Canpubs, cafes, restaurants and their patrons be trusted during times of crisis?
By bringing last orders forward to 10pm, the government’s opinion on the matter is clear.
It’s a resounding ‘no’.
COVID is suddenly swarming all over Britain again – and the finger of blame is being pointed squarely at the pubs.
The virus enjoyed a fresh lease of life when the quarantine barriers came down in summer, gleefully trampling over the fragile Test & Trace system which folded at the first sign of pressure.
Today, the UK is registering its highest case rate since May.
Yet just a few weeks ago, the government was urging the public to drink and dine out in droves – reassuring them all was safe and well with social distancing measures intact.
In a spectacular u-turn, it’s been decided that all hospitality in England must shut early from Thursday to halt the spread of COVID – a curfew that could be intact for six months.
COVID has turned hospitality into the black sheep of the economy.
The food and drink sector has been treated like unruly troublemaker that repeatedly needs scolding, reprimanding and restraining in the current dangerous climate.
You can’t the trust the company it keeps, and if you give it an inch, it’ll take a mile.
This is the government’s attitude, but the sector sees things differently.
Pubs, restaurants and cafes have spent half a year trying desperately hard to tick off an ever-changing COVID-criteria checklist with two hands tied behind their back.
So far, they’ve gritted their teeth whilst spinning plates and redecorating.
But the new law – shutting at 10pm – seems like it might just be the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Exhausted, depleted and in some cases downright angry, hospitality is beginning to fight back against its ‘scapegoat’ label.
A social media movement – spearheaded by BarChick – is gaining traction as food and drink outlets argue that their industry “deserves better”.
BarChick has praised the fast implementation of new safety measures, “kick-ass teams” who have “pivoted the way they work”, and the “brave owners” of bars in Britain.
Their argument is that hospitality, by and large, is going above and beyond what is required – and is entitled to more respect.
According to the campaign, less than 5% of new cases have been attributed to the hospitality sector (although it is unclear as to where these stats were obtained).
Martin Greenhow, Managing Director at MOJO – a popular city centre bar in Manchester – called the new curbs “unjust, punitive, illogical and irrational”, claiming there is no “evidence to support the assumption that hospitality is driving infection”.
“Only 35 cases reported in the sector and as of yet no sign of the threatened dramatic upturn in deaths,” said Greenhow.
“The move to curtail the operational hours of our already crippled industry seems unjust and punitive, not to mention illogical and irrational.
“Are people more infectious after 10pm?
“Hospitality has slaved to work responsibly within the constraints laid out for us and now we are being thrown aside with scant concern for the impact these measures will have on our businesses and the wider economy.”
Carl Morris, a representative at Yard and Coop restaurant in Manchester’s Northern Quarter, reassured the public that the venue was still a safe place to visit, urging customers not to be deterred by the curfew.
“As a hospitality business we are finding all the ever changing restrictions extremely challenging and are urging all customers to continue to support our small independent business,” he said.
“We are also reminding everybody that we are a really safe place to come and enjoy a meal out and drinks with their families and households.”
Tonight (Wednesday 23) is the last time pubs will be permitted to remain open past 22:00 until possibly March – which would mark almost a year to the day they were all shut down.
There are some small silver linings for hospitality.
So far, there’s been no second national lockdown, and the food/drinks industry can continue to trade.
Indeed, some other sectors have had it even worse.
Take live music for instance.
Musicians, venue operators and festival hosts have been left feeling abandoned since COVID came along – and would likely give anything to swap positions with hospitality right now.
Some casino staff have been furloughed for so long they’ve probably forgotten the rules of Blackjack, whereas bowling alley workers are also struggling to find their feet again after being closed throughout much of the summer.
The ability to look on the bright side, though, is a necessary trait looking ahead. Hospitality needs to get into the right frame of mind and psych itself up for what is guaranteed to be a true test of mettle this winter.
The logic behind the early bell is that closing pubs sooner will result in fewer drunken yobs breaking social distancing rules and prevent people from staying indoors too long – which is what can cause the virus to spread.
Night-time bars will now need to find a way to survive.
Do they open earlier? Do they open on their usual days off? Or do they change the menu to attract more customers during the day?
Some experts have commended the government’s move as necessary, but others are sceptical – claiming the act will just see a rise in house parties.
Wales has already attempted to combat the prospect of gaff raves by banning the sale of booze in shops after 10pm.
Whether England follow suit remains to be seen.
For now, the government continues to keep a hawk-like eye on hospitality.
Only this time, the industry is glaring back.
Affleck’s: the Manchester marketplace that’s a treasure trove for independent gifts
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again. There’s nowhere quite like Affleck’s. A fixture in Manchester for forty years now, many argue that the Northern Quarter simply would not be what it is today without it.We’re inclined to agree.
Inside, you’ll find groups from all generations browsing its myriad stalls, each floor jam-packed with unique pieces. Stall holders here sell everything from vintage fashion and skatewear, to homeware, plants, trinkets, action figurines, personalised t-shirts and jewellery – and that’s just for starters.
There’s also tarot reading, a crystal shop, an ice cream parlour, and a homely top-floor cafe selling retro favourites, a record store, nail salon, piercing and tattoo studios, the Animaid cafe, CBD store, seamoss shop and so much more to discover.
If we’re being honest, no list can really do what is on offer justice. Affleck’s isn’t just home to everything you can think of, its walls also conceal a million brilliant gifts that may never have crossed your mind had you not paid it a visit.
The best way to discover Affleck’s is simply to turn up with time to spare and dedicate a few hours to wandering its halls. If you don’t feel like you have the time for that, though, rest easy, because we have gone and done it for you.
We’ve browsed every stall, spoken to the traders, ummed and erred, and looked for the best prices (you know, cost of living and all that). Suffice it to say, we found some absolute gems – and managed to get all of our Christmas presents from local makers for under £100. Not too shabby.
Keep reading to discover a few of our top picks for independent Christmas shopping at Affleck’s in Manchester this December.
Lock Stock and Smokin Art Shop
A new addition to Affleck’s top floor, Lock Stock and Smokin Art Shop specialises in unique homeware with a quirky collection of bright pieces created by independent artists.
Here, you’ll find a collection of super cool Kit Cat clocks imported especially from America, alongside pieces by Stockport-based artist Neighbourhood Threat, ranging from cushions and tea towels to dad socks, coasters and more. We picked up a gorgeous mug but were captivated by a 70s-inspired Babycham cushion (and think we’ll be going back soon for it).
City and Bloom
Another new addition to Affleck’s, situated next door to Lock Stock, is City and Bloom. Promoting sustainable, design-led urban gardening, it’s run by the very knowledgeable James who has a background in horticulture.
This teeny tiny plant store manages to cram a lot into a very small space, find hand-painted plant pots created in collaboration with local artists like Alice Needham-Pearmain, adorable flower presses, nature books, different potting mixtures and more.
This is one place in Affleck’s we can’t help returning to again and again. First begun as a hobby by its Middleton-based owners back in 2017, today Mad for Art can be found on the first floor of Affleck’s.
The store sells a whole host of vintage prints, ranging from vintage films and pin-ups to iconic old Vogue covers, adverts for Guinness, Martini, Campari and luxury perfumes, plus images of music legends, classic cars, food, travel and more.
Another newcomer to Affleck’s, this family-run Manchester apparel brand takes its inspiration from punk-rock culture. Featuring a host of clothing designs created in-house, it has taken over the old American sweet shop on the second floor. One to check out for any friends who like the alt, skater, or punk look, Modern Streets also sells stickers, patches and cool, alternative colouring books.
Inspired Life CBD
CBD seems like it’s everywhere now, but if you’re looking for the best quality products on the market Inspired Life CBD on the first floor of Affleck’s is a shout.
Selling 100% organic, natural products, you can find everything from tea and chocolate to CBD-infused massage oil here – with a friendly owner on hand to explain all the nuances of each product in detail. Great for easing stress, anxiety and better sleep, it’s an all-natural remedy (and yes, it’s made from Cannabis but it’s won’t get you high).
Vinyl Resting Place
The home of all things vinyl at Affleck’s, whether you’re looking for rare 7″, old LPs or some bootleg remixes of your favourite track, this is the place to hunt for it. Everything in the store is pre-loved and has been hand-picked by its owners over the course of 15 years.
We spent quite a decent amount of time scouring the folk section, which is extensive, but all genres are covered here – from rock and pop, to hip-hop, house, techno, americana, low-fi, gospel, soul, funk and everything in between. There’s also a big rack of CDs to get stuck into.
One of the first shops you’ll enter on your way in, Luna has it all for the last-minute Christmas shopping dash. Mugs, beanies, jewellery, patches, accessories, you name it – it’s here.
There’s some cool stuff to choose from, but the team here is really known for their pin badges, all of which are made in-house.
Feature image – Supplied
A super-secret look inside GCHQ’s Manc spy headquarters
The Manc recently had the privilege of looking around GCHQ’s Manchester headquarters to meet the real-world spies, data analysts and security experts keeping us all safe. It was awesome.
For anyone unaware, GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters) is the British intelligence agency that helps look after our nation’s security both at home and abroad, and back in 2019, the national security organisation set up its Manchester base in Heron House just off Albert Square.
Just last month, we were invited along to meet some of these silent heroes in person as part of a private and unprecedented press day, opening up their doors to select members of the public for the first time.
Invited inside the high-security facility along with around 60 kids from Whalley Range‘s St Margaret’s Primary School, we spent the day cracking codes, being upstaged by children much smarter than us and trying not to sweat through our clothes from nervousness.
Welcome to Manc spy HQ
After being escorted through a strict entry procedure and chaperoned upstairs to the only floor we were allowed on, we were met by an admittedly unsuspecting team of people that you would never twig as working in espionage. It quickly put us at ease.
We’re not joking when we say there were areas of this place we weren’t allowed anywhere near and even staff members have to their leave belongings behind before entering. However, what we did get to see was seriously impressive.
As well as immediate sights like the small drones being controlled by employees who could only give us their first names, we were also welcomed into a large briefing room with a high-tech display with screens that stretched across an entire wall and genuinely resembled something from a Bond flick.
We then did our best to keep up with some of Britain’s brightest young brains, working through a series of code-cracking exercises inspired by the GCHQ’s new Puzzles for Spies book.
Making moves in Manchester
So why Manchester? Well, we spoke to Deputy Director Liz (yes, that’s all you’re getting) and she explained numerous appealing factors that drew the over-100-year-old institution to the city.
First off, they noted that not only is Manchester one of the fastest-growing cities in the UK and, indeed Europe, but thanks to city centre development and the likes of the ever-expanding Media City, Manchester has become a true “digital hub”.
She also went on to state the roadmap for people joining the intelligence service is starting to change and while people used to join the likes of their Cheltenham HQ “at the age of 18 and stay for 40 years”, the demographic is changing and they want to seek out more diversity.
Part of the reason they invited the kids along is they wanted to show it’s more about “aptitude and skills, not just getting a degree”. It’s not just about reaching out further but adapting the recruitment process.
They also believe that as well as the uni and tech culture acting as a great feeder for GCHQ, the fact that Manchester is a huge melting pot of people from all walks of life will help them “evolve” as a group and they hope to start soaking up “untapped talent all across the North West“.
What’s it like being a spy?
It’s a question most people have wondered at one time or another — usually after a trip to the cinema or watching Line of Duty— but we wanted to know exactly how close to the movies working for GCHQ is and, thankfully, many of the people were more than happy to oblige.
Although most said being somewhat evasive becomes second nature when once you accept the job, it really is only your immediate family that you can reveal their roles to and even then, they can’t really divulge what they do on a day-to-day basis.
Again, it’s worth reminding that, for all intents and purposes, these lot are spies and they genuinely have to keep up the lie. We especially enjoyed so many of them simply telling their friends they “work in marketing”.
On the other hand, despite having to withhold details even between certain colleagues with different clearance levels, Liz insists that they “don’t tend to moan about the nuts and bolts” of the job but things like the commute and how the price of Greggs keeps going up. Their office is above Greggs, for context.
She also admitted it’s “pretty exciting” to be able to do things that would be considered illegal for most people to do, not to mention immensely cool to be able to tell your kids “mums a spy”. Fair.
What are GCHQ working on right now?
Beyond trying to reveal “the human side” behind these otherwise faceless people, demystifying espionage and intelligence work, as well as trying to earn some trust through increased transparency, GCHQ also gave some insight as to what exactly it is they’re looking into at present.
Of course, we couldn’t talk about national security without asking them about Putin and the Russian invasion, which they confirmed is obviously top of the priority list, declaring the support of Ukraine as their “biggest task at the moment”.
They also went on to explain that cyberattacks from the likes of China are also of concern, adding that they are carrying out counter-terrorism, software development and sweeps, as well as various routine security checks on a regular basis.
Liz also went on to assure that GCHQ as a whole is “working on all the missions, covering all the hostile states and pretty much covering everything you can think of”. It was genuinely a relief to know that we’re in safe hands.
If you think a career at GCHQ Manchester might be something you’re interested in, you can check out their vacancies down below and you also can also buy their Puzzles for Spies book HERE.