I spent the night in a haunted old church with a team of paranormal investigators, and saw one of the team ‘taken over’ by a ‘nasty spirit man who beat children’.
Have you ever watched Most Haunted on TV, as they investigate spooky castles and historic buildings, calling out to spirits and creatures in the dark awaiting a response? And even if you’re a complete sceptic, have you still wondered what it would be like to go on a night and see what it’s all about?
Watching the familiar face of Yvette Fielding on the telly absolutely scared out of her wits as she stares into dark rooms like bottomless pits, eyes wide open with mascara clotted lashes, it does make you wonder if we are alone in the dark.
Let’s face it, believers or not, we all love a good scare and perhaps – if anything – we’re just curious to see if we can be proven wrong.
In this spirit, one dark evening I met with a team of paranormal investigators from Greater Manchester and the North West called Dragonfly Paranormal. They’re a warm and welcoming bunch — exactly who you need when you’re sat in a pitch-black, draughty cellar as you try to make contact with a potential ghost.
It was a Saturday night and we met up at TS Warspite in Earlestown, St Helens – home of Newton Sea Cadets – at around 8.30pm.
Built on the site originally was the Wesleyan Methodist Church — formed by a few staunch Wesleyans from Salford, who had been transferred from the Ordsall Lane Wagon Works to the Viaduct in 1853.
They began work to build a chapel in 1866, opening its doors for Sunday service after its completion in 1867.
The building was also used as a Sunday school and then a day school that had accommodation for worshippers, with a new chapel built next door which opened in 1880.
This chapel was later demolished and another new chapel was built on the neighbouring Chapel Street.
This strange patchwork-like building, comprised of layers from different eras sewn together, is now shared between the United Reformed Church and the Newton Methodist Church.
As I stepped through the modern-fronted entrance into its historic belly, from lasting summer daylight into dimness, I was greeted by a group wearing matching black t-shirts and hoodies as they prepared their investigative equipment.
I was welcomed by organisers and husband and wife duo, Lauren and Steven Holmes, who have been running Dragonfly Paranormal for eight years. They hold both public and private paranormal investigations, and Lauren also does readings.
Other members of the team of spirit hunting enthusiasts included Kevin Drake-Owen, Freda Done and her daughter Chelsea, Lisa Harrison, and Karen and Mark Jones — who handed me a torch.
We were also joined by members Paul and Lee who are from a different paranormal team, and another inexperienced, nervous and excited ghost hunter, much like myself.
We all chatted amongst ourselves as we got to know each other over a quick brew and then Lauren summoned us to form a circle in the centre of the main hall as we closed our eyes, and had to ‘root’ ourselves into the building’s memories, opening ourselves up to whatever might reach out to us from the other side.
After we opened our eyes we were ready to begin the quest. We picked up the different equipment and as the lights went down we headed for a room based in the cellar — it was showtime.
When we reached the bottom, Karen jumped and immediately alerted us all to a chair that had been placed on a table top that she was convinced wasn’t there before. “Look!” she gasped. “It wasn’t there, it wasn’t there!”
Inside the room it was cold, dark and eerie as we took a seat around a table and set up different kinds of radio frequency recorders, temperature change detectors, ghost-hunting apps and cat balls — which light up when they sense movement and can be used by spirits to make a response.
The ghost-hunting apps record forward sound and then play it backwards to detect any words. As the room grew silent and still, Lauren tried to speak with spirits. Chelsea, Freda and Karen joined in, asking ‘yes’ or ‘no’ questions to begin with.
A catball lit up as well as the EMF detectors, which pick up electromagnetic fields, and it seemed the spirit was playful. “Are you a young…” Lauren began as she was cut short with more activity. We heard a bang outside the room. Karen jumped and asked: “What was that?!”
The group asked again: “Are you a young boy or a girl?” Nothing came, but then everything lit up in synchronisation and it seemed the spirit, or whatever it may have been, was playing games with us.
We’d all set our mobiles to airplane mode or turned them off so as not to interfere with the equipment — which kept continuously going off in answer to questions asked. The air grew cold and I could feel a draft on my legs.
After a light show on the sensors, the group decided to get out a spirit board and see if they could talk to anyone or anything that may try to reach out from the other side. Not everyone partook in this as some didn’t feel comfortable, but the group talked me through what they usually do.
Chelsea and Lauren explained to me that they do it all correctly and make sure to ‘release the spirit’ and do a ‘cleanse’ after it. I felt reassured and confident enough to have a go. I’d never done one before and just hearing the name of it made me nervous.
Hearing ‘spirit board’ – or what many know it as, Ouija board – sends shivers up your spine and mental images hurling through your mind from all the scariest horror tales ever imagined.
Kevin and a few others sat it out. He told me he promised his husband that he wouldn’t ever do one. Just myself, Lisa, Lauren, Chelsea and Freda participated. I was starting to freak myself out, but before I could change my mind, it began…
After asking a few questions, the planchette began to move. I was only lightly touching it and looked around at other’s hands to see any signs of pressure, but I could see any.
It seemed we were talking to a ‘wicked man’, a priest or reverend, who wanted us to leave and didn’t say much else. The planchette mainly moved to ‘yes’ or ‘no’ or landed on, or close to, a letter on the board.
Unlike the movies, it didn’t move in a fast and unnatural way while spelling out whole words or sentences. The planchette didn’t go flying off the board at the end either, as if the demon or spirit had taken control and released themselves into our world — much to my relief.
After it stopped talking to us, we ended the board and went to investigate a different room. We sat in a circle in the dark and I wore a headset linked to a microphone that picked up even the lowest of muffled and low sounds.
Thankfully, there was no demon reciting Latin transcripts in an aggressive, throaty, non-human voice while spitting and cursing at us. While I was doing that, a few women in the group began experiencing the feeling of what they describe as being ‘taken over’.
Chelsea and Freda felt their heart rates go up and seemed a little ‘out of it’, but when they came round, Karen, who seemed to be in a sleep, was taken over by a ‘nasty spirit man’ who ‘beat children’ and ‘enjoyed the power he got from frightening and hurting them’.
When she came round, I asked her what being ‘taken over’ was like. “It’s really hard to describe because I sometimes don’t remember it and it’s only when I hear it back on the tape that I think, ‘oh, right’, ” she said.
Adding: “It’s just a question of blanking your mind of everything and just saying what you are feeling.”
I asked her what got her into ghost hunting, and like others in the room she told me she’d experienced a dead relative visiting her, saying: “I’ve always been interested in the paranormal ever since I was little. My dead nana came to visit me after I had my first child and that was my first experience of the paranormal.
“Since then we have lived in houses that, let’s just say, are a bit uncanny.”
Several group members showed me photographs on their phones of weird shadow or ghost-like figures that they couldn’t explain, with Karen mentioning one of a ‘shadow man’ [pictured in the main header image] the ClubZero Ghost Group captured while at Hack Green Nuclear Bunker, which was used during the Cold War.
“We got a photograph of a huge ‘shadow man’ that we couldn’t explain at all,” she said, describing it as ‘the best experience’ she’d had in her four years with Dragonfly.
About why she goes on paranormal investigations, Karen explained: “Don’t expect anything and then whatever you get is great. This evening, we’ve had balls going off, lights going off, we’ve had voices on the recording.
“A lot of things could be coincidental and I’m not saying that everything is paranormal or that we get everything spot on all the time, but you can put a lot of what we find together and find a story of what has happened.
“For me personally, I’d love verification that there is something else and how that comes, I don’t know. I believe that this can’t be all there is.
“I believe there is another plane, plateau, heaven, hell, there’s got to be, I can’t believe that this is all there is.”
After a great evening with a lovely bunch of people, I felt exhausted from all the excitement and nerves – but also huge relief that no one got possessed and there was no need to call for an exorcist.
The group played back sound from the recordings to listen for noises and voices, everything could be explained apart from one ‘shout’. None of us recall it happening at the time and it definitely wasn’t any of our voices either.
We formed another circle at the end of the investigation and were guided by Lauren to release any energy from the evening and ‘uproot’ ourselves from the building.
Driving home I hoped not to find a ghost figure waiting in the middle of a dark misty road and wondered if I would sleep — which I did, but only out of sheer exhaustion. I’d definitely do it again, even just for the excitement of a spook. But, I’d say I’m still what they call a ‘sceptic’ for now.
Retired teacher turned world’s oldest battle rapper stars in new documentary
She only meant to try it once, but now she’s a pro
A teacher from Greater Manchester who took early retirement and went on to become a battle rapper is now the star of a new documentary.
Joy France is a 66-year-old from Wigan who came across battle rapping around five years ago, shortly after taking early retirement from teaching to embark on a new direction in life.
Don’t be fooled though, beneath the warm and friendly appearance Joy will tear you apart with her brutal freestyle battle raps in front of all your friends – if you dare take her on.
After a series of life events, Joy decided to take early retirement from teaching so she could spend some time on herself to do the things she wanted to do, on a journey of self-discovery.
“I gave myself a year to discover, to enjoy this new found creativity that was to do with spoken word and I performed at festivals, and did all sorts of things for a year,” Joy told us.
But during that time, she was having far too much fun to go back to her old life, explaining: “And then I was meant to be sensible and get some supply work and be ‘grown-up’ again.
“But what happened was, I was chatting to somebody who had a little theatre – that used to be attached to Afflecks – about my year and I remember saying to him that I’d had three Residences and was appointed Creator in Residence that year at a charity shop.
“Then this guy said, ‘do you know what, Afflecks could do with a Poet in Residence. You should go and chat with the manager’.”
Thinking it would be a great idea, Joy arranged to sit down with the manager of Afflecks. She explained: “What came out of my mouth wasn’t planned.
“I said, ‘I’m going to tell you what Afflecks needs. You need a Creative in Residence – somebody who will celebrate and promote creativity of all kinds. And what you should do is give them an empty space on the quietest floor in the quietest corner, rent-free, that they can just go in and basically just invite people in to be creative and see what happens’.
“And he turned to me and said, ‘Okay, I’ll give it to you for three months, will you do it?’ I was like, ‘Okay’.”
She’s now been Creative in Residence at Afflecks for eight years.
Then, after turning 60, Joy decided to try 60 new things: “That could be anything from trying a new food, to holding an owl – I’m going with somebody to do some spray painting graffiti art, so that’ll be added to my list.”
On the events that led her into the unlikely route of battle rapping, Joy explained: “It started out I was still really quite shy into my mid 50s and then I found performance poetry and started writing songs and found my voice.
“And then I had a room in Afflecks, where I’ve been Creative in Residence for the last eight years.”
And it all went from there.
Joy showed her poems to someone at Afflecks who suggested she tried rapping – another new thing to tick off her list.
She went on: “It wasn’t like a sudden Ctrl+Alt+Delete, but there was a series of events that meant that I changed my attitude to life.
“So, instead of worrying about what people felt, and just doing what people expected me to do, you know? There were a couple of bereavements that were pivotal.”
About what it’s like to freestyle battle rap and her discovery of that world, Joy said: “It’s very intense and the battles are brutal.
“I stepped into that world thinking it was everything that I hated. I thought it was misogynistic and homophobic.
“And, you know, my intention was to see whether I had the guts and the ability to do it, so that people would look at people like me differently. What happened was, you know, people just accepted me as me.
“And all my preconceptions about that world turned upside down. It really is a lovely community, I’ve got some really good friends there. Young men talk about mental health and there’s just a mix of amazing people.”
Joy says she was meant to ‘run away’ from battle rapping and ‘only do it once’, but she’s done it several times now and plans to do more.
But her journey doesn’t stop there, as she’s now become the star of a new documentary, ‘Joy Uncensored’, available for free on YouTube by Northern Heart Films, directed by Natasha Hawthornthwaite.
The short film documents Joy’s story of how she entered the world of battle rapping and was released on August 11th this year.
Natasha came across Joy in her creative space at Afflecks in 2017 and was fascinated by Joy’s outlook on life. She approached her, and having been asked by many filmmakers before, Joy decided to say yes to Natasha.
There was something ‘different’ that she ‘liked’ about her, compared to all the other people that had previously approached her. Joy says Northern Heart Films have done ‘a really good job of capturing how scary [battle rapping] is’.
‘Joy Uncensored’ has gone on to win the Audience Awards at the Hebden Bridge Film Festival and the Wigan and Leigh Film Festival, and Best Documentary at Women Over 50 Film Festival and Beeston Film Festival.
Joy is now looking forward to heading to New York next year to compete in another battle rap. She’s also still trying even more new things, breaking ‘the stereotype’ and challenging herself.
“You know, somebody’s teaching me DJing at the moment, I might be the worst DJ in the world. But at least I’ve given it a go,” she added.
Head over to Afflecks some time and go up to the top floor – you might just come across Joy at work in her creative space.
Owner of iconic Tommy’s House of Fires in Old Trafford, Tommy Dolan, passes away at 72
His son TJ shares with us a look back on his dad’s life
Tommy Dolan, a Manchester businessman and owner of the iconic Tommy’s House of Fires in Old Trafford, has passed away at age 72, his family have said.
Paying tribute to his dad, his youngest son TJ Dolan, 36, shared with us the incredible story of a man he described as ‘a very well loved, known and respected character’, adding: “They simply don’t make people like these anymore.”
Born to Irish immigrant parents in 1951, Tommy started his early life living in Eccles before moving to Hulme where he grew up, considering himself a ‘Hulme lad’ — long before the concrete estates were built.
A keen businessman in the making, he would run errands for a local gentlemen’s club getting cigarettes and was also Sir Matt Busby’s paperboy.
Tommy never took any exams and left school at 16 to begin working at the prestigious Piccadilly Hotel, where he worked his way up while living in-house at the hotel, in the heart of Piccadilly Gardens during the ’60s.
Still at the hotel but in a new found career path, he became an Olympia (London) prestigious award winning chef – where he got to shake hands with stars including Muhammad Ali and even cooked for David Bowie’s 21st Birthday.
After spending time as a chef he decided to start-up what became the well known Manchester chip shop chain ‘Ye Olde English Chippy’, which eventually had 13 stores in total located all over Manchester — including Moss Side, Salford, Chorlton and Burnage.
He also opened a two-storey 24-hour chip shop in Piccadilly Gardens below the hotel where he had lived and worked at as a teenager.
Fancying a change of direction and leaving the chippies behind he thought, ‘Why sell potatoes when I could sell marble?’ — setting up the iconic Manchester institution that is ‘Tommy’s House Of Fires’ in Old Trafford.
Tommy sold fireplaces to almost everyone in the North West including the rich and famous (and infamous), as well as various footballers – being so close to Old Trafford.
It was at his Old Trafford shop where he once sold a fire to ‘Firestarter’ the late Keith Flint from The Prodigy, before going on a three-day bender with him where he was spiked with LSD.
TJ told us: “He would drive Cruella de Vil’s car from 101 Dalmatians to work as his daily car.”
Tommy’s bizarre, huge and well known advertising campaigns over the years attracted the national press in the ’90s: ‘FREE SEX (with every 100 fires sold)’ and ‘TOMMY’S GETTING A DIVORCE – (come get it before she gets half)’.
In real life, he was never actually getting a divorce but the displays landed him in all the major newspapers.
TJ recalls: “I remember my mum taking me to school and loads of camera men flashing and asking her what did she think of her husband advertising their divorce… which she replied, ‘I’m not f*****g getting a divorce, I’m going to school’, and off we went.
“His iconic and ridiculous ‘YUL save plenty’ signs of his face superimposed on Yul Brynner in ‘the king and I ‘ were lost on anyone born after the ’70s but are hilarious nonetheless.”
About his childhood and growing up around his dad, TJ fondly remembers: “Nothing was ever normal. There was never a dull day, you know? I mean, it was always fun. There was always something going on. It was chaos.”
On other links to the stars, TJ told us his dad ‘drank with George Best in Phil Lynott from Thin Lizzy’s mum’s shebeen’.
Looking back at his life, it is clear to see Tommy was known and loved by many locally for his humour and sociable nature.
They had ‘nothing but good stuff to say about him’, TJ said. He added: “Everybody thought he had a twin brother because he’d be seen in like three or four different places in one day.”
On losing his beloved dad, TJ continued: “Nothing is ever going to be the same. He loved life and he added joy, you just can’t replicate that. I still keep thinking I’m going to see his car with his music blasting at 100. He just gave zero f***s.”
TJ shared some of his dad’s favourite quotes, that he often repeated, including ‘It’s all b***ocks’, ‘There’s nothing fair in life other than the fairground’, and ‘Life is funny – but it’s funnier being Tommy.’
Tommy passed away unexpectedly in his sleep last month. He leaves behind his wife of over 50 years Judy and his four adult children, Emma, Anna, Danny and TJ.
For anyone wishing to pay their respects to Tommy, his funeral will be held on Tuesday August 22nd at St John’s in Chorlton at 12pm. The wake will be held at The Woodstock in Didsbury at 2pm.
As TJ says: “A remarkable story of a man that started with nothing, no education and lived truly to the max.”
RIP Tommy, Yul be missed.
TOMMY DOLAN: 23.2.51 – 9.7.23
Man recreates iconic film and TV scenes across Manchester and the North West
The results are truly delightful!
A young creative photographer decided to travel the world finding exact locations from movies to blend scenes into pictures.
Film Student Thomas Duke, 24, had the creative and imaginative idea of blending pictures taken from scenes perfectly with their real-life surroundings, which started out just as a hobby born from a passion for film.
The film enthusiast says he enjoys ‘the world of movies and storytelling’ and so stepping through scenes ‘felt like a more visceral way to escape from reality’.
He’s now created hundreds of images to the point he’s lost count, saying: “There was a time where I counted each one but then I stopped as there started to be far too many. The beauty is that there is a never-ending supply to visit.”
On his favourite matches he’s created, Thomas revealed: “I have to say Pixar! Ratatouille in Paris and Luca in Italy to name my favourite spots.
“Animation is fun as there’s such a different dimension to it – there are no REAL filming locations for the cartoons of course, and so it’s wonderful to experiment and try with all of those scenes – it gives me a little more freedom to see what can work.
“Plus, Paris and the Cinque Terre are simply stunning to explore.”
On the spookiest and most realistic he continued: “Probably Dunkirk; the place and the film – for obvious reasons. The scenery has hardly changed and the history remains as visceral and surreal to explore in-person.
“The film was a triumph in telling such a story and so stepping through that location was more than just a film location, it was truly like stepping through history.”
On a destination he hasn’t yet done but could be on the cards for future shots to add to his collection, Thomas commented: “I would love to visit the other-worldly world of Iceland to explore Interstellar.”
“The landscape was used as a stand-in for multiple planets in the film due to its stunning visuals and unique atmosphere,” he continued.
According to Thomas, the process he goes through to capture movie moments on location is actually ‘really easy’: “I just watch the scene very carefully to spot any street signs or recognisable landmarks etc and then I head on out to the spot. If it’s a bit harder to find, then it takes longer but I’m always very determined.”
The process usually takes him from one day to one week depending on the location he is travelling to.
Asked what scenes are particularly hard to recreate the photographer explained that a ‘beach scene is always hard due to the wind blowing the piece of paper around’.
Adding: “One particularly hard shot has been from Skyfall when Daniel Craig is running to jump on the back of the tube carriage. That was a fun one!
“I had to sort of crouch down on the tube platform for hours just waiting for the perfect timing and train to line Craig up with running. It was also so hot down there!”
Thomas takes inspiration for the film scenes he recreates by leading ‘with a passion and love for the film or story,’ as he continued: “That’s the key. Otherwise, what’s the point really?
“Those that have a beautiful message behind them draw me in. Something like ‘It’s A Sin’ had me bawling my eyes out. It was an important story and one that motivated me to head up to Manchester to celebrate it on my own accord, not as a paid project.
“I’m sometimes guided by what’s upcoming in the cinema space too, if there’s a new Marvel film, for example, then I may go and do a related location!”
Thomas has come a long way since the very first creation he made, the photographer recalled: “It was the scene with Daniel Craig and Ben Whishaw sitting by some paintings – those paintings have since been swapped out and so that scene is impossible to recreate properly now!
“Other scenes I started with is the whole Cornetto Trilogy [Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, The World’s End] which have been a joy to celebrate – all being UK based in London, Somerset, and then Welwyn Garden City.
“I’m based in Hertfordshire and so that led to so many possibilities with so much being filmed here.”
On why he loves what he does, and where he’s heading to next, Thomas added: “Every day is different and it gives me an excuse to travel while celebrating something I love – movies and television.
“Maybe [I’ll be] still doing this, maybe not. Perhaps [I will do] something in television/presenting…or writing about film in a different capacity.”
You can see what Thomas is up to next on his @steppingthroughfilm Instagram page.