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The mysterious tale of Stockport’s phantom hitchhiker

Have you ever seen the phantom?

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Clem Rutter / Wikimedia

If you’ve ever seen a ghostly figure roaming the streets of Stockport as you drive through, you’re not alone.

That’s because an eerie hitchhiker supposedly haunts the town centre, with numerous tales and sightings of the mysterious woman.

According to eyewitness accounts, the woman appears near Mersey Square on Wellington Road South and thumbs down a lift.

Wellington Road South, Stockport, from the air – Credit: Mike Pennington / Geograph

One sighting featured in a book called Supernatural Stockport by Martin Hills. The story goes that a biker picked up the woman and gave her a lift to her home in Hazel Grove – but when they arrived, she had completely vanished.

This is where it gets really creepy, as the biker knocked on the address he was given and was greeted by a couple, who revealed their daughter had tragically died in a crash on Wellington Road several years earlier.

Another eyewitness, Harold Smith, recalled his early 1990s run-in with the hitchhiker, saying: “As I came down the long hill, I saw a figure on the left-hand pavement. She was slim with dark, straight shoulder-length hair, wearing a short jacket and trousers and holding a helmet.

“As I approached, she walked to the kerb and stuck her thumb out. People don’t usually thumb lifts from motorcyclists. When I stopped in the lay-by and looked back over my shoulder, I couldn’t see her any more. I waited, revved the engine, but gave up and rode home. The whole thing was very strange.”

Shops on Wellington Road South – Credit: Gerald England / Geograph

The mystery has intrigued many paranormal experts, including doctor Rob Gandy, 64, who became fascinated by the phantom woman five years ago.

He told the Manchester Evening News in 2015: “I have always had an interest in strange things. I take urban legends with a pinch of salt but they are great stories. But there have been several reports about the phantom hitchhiker in Stockport and I want to get to the bottom of it.”

Rob says he was contacted by another man who claimed to have experienced something similar to the biker while researching another project.

Mersey Square and The Plaza – Credit: David Dixon / Geograph

He said: “It’s intriguing but I always take a sceptical line and look for something natural that may have caused it. For example, if you are driving in stressful conditions your imagination can go into overdrive.

“But the guy who contacted me was very genuine and level-headed. You have to keep an open mind and not have any preconceived ideas.”

At the time Rob was looking into patterns of locations, times and dates, and promised to publish his findings – but it seems his investigation didn’t come to anything, as there’s no article to be found online.

As it stands, the mystery of the phantom hitchhiker of Stockport remains unsolved.

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One in four young people have felt like they were ‘unable to cope’ during pandemic

It’s the worst findings in the survey’s 12-year history

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Anthony Tran / Unsplash

The Prince’s Trust has recorded the worst findings in the history of its annual young people’s happiness and confidence survey.

The Prince’ Trust is a youth charity designed to help vulnerable young people. Each year the charity undergoes a survey of young people’s happiness and confidence.

This year, the long-running survey found the worst findings in its 12-year history. 

The charity says young people are in danger of giving up on their future and themselves, with a quarter saying they feel unable to cope with life.

The trust’s UK chief executive, Jonathan Townsend, said: “The pandemic has taken a devastating toll on young people’s mental health and wellbeing.

“Many believe they are missing out on being young, and sadly we know that the impact of the pandemic on their employment prospects and overall wellbeing could continue far into their futures.”

The Trusts’ 2020 Youth Index was carried out by YouGov in partnership with Tesco, and found that half of those surveyed said current political and economic events have had effects on their mental health.

Half said they are always or often anxious. This was more prevalent in those not in work, education or training (Neet), rising to 64%.

One in four said they felt unable to cope with life since the start of the pandemic, increasing to 40% in Neet young people.

Since the start of the pandemic, half of the 16-25 year-olds said their mental health has worsened. 

Mr Townsend said: “At this critical time we need businesses, government and individuals to work with us to help as many vulnerable young people as possible. 

“It is only by working together that we can stop this generation of young people giving up on their futures – and themselves.”

Emma Taylor, the UK people director at Tesco, said: “The findings of this year’s Youth Index highlight how vital it is to support young people to develop skills and build their confidence, to support their future. In these extraordinarily difficult times, supporting young people’s mental health is paramount.”

Adam Pester / Manchester’s Finest

Along with the report, the Prince’s Trust has highlighted four habits that can benefit your mental health.

They are:

  1. Establish a routine
  2. Practise gratitude
  3. Keep a journal
  4. Check-in with yourself 

We’ve also put together five top tips to help manage your mental health and wellbeing throughout the lockdown, based on NHS advice.

See what you can do to help your mental wellbeing here

If you are struggling to cope and need to chat to someone you can text shout to 85258 and speak to a trained volunteer. If you need urgent support visit here. Whatever you are going through, you don’t need to face it alone! 

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Five things a scientist wants anti-vaxxers to know about coronavirus vaccines

The most common myths debunked

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U.S. Secretary of Defense/Flickr & DrRosena/Twitter

A medicine cell biologist has cleared up some of the popular vaccination myths. 

Hundreds of thousands of people are being vaccinated daily across the UK with a plan for 13.9 million people to have their first dose by mid-February.

This accounts for 21% of the population, currently (figures are from January 18th, 2021), 6.1% of the population have had their first dose, according to Public Health England.

However, there are a number of people not convinced about the safety of the vaccination. In the UK, the Centre for Countering Digital Hate suggests 5.4 million people believe in the ‘anti-vaccination movement’.

The anti-vaccination movement is based upon three major claims – all of which remain unsupported by facts: ‘Covid is not dangerous’, ‘vaccines are dangerous’ and ‘experts cannot be trusted’.

HuffPost UK spoke to UCL medicine cell biologist Dr Jennifer Rohn to debunk vaccination myths that are currently circulating.

United Nations

MYTH: ‘Vaccines alter your DNA’

Some rumours have circulated that the vaccine can modify your DNA, this is not only not physically possible but also not backed by a single piece of evidence, like many of the anti-vaccination myths.

Jim Corr, guitarist of Irish group The Corrs, wrote on Twitter: “The vaccine is a novel experimental RNA vaccine which will alter the very DNA of the recipient.”

The key problem with this statement is that it not only represents a complete misunderstanding of how vaccines work, but it is being Tweeted by a ’90s pop star who has no scientific or medical qualifications.

Firstly, DNA and RNA are different things. DNA is a long molecule containing unique genetic code – what we call genes – that are responsible for development, function, growth and reproduction of proteins in each cell of the body.

RNA is of a similar structure however it essentially tells the proteins how to behave. It does this in three ways, including acting as a messenger between DNA and proteins. Here it is called ‘messenger RNA’, known as ‘mRNA’.

Dr Rohn explains that those made by Pfizer and Moderna are mRNA vaccines that use a part of Covid-19’s RNA to tell our cells to produce antigens. The antigens are then recognised by the immune system and prepare it to fight coronavirus.

RNA cannot physically change the coding of DNA, Dr Rohn confirms.

Instead, she thinks people are confusing vaccines with gene therapy, an experimental technique that can be used against cystic fibrosis and some cancers but – crucially – has nothing to do with vaccines, how they are developed or how they work.

MYTH: ‘You don’t need the vaccine if others have one’

Back to unqualified musicians on Twitter for such rumours, like Ian Brown, who tweeted: “So if you want a vax and you believe it works and you’ll be protected then you wont mind if i dont have one because you will already be protected. [sic]”

Firstly, the former Stone Roses singer has no scientific or medical qualifications.

Secondly, not everyone can be vaccinated, some have compromised immune systems and others are undergoing certain medical treatments and cannot safely take the vaccine. These people will be relying on the wider population to take the vaccine and therefore indirectly protect them.

Herd immunity, however, is typically only achieved when 70-90% of the population is vaccinated.

Dr Rohn says: “It’s quite a shocking thing to say: ‘I’m going to sit back and reap the benefits of vaccination without actually getting the vaccine myself.

“I think that’s completely selfish because not everyone can get vaccinated. There are people who are too vulnerable and they’re immunocompromised and they’re relying on everyone else to do the right thing.”

United Nations

MYTH: ‘Vaccines contain tissue from aborted foetuses’

This rather horrifying myth is completely untrue. Dr Rohn explains: “You would never put human tissue into a vaccine because it might cause an immune reaction that you don’t want.”

Where the confusion lies, she believes, is with the fetal cells that were used in the early 1960s from legally and electively aborted fetuses for research purposes.

These cells have been reproduced over the years to provide a consistent genetic make-up for conducting vaccine research.

Dr Rohn says: “There are cell lines that we use in the lab all the time that are derived from stem cells.

“Some of them are 50 years old and they’re an essential part of the research arsenal. It’s not like we’re going out and aborting foetuses to do research on them.”

The mRNA vaccine is synthetic and made from a DNA template in a lab, such as the Moderna vaccine – a synthetic vaccine sequenced in a lab. The AstraZeneca vaccine, however, used the cell line from an aborted fetus to develop the vaccine.

Even the seriously anti-abortion Catholic Church said ‘one is morally free’ to use the vaccine if it has been developed using the cell line, despite its historical association with abortion. They add: “This is especially important for parents, who have a moral obligation to protect the life and health of their children and those around them.”

To be clear though – none of the Covid-19 vaccines contain cells from aborted fetuses.

Daniel Schludi / Unsplash

MYTH: ‘Vaccines cause autism’

There is zero scientific evidence to back up this anti-vaccine and ableist conspiracy theory.

This myth is believed to be based upon a fraudulent paper from 1998 that has now been retracted due to clear evidence of falsification of data.

Simply put – vaccines absolutely, scientifically do not cause autism. Anti-vaxxers should also consider why they think so negatively of autism.

MYTH: ‘The vaccine isn’t safe because it’s been developed so quickly’

The Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine smashed the previous record for vaccine development from four years to under one. ‘Understandably, there is concern’, Dr Rohn explains.

Adding: “Usually it takes 10 years and this time it’s taken 10 months, so of course people are going to wonder if any shortcuts have been taken.”

However, the speed at which the vaccine has been developed is simply due to the amount of money and effort put in – the UK alone spent £6 billion to develop and procure the vaccine.

Additionally, vaccine development did not start from scratch. Dr Rohn says: “There’s been an enormous amount of groundwork on these prototypes so we were quick off the mark from a research point of view.

“The actual trials are taking a long time and that’s where nothing is being compromised.

“No reputable regulatory body will approve this without a completed and successful series of clinical trials.”*

*This interview was done before any vaccine was rolled out in the UK.

On vaccine misinformation, a government spokesperson said: “Letting vaccine disinformation spread unchecked could cost British lives.”

They added: “We continue to work closely with social media firms to promote authoritative sources of information so people have access to vaccine facts not fiction.”

See the government’s Covid-19 vaccination guidance here

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Feature

Take a look inside the creepy abandoned Belle Vue Showcase cinema

Who else has great memories of this place?

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Mark Gardener

The Belle Vue Showcase cinema was somewhat of an iconic venue in Manchester, however, it is set to be demolished and replaced. 

The news came late last year that the cinema would be demolished to make way for a new secondary school.

The school, ran by the Co-op, is planning on having its first year sevens students in by September, although they’ll be placed in temporary buildings.

Sir Robert McAlpine / Space Architects

The new Co-Op Academy Belle Vue school is set to be finished in 2023, and a first glimpse of what it will look like has now been released. 

Newly released documents show a modern L-shaped building, which will be split into three different ‘zones’, including a two-storey sports block – complete with a sports hall, auditorium, and drama studio.

Mark Gardener
Mark Gardener

The iconic cinema first opened its doors in 1989 boasting a huge 14 screens in the entertainment complex.

Closing its doors back in March 2020, the cinema had been left abandoned all last year and started to look seriously creepy. 

Mark Gardener
Mark Gardener

The timeline for demolition hasn’t been given yet, and parents had to have applied for their child’s place in the new school by November 2nd last year – in case you were wanting to. 

Once the grounds of Belle Vue zoo and amusement park, the area will definitely have some stories to tell.

Mark Gardener
Mark Gardener

The Belle Vue Showcase cinema was one of the first multi-screen complexes to open up, bringing American films, no queues and car parks to fit a 1,000 cars – it was unlike anything that had ever been seen before when it first opened back in 1989.

Back in February last year when rumours began to circulate the cinema would be closing, Mark Barlow, general manager at Showcase Cinemas UK, said: “As the leader in UK cinema innovation, Showcase Cinemas remains committed to operating a cinema in Manchester and as such are in active discussions about future opportunities for a new, state-of-art cinema in the city.”

If you’re going to miss this iconic venue, the company are said to be looking into a new unnamed location for another cinema. They added that they ‘remain fully committed to the city’. 

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