again it’s completely different. In fact, we’re not even calling them Xmas Markets, we’re going to be calling them Manchester’s Maker’s Markets. We are still having a Christmas light switch on because if you totally cancel Christmas, I think personally, it will have a psychological impact on the population of Manchester. It’ll just be like in war years, if you didn’t have some kind of celebration in life just to cheer people up.”

Christmas Markets Credit Mark Waughmw Nov13Bus 0079
There'll be more Xmas tat than tarts this year with an emphasis on crafts instead of food & drink Mark Waugh

So if the food and drink thing isn’t really happening, and there won’t be any stallholders coming over from Europe, what sort of things can we expect to see? 

PK – “It’ll be mostly Great Manchester companies displaying their produce with an emphasis on crafts.”

How are you going to decide who gets a stall?

PK – “Over the years we’ve gathered long lists of people from the north west who’ve got craft stalls and because we put on monthly Maker’s Markets all over the city, we’ve got quite a large number to choose from.”

So it’ll be helping to balance the economy and promote smaller independent Manchester businesses where people can buy their Christmas presents.

PK – “Yes. Up to early October, business in the city centre is down 55% in terms of shopping. Thousands of jobs are at risk and this is the balancing act we do every day between health and economic growth. We just can’t stand by and cancel everything.”

2019 11 15 Gordo Films Xmas Markets
Gordo hates the bloody Christmas Markets anyway Pat. He's going to spend his money in restaurants instead.

We wonder what Gordo’s going to think of this new arrangement.

PK – ‘Well he’s banned from our markets. He was on Albert Square doing his video and all the security now have got his photograph and he’s banned. And I’m saying that officially. If we catch him on any of our mini non-Christmas markets we’ll give him the biggest ASBO in the Greater Manchester district and he’ll be banned from coming into the city centre at all.”

Right-oh, we’ll go and give him the news then….

Gordo Christmas Markets Screen Shot 2018 11 15 At 17 07 48
Are you a Manc or are you a mug?

Go on, let's watch it again to see what we're not missing - Gordo reviews the Manchester Xmas markets 2019

Also read - COVID-19 - Manchester events cancelled or postponed

*image credit main photo Mark Waugh