There’s a 1955 Bedford fire engine selling coffees, a classic Leyland Leopard bus doubling up as a clothes horse and a Monza caravan stuffed with beguiling children’s books.
What’s not to like?
Welcome to “Outdoors at the Kingsway”, a brand new seasonal market on the site of the former cinema in the heart of Kings Heath.
For the second time in five months, the land behind the historic frontage is being repurposed in a wonderfully imaginative way by local promoter Eddie O’Callaghan.
Back in August, he turned the former cinema site into… an outdoor cinema
The temporary roof cover has been retained and is now home to a seasonal market with all manner of artisan products.
Even though the city might be in Tier 3 after the year’s second Covid-19 lockdown ended on December 2, the area works like a dream…
The maximum number of socially-distanced people allowed in at any one time will be 80 because of the Tier 3 restrictions.
And, with the 21st Birmingham German Christmas Market having been cancelled in the city centre this year it’s just lovely to be able to go somewhere that is different, local and, it must be said, very well done.
Eddie says: “We haven’t been allowed to do many of the things we might want to, but we are quite happy to gently, gently introduce the concept.
“But we’re open and everybody’s welcome.
“We wanted to make some social activity for the community and we’re delighted how the opening went down – the traders were very happy.
“Local people had, we hope, a very nice time getting out of the house.”
The market will be open every day until Christmas except Mondays – from 1pm till 5pm Tuesday to Thursday, with longer hours from 11am to 6pm, Friday to Sunday.
Bookshop in a ‘van
Hall Green mum of two Jenny Moore launched her bookshop-in-a-caravan business five years ago.
Since then she has taken ‘How Brave is the Wren’ to events as far south as Somerset and as far north as Cheshire.
During Covid, she has been using the caravan to entertain her two daughters, but couldn’t believe how popular it was during the market’s deliberately low key opening day over the weekend.
“We bought the Monza caravan on eBay for £150 but people seem to love it,” says Jenny
“We’ve never had a day like we had here on Saturday.”
Jenny is delighted that Waterstones has survived Covid-19, but says she offers a quite different service.
“We certainly don’t sell any books that you might find in a supermarket,” says Jenny.
“I find that if you can recommend a book and give your customers something different then they will come back.
“It’s hard to get these kinds of things for children.”
Crafts and plants
Next door, Kate Masters is using her expertise with crafts to try selling a few different types of things.
She runs an aesthetic home ware business and has previously dressed an arts project inside Selfridges.
“A lot of baubles and things I got to begin with sold out in the first two days, so I’ve been getting more stock.
“The roof here is brilliant. When I went out to the car park on Saturday I thought the weather was horrible, but people were still coming out to see us and under here it was great.”
Bread and cheese
If anyone likes really good bread there’s the Orientee Bakery where loaves include ciabatta, baguettes and even charcoal sourdough to aid digestion.
Gordon Su and Henry Silva were manning the stall and delighted to discuss how their loaves are made though the night.
They’ve closed their Dale End cafe to concentrate on supplying local businesses and trading online.
Their website has no minimum order for collection, but the minimum order for delivery is £15.
Next door to them on the seasonal market is the cheesemonger Mick James.
His products include a range of offerings that you might never have seen in supermarkets as well as regional favourites like Kirkham’s Lancashire cheese.
Mick, who describes himself as a “cheese enthusiast and connoisseur” generally has about 40 UK and continental cheeses on offer from a list of around 75 which he rotates according to what’s in season.
He only sells cheeses made by small independent producers, so you are unlikely to find many – if any – of them in your local supermarket.
And if he doesn’t like it, he won’t sell it.
O’Naturel is run by community nurse Rokia Kamagate-Kone.
The youthful mother of four says she began making her own skin-care range to help two of her daughters whose conditions disappeared once they stopped using mass-produced products.
Born in Ivory Coast before moving to Paris at the age of six and the Midlands when she was in her mid-20s, Rokia says her products are especially good for treating everything from eczema to psoriasis.
“I had a shop in Coventry, but had to close it because of Covid-19,” she says.
“But it’s great to be here meeting new people.
“My range includes products for dry skin and oily skin as well as shampoos and chest rubs.”
The first stall on the left as you go in is for selling records and will be manned by different traders so that it will always be worth going back.
LP Records was there on Tuesday of this week, for example, and will be back again on Friday.
Run by Lawrence Patrick – “hence the LP in LP Records” – O’Shaughnessy, his heavy rock collection includes Black Sabbath, Deep Purple and Rush.
Other categories are available.
Lawrence says: “I’m a driving instructor but I do this as well.
“Usually I’m at record fairs like Dead Wax in Digbeth or at others in places like Harborne or Moseley Market.”
Over on the left is the 1955 Bedford fire engine hosting Kaffeinas Coffee Club.
The way the engine has been converted into a giant coffee shop is genius and will never go out of fashion for as long as it’s on the road.
Would you believe it’s also run by the Adams family.
They are from Kings Heath and cheerful Dylan Adams was on coffee-making duties at the start of this week.
Many other stalls will be present in the next few days, some “permanent” some alternating.
But all will offer something a bit different to what you can generally buy elsewhere.
The cinema site and its future
The Kingsway Cinema screened its first movie 95 years ago when Down to the Sea in Ships aired on Monday, March 2, 1925.
After a ‘Keep the Kingsway Cinema Campaign’ had failed, the last two movies to be screened were The Bermuda Triangle and Encounter with Disaster on Saturday, May 3, 1980.
After being converted into Gala bingo hall before that closed in 2007, the building was later destroyed by fire in September, 2011.
The site is now owned by Nestings Redleaf Ltd, run by city business partners Paul Bishton and Nirmal Vora.
Plans to redevelop the site in mixed use fashion are being drawn up, but it’s unlikely any physical activity will be able to take place before 2022.
Developers are currently working on plans to repurpose the site with a view to work possibly commencing after next year.
Paul Bishton said: “As the building’s owners, Nestings Redleaf is delighted to be supporting and working with Eddie and his team and their Christmas Market at The Kingsway, Kings Heath.
“I took my own two children to the market and they had a lovely time – my son has read the book we bought him every night since.
“It’s great what Eddie has achieved from scratch in seemingly record-beaking time.
“Everything was in order, from hand sanitising to the one way system and social distancing.
“If it’s a great success and people enjoy it and conditions change, there’s always next year and the ability to do things on the car park area at the front with the cinema frontage as a backdrop, too.
“The car park doesn’t produce much in the way of income but that area also has so much potential.”