You might get a tap on your shoulder whilst kicking back in a beer garden this weekend. More than likely, it’ll be a waiter letting you know your order is ready. But it could also be an officer issuing a warning.
Undercover cops have spent the past few weeks blending into the background as part of Greater Manchester Police’s rejuvenated mission to tackle criminals post-lockdown – with robbers and thieves targeting town with formidable persistence since shops and bars reopened.
“More people on the streets means more potential victims to choose from,” one plain-clothes officer tells us during an Operation Valiant patrol, slowly scanning Exchange Square with his eyes.
“They’re usually young lads from just outside the city who come in and target people who might not be aware of the risks, or people who may simply look vulnerable.”
The steady removal of COVID restrictions has brought an end to a whole winter’s worth of deafening silence in Manchester city centre – replacing the sight of locked shutters and deserted roads with a gaggle of masked-up waiters whisking drinks between packed tables.
With food & drink service resuming alfresco since April 12, a burgeoning silver maze of outdoor furniture has swallowed up almost every last crumb of Northern Quarter’s tarmac.
It’s reached a point where you’ll struggle to find a street in NQ that isn’t at least partly being utilised as a makeshift beer garden – with chairs and tables squeezed into the tightest spots. No alley, nook or cranny is off-limits.
The hospitality industry has reported a roaring trade as residents have piled back into the city to drink and dine come rain or shine. But the comeback of bars has meant summer has also come early for thieves out to nick phones, purses and wallets.
Operation Valiant is dedicated to tackling these criminals: With police ditching familiar uniforms for plain clothes as they perform brisk patrols in the area.
From time-to-time, undercover officers spot iPhones on the edges of tables and alert the owner to the risk of potential pickpockets, but the unit is primarily focused on finding those who are responsible for stealing in the first instance.
Sometimes incidents are far more sinister – with culprits known to wield large blades to intimidate people into handing over their possessions.
“Offenders have adapted their approaches during the pandemic in order to continue committing crime,” Detective Constable Bradley Gordon explains.
“We have seen offenders targeting pupils leaving schools, brandishing weapons, and using Facebook marketplace to arrange phone snatchings and robberies.”
As the patrol reaches Cathedral Gardens, officers slow their pace and peer through a seemingly innocuous steel fence with bins sat on the other side.
“They hide weapons here, sometimes,” one officer explains.
“They put them in one place and then come back later so they aren’t caught with knives on them.”
Whilst teens are sometimes targeted for robberies, the textbook offenders are usually in the same age bracket.
Despite their young ages, they can be “cunning” – even utilising their own crude intel via social media channels such as Snapchat.
If one is collared by an officer, another takes the earliest opportunity to grab a photo/video and shares it online. Seconds later, the footage is out there for all to see – and the rest of the criminal group know which cops to look out for.
It presents another challenge, one officer admits, which means the emphasis of Op Valiant is always on staying one step ahead wherever possible.
Whenever police spot a suspect, they quickly approach them for questioning – and images are circulated among fellow officers for future reference.
One policeman explains: “We want people to be able to relax and have a good time – everyone should be allowed to do that – we just want them to be aware.
“When you have a drink, you let your guard down. And there are people who will take advantage of that.”
DC Gordon added that it was “fantastic to see people out and about again enjoying themselves in the city”, but people needed to be aware of their surroundings as lockdown continues lifting.
“Unfortunately there are people out there who feel like they are entitled to take your belongings,” he stated.
“Most of all we would like people to get out and enjoy themselves in the knowledge that we are doing our best to keep them safe.”
Chorlton community rallies around local family in need after heartwarming appeal
A Manchester mum has been blown away by her local community’s kindness after posting an appeal on Facebook asking for help feeding her kids.
After her son’s Disability Living Allowance was changed, leaving the family waiting for a payment with nothing in the cupboards, Lisa Cerven took to the Chorlton M21 Facebook group to ask if anyone could donate some food to tide them over.
Starting by saying that she felt “very ashamed to be asking”, she continued to explain that her son’s DLA had been changed until next week – even though she was originally meant to be getting it this Tuesday.
She continued to say that she was planning to get “a nice big shop in” as both of her kids “eat a lot”, but as the result of her son being moved onto a new benefits system, they would now have to go without for another week.
Elaborating further, she said that “it has really really messed me up” and explained that she had “literally got nothing in”, adding: “if anyone has anything food wise spare I was hoping maybe you could help”.
The post continued: “My electric will be fine until Tuesday when I get £20 and we can cope with no gas for a while with blankets and stuff (please no hate).
“I have tried a few things and we got by until now but even if it’s just for my kids I don’t care about myself, anything will help.
“Again I’m terribly sorry for being cheeky, even any food banks that can deliver or are close to me that are open now, thank you.”
The post, first shared on Sunday, quickly saw locals pile into the comments section with offers of help.
From people running food banks offering to “send out whatever food you need”, to offers from locals to send a takeaway to the house and come by and drop off money for gas, Lisa has been inundated with support from all angles.
One person said: “Where about you are I will drop you some money for gas”
Another person said: “If you need anything I’m happy to help. Send a bit of money or take you do a little shop. xx”
A third added: “I can drop some fruit and veg off now if you message me”
A fourth said: “If it is any help I can transfer you some funds, it won’t be anything big but something enough for you to get yourself some warmth in the house as I don’t want you and your kids keeping cold in these difficult cold days to come.”
Within a few hours of the post being, Lisa commented underneath to say: “Turning the comments off! Had the most amazing replies! This community really is the best!!! THANK YOU to everyone xxx”
Speaking to The Manc about the donations she’s received, she added: “This community has been absolutely amazing.”
As well as a large number of people commenting on Facebook with offers of help, others sent messages of solidarity and support for her situation.
One person wrote: “You’ve got nothing to be ashamed of it’s the Government that should be ashamed. Bless you I hope you get what you need and even more to help you along a bit.”
Another said: “Lisa Cerven please please don’t feel ashamed for asking for help! I admire you for reaching out. Times are so hard at the moment, it shouldn’t be happening but it is.
“It looks like you’ve had lots of offers of help from the community since you’ve posted this but if you don’t manage to get what you need please don’t hesitate to contact me and I’ll help where I can. Sending you my love xxxx”
A third added: “Pls never feel ashamed to ask Lisa, if you can’t rely on your community then we are in a dire state. x”
A fourth said: “I have spoken with this lady tonight and I must say I’m so proud of our local community who have helped her. It means so much to her and her kids and it’s took a lot for her to ask.”
Feature image – Commons Wikimedia
She wrote: “Hi I feel very ashamed to be asking but my sons dla has been changed until next week.
“I was meant to get it on Tuesday and was meant to get a nice big shop in both
RuPaul star Alyssa Edwards announces 2023 UK tour with Manchester date
RuPaul and Dancing Queen star Alyssa Edwards is coming to Manchester next year with her newly announced UK tour.
Edward’s critcally-acclaimed smash-hit show, Becoming Alyssa, The Life Story Of A Traveling Queen, is making it’s way over from America to the UK in May of 2023.
Becoming Alyssa is an epic, must-see, tell-all and dance-all story about her life growing up, her extraordinary drag career and incredible journey to finding love.
Alyssa – real name Justin Dwayne Lee Johnson – is an American entertainer, choreographer and television personality, best-know for appearances on appeared on RuPaul’s Drag Race, America’s Got Talent and, of course, his own highly-pooular Netlfix series, Dancing Queen.
Becoming one of the most beloved characters to every grace the Drag Race back in 2012, Edwards following has continued to grow ever since, enjoying a sold-out run at the Vaudeville Theatre in the West End back in 2021, before embarking on a massive US tour spanning 31 different cities.
His previous tour, Entitled the Life, Love and Lashes, was a self-proclaimed “one-diva show” that pulled back the curtain to reveal some of Alyssa’s most intimate secrets and this latest iteration promises to go even further.
Having performed to droves of fans across Europe, Asia, as well as North, Central and South America, not to mention teaching dance classes back in his hometown of Mesquite, Texas at his award-winning dance studio, Beyond Belief Dance Company, you can expect Johnson’s show to non-stop action.
Tickets go on sale at 9am on Friday, 2 December. You can buy them HERE.