When it comes to helping women feel safer on a night out, there’s no one better to ask than the women themselves – which is exactly what northerners Elysia O’Neill and Della Claydon are doing.
Following reports of a rise in drink and needle spikings last year, the Leeds-based duo and TheEgalitarian co-founders moved quickly to set up the Spike Report – a community-led database for women to detail not just when and where they were spiked, but the response of venues and the police too.
Within nine days, it had already gathered over 160 reports. Seven months down the line, that figure is now in the thousands with reports spanning the length and breadth of the country.
The site is regularly visited by women, with the goal being to keep them and their mates safe on a night out.
Explaining the reasoning behind the idea, Elysia told The Manc that only 1 in 10 people currently report being spiked to the police and that “there’s definitely a lack of empowerment and self-belief in terms of whether someone’s been spiked, whether anyone is going to believe them.”
“We set up the Spike Report to basically tackle the issue of how invisible spiking is as a problem […] and to essentially raise awareness of the fact that it is an issue, something that’s prevalent in society, ’cause it’s disputed by many large actors in the night time economy and the police themselves.”
Based on the numbers self-reporting to their database, it certainly appears that survivors feel much more confident reporting to their peers instead of the police.
It’s a sad fact certainly not helped by the high-profile murder of Sarah Everard by a policeman last year, nor by the Met’s brutal treatment of the women who gathered to hold a peaceful vigil in her memory after the fact.
By recognising this erosion of trust in traditional reporting methods, The Egalitarian team has now amassed a unique and detailed data set into what, where, when, and how spiking incidents are occurring across the country.
They’ve also been running a questionnaire since October 2021, asking their community what they would like to see in terms of changes regarding the news, police, legal systems, what kind of policies and procedures they can implement.
Now, through their new Safe Place initiative, they’re planning to use this data to educate venues, authorities and night time economy workers on how to better safeguard people on a night out.
Explaining the desperate need for an attitude shift in the industry as a whole, Elysia said: “We’ve got a very detailed insight into how people in the night time economy and other authorities are handling spiking.
“We’re wanting to create partnerships with the night time economy venues particularly because that’s what us as an organisation and the community themselves think, that really the onus does lie with venues, rather than necessarily the police.
“We want staff to be educated on safeguarding, vulnerability, looking out for people that are vulnerable, but knowing how to look after someone who has been spiked or even voluntary intoxication.
“Whether it’s voluntary or involuntary, it doesn’t make them any safer when you kick them out of the club.
“We need everyone to be looking after the customers, and essentially what we’re looking for is for venues to show that they do acknowledge that they have a duty of care for customers inside their venues.”
Here in Manchester, data from the Spike Report shows that 60% of survivors rated the venue’s response poor to very poor, 20% said it was neither good nor bad and 20% said it was good to very good.
Of the 40% that also contacted the police, 25% said they found the response poor to very poor. 25% neither good nor bad, and 50% good to very good.
Read more:GirlsNightIn Manchester: women protest across the UK as needle spiking incidents increase
The conversation around better safeguarding on nights out first began to change following last October’s Girls Night In protests, which saw huge numbers stay at home to boycott nightclubs and many others take to the streets.
Meanwhile, across the city a number of venues moved to introduce drink covers, posters, and spiking tests, at a cost to themselves, to reassure customers and help them feel safer.
The mayor of Manchester, Andy Burnham, joined the Manchester protest on the night, and later he and the Night Time Economy Advisor, Sacha Lord, met with students involved to discuss what more could be done to improve safety.
Girls Night In Manchester wrote on its Instagram following the meeting: “Andy and Sacha have committed to setting up an Anti-Spiking Partnership for the city region, where GMCA will partner with major venues to roll out anti-spiking tests which can detect seven different types of drugs and be used as evidence in court.
“In the meeting we also discussed other measures such as expanding Save Haven and volunteer schemes funded by GMCA such as the Village Angels that operate on Canal Street, and improving reporting in venues.
“We are hopeful that some tangible changes will come as a result of these meetings, but still remain to be convinced until they are in place.”
Seven months later, an anti-spiking partnership has been announced but for now no commitment has been made on rolling out anti-spiking tests at venues.
Revealing the partnership as part of the region’s new Night Time Economy Strategy, Andy Burnham acknowledged that there was ‘more to do’ regarding women and girls’ safety out and about at night time and that that Greater Manchester was now ‘pioneering a different conversation’.
He told hospitality leaders: “Sacha and I took a suggestion from students at the University of Manchester to bring through an anti-spiking partnership and you’ll see reference to that in the strategy being launched today.
Read more:Andy Burnham announces new anti-spiking partnership inspired by Manchester students
“We’d like to work with more of you to build out the idea of that, whether we can provide more testing on sites, so that we can protect people who fear they may have been a victim in that way.
“That’s an important thing that we can do and we look forward to working with more of you on that.”
The Egalitarian team, meanwhile, is also positive they can bring much-needed change to the sector – expressing a strong desire to work closely with local authorities, including Greater Manchester.
Elysia said: “I think once the word’s out and people like Andy Burnham are aware of the fact that we’re doing this, I think it becomes a lot easier for government funded services, which are struggling always and so underfunded, to know that this exists.
“It saves their time and their funding, it could be really helpful to the wider community in such a mutually beneficial way.”
Inside the underground Manchester noodle bar serving Chinatown’s spiciest scrans
Over in Chinatown, there’s a relatively new little noodle bar that’s been making a big, spicy stamp on the city’s dining scene.
Its owner, Wendy Ren, hails from the Chinese province of Sichuan – a region that’s home to giant pandas, traditional Sichuanese opera, and some of the spiciest food going, thanks to its famous Sichuan pepper.
Also known as the Chinese prickly ash, the citrus-like peppercorn leaves a tingly numbness in the mouth and on the lips that you’ll either love or hate.
It’s an acquired taste, by all accounts – but those who love it can’t get enough. In fact, on my visit during a packed-out Wednesday lunch service, Wendy stopped to chat with an Italian family holidaying in Manchester who had been in to eat three days in a row. Now that’s an endorsement if I ever heard one.
She’s opened the restaurant alongside her Cantonese husband, Ken Chen, but the recipes are all hers – and on our visit she laughs with us about how it has taken him some time to get on board with her spicy food, saying: “he found out pretty quickly that he either eats it or he doesn’t eat at all.”
For big fans of spice, this is fast becoming the absolute go-to spot in Chinatown – and for those who aren’t so tough, don’t worry, because Wendy’s put some things on the menu for you too (and possibly, also, for Ken).
Called Noodle Alley, the restaurant is tucked away underground on Faulkner Street and beautifully decked out in red and green with little nods to the famous wide and narrow alleys of Chengdu.
Formerly home to China City, a real old-school Chinatown legacy restaurant, the space has a special place in Wendy’s heart.
She tells me that she and her husband used to come and eat here “all the time” when they first started dating, so the location really means a lot to both of them.
Chinatown restaurants aren’t exactly known for their glamorous interiors, and China City, Wendy jokes, was one such place – with the same old carpet, and the same old tables that had been used for the past twenty years.
Now the space is her own, though, it’s markedly different – lovingly decked out in cheerful colours, with little green windows, hanging lanterns, and bamboo rattan paneling on the walls.
Her story of getting into the restaurant business is something of an unusual one. Prior to opening Noodle Alley, she tells me, she spent nearly two decades working at The Marriott Hotel.
After seventeen years of service and the birth of her second child, she asked to go part-time but her request was refused – so she quit the very next day, and began building her own route to independence.
It was during the Covid lockdown, she says, that she really got into cooking group meals – making meals for her friends and spending hours in the kitchen busying away happily over her stove.
A friend with several restaurants in Chinatown suggested she start her own business, and the rest – as they say – is history.
Dish-wise, her menu spans a mouthwatering selection of dry noodles, soup noodles, street food, and small plates, including the likes of deep-fried wavy potato chips with chilli and Szechuan pepper and steamed beef strips wrapped with chilli paste, numbing Sichuan pepper, and five-spiced rice powder.
Dan Dan noodles, the Sichuan dish we probably all know the best, don’t feature – they’re a bit old news now, apparently, and Wendy has some cooler alternatives for us to try.
One is her Su Jiao Mian, a mixture of minced pork, sesame sauce, and house chilli oil, the other is the Wan Za Mian, a fiery mixture of spices combined with minced pork, soft yellow peas, and more chilli which Wendy says is “one of the most popular noodles in Sichuan.”
Apparently, if you’re eating with the cool kids in Sichuan, you should order this. Not one to argue, I dig in – and it’s safe to say her food is pretty damn exceptional. Almost immediately, I’m planning my next trip back.
Other signature dishes here include Wendy’s steamed beef strips, which can be eaten alone or dipped into one of her noodle soups, and a dish of ‘saliva chicken’ – a crunchy, cold, textural dish with steamed chicken, fresh chillis and ribbons of cucumber that sit swimming in a bath of homemade Sichuan chilli oil, so named because it literally makes your mouth water.
We also opt for a dish of pork knuckle with butter beans in an umami-rich pork bone broth. Not one for the faint-hearted, even Wendy seemed a little cautious to recommend this one, but as fans of ‘the weird stuff’ we insist – and it really ends up being a highlight of the meal.
We end up needing a little help with it. It’s a slippery bugger and I end up wearing a fair bit of the broth. before she returns with a knife and fork to cut it up properly for us.
That broth it’s in, though, is so beautiful I could happily bathe in it. Some might say I did, to be fair. As for the soft, succulent pork meat? When sliced into tiny morsels and dipped into an extra special Sichuan chilli oil she retrieves from the kitchen, is something else entirely.
If this is Sichuan heaven, then I’ll happily stay here forever. From plump hand-made dumplings stuffed generously with flavourful pork and drenched in chilli oil, to chicken giblet soup noodles, there’s so much on the menu I will be coming back for.
And for those who really can’t handle the spice, I guess I’ll be recommending the scallion oil noodles with soy sauce and crispy egg. No matter what you order here, I don’t think you can go too wrong.
Featured image – The Manc Eats
Kellogg’s introduces domestic abuse support policy for its Greater Manchester staff
Kellogg’s has just introduced a new support policy for its Greater Manchester staff who are sadly victims of domestic abuse.
The company‘s pioneering new support policy means any one of its more than 1,360 employees across the UK who are suffering from the impact of domestic abuse will be entitled to an additional 10 days of paid leave.
On top of this, they’ll also be provided with financial help for an initial legal support meeting, and a one-off payment for expenses and costs incurred for setting up a new bank account, or any other activity that provides employees suffering domestic abuse with financial security.
The support package will be available to all Kellogg’s staff in its Manchester HQ, and those working in its two factories in Trafford Park and Wrexham.
This additional support for those impacted by the devastation of domestic abuse also comes on top of the access to a free 24-hour confidential counselling service and flexible working arrangements that Kellogg’s already offers.
A Kellogg’s employee, who wishes to remain anonymous’, has welcomed the new policy after describing their experience with domestic abuse as “completely isolating”.
The decision by Kellogg’s to introduce the new support measures has also been welcomed by charities.
Michelle Hill, who is the chief executive of the charity Talk, Listen, Change, praised the company for creating “a supportive policy” that comes with a number of “key elements” to enable its staff to feel safe and confident in disclosing domestic abuse.
She added: “The new domestic abuse policy not only commits to supporting employees, but also to increasing awareness of domestic abuse through resources.
“We know that the stress and trauma that come with domestic abuse have a profound effect on victim-survivors [and] Kellogg’s has demonstrated, as an organisation, that they are committed to supporting victim-survivors to the best of their ability.”