“There’s a don rolling round fallow on a bike in a grey puffer jacket he’s carrying a massive knife and just tried to attack a girl outside our house. Get an uber home if you can.”
An armed ‘don’ is haunting South Manchester. The area has gotten rather heated recently. It seems like Fallowfield and Withington are more dangerous than ever. This is not only in terms of the number of burglaries, but there has been reporting after reporting of cases of sexual assaults, muggings, harassment, and attack. Stories like the one quoted above are easily found on Facebook groups, including one which has had a huge impact on the lives of students in South Manchester.
Fallowfield Students Group began as Fallowfield Buy/Sell Tickets. As of 2017, the group has become a sort of hub for thousands of South Manchester students and residents. At 24,530 members, it’s getting bigger and bigger as time goes on. Not a day goes by without a Facebook notification from FSG. Not only has it become a place for people to solve the problem of lost and found bus passes, keys, IDs, and dogs, but it’s also the absolute center of stranger things. People post about pig heads, escaped reptiles, and supposed grandpappis walking into their living rooms. The group has even started to get a little bit corporate. People plug their lame speaker hire companies on there (beep beep: a subliminal message from GW Sounds, always go for GW Sounds), people sell bikes, people sell pets, people sell teeth-whitening, people sell haircuts. It’s pretty handy really. We found pretty much the whole Funraising Team on there, most of the artists for ArtBox (Nah we don’t like to plug ourselves do we), and probably £2000 worth of extortionately priced tickets for nights out. One of us has used it to order a custom-made birthday pie for last year. Enough about the pies though, things have become a bit more sinister. Amid the easily-ignored general party banter (and pies), some troubling posts and stories have been inescapable.
“2 dickheads followed me off the bus and were shouting abuse at me the whole way down ladybarn road, they only disappeared when i told them to fuck off twice and when they realised that there were people around, pretty sure they’re still around battered cod/ladybarn lane, so just watch out”
Seen on FSG, posted by Simran Johal around 6pm on Sunday 3rd December
“My friend and I were walking back from Antwerp at about 3 am… we looked over [to the entrance of Plattfields Park] and saw two men in all black with their hoods up standing over a man on the ground, back against a tree. We shouted over to them “What are you doing?” and the two guys in black dragged the victim into the park by his feet, which was completely pitch black and he screamed “Help me” which is when the rest of the group realised and caught up with us”
Quote from a South Manchester student and resident about incident at Plattfields Park, Fallowfield
These aren’t the only incident accounts being voiced. There are hundreds that report armed muggings, robberies at knifepoint, attacks in the streets and violent house burglaries. The fact that students have been posting their experiences of these attacks, in real-time on the Facebook group, ‘Fallowfield Students Group (FSG)’, means that they are constantly reminded of the very real dangers that exist in the city that some of us have chosen to call home. We are now able to hear about crime in the local area in real-time and for many of us there seems to be no escape from it. For most students, it seems like crime has increased tenfold this year. Upon this suggestion, one student remarked that “crime this year is crazy, I’ve heard so many stories of people getting robbed and mugged, it’s like Fallowfield has gone mad”.
However, recent figures leaked to us from the University suggest that, shockingly, for September and October this year, crime has decreased in Fallowfield compared to the same period in previous years. With so many statements and stories now common knowledge it was a massive surprise to hear these statistics. Public opinion in Fallowfield seems to revolve around an unprecedented crime wave. Either, crime has increased this year, but students have stopped reporting them, or the crime in Fallowfield, so easily ignorable before, has come to the attention of students in ways that they never have before.
One possible explanation is that with the increased integration of social media, students are more vocal and socially responsible than ever before. They want their experiences to be heard by others so that they can prevent future incidents. Technology has fundamentally changed the ways we respond to hardship and difficult situations; just think about how prevalent social media was in the aftermath of the MEN Arena incident in May. A number of people working within the SU, and students in Fallowfield, see that the newly-rebranded Fallowfields Student Group may have a role to play in the mental comfort of members.
Whilst crime may not have increased in Fallowfield this year, now that the Fallowfield Don has a greater online presence, the dangers that surround us in this city have definitely become more obvious. Community officers offer us factual truths in consolation, however. Perhaps in the student bubble it is easy to forget that “crime in Fallowfield is lower than in other nearby areas of Manchester”. There are comparatively less violent incidents when compared to Rusholme for example. However, it is worth adding that these crime statistics may be misleading because they limit Fallowfield to crimes northwards of a horizontal line that runs through Fallowfield Sainsbury’s. This is pictured below. What this means is that crimes occurring on student dominated streets like Egerton Road don’t flag up on Fallowfield crime statistics, and would actually emerge on the Withington statistics.
Many students have voiced concerns over a limited police response, too. The response time for non-dangerous incidents in Fallowfield can be lengthy. On a Friday evening in October, one of our editors was faced with a traumatic burglary during which her glass garden-door was smashed to pieces. Her house of six girls was left in trauma, and without any protection from the bitter weather. The house was unprotected from any and all passers-by before the police eventually arrived and boarded up the window several hours later into the night. Jack Houghton, the community officer at the UoM SU responds that the council doesn’t have the resources to send extra police to Fallowfield, and that this is the brutal reality of the situation. However, honest accounts such as this one from Jake Walker understandably work to further residential anger.
Here it is less the element of a holiday, and more the description of unreliable communication and unprofessional service that paints an unsatisfactory picture of the local police forces. Still, there is no saying that this is not due to short staffing and limited funding.
This has been rebuked by Charlotte James, who has voiced her confusion at where she has seen money going in the current security system (see right). Furthermore, when interviewed by Jenny Knowles, A UoM student from Furness Road commented, “As for the general crime rate around Fallowfield, I think it’s disgusting that [my] University is paying G4S to embark on house party patrols, rather than paying them to focus on the safety of the students out and about on the streets”.
A greater criticism could be that the existing pages to protect students in Manchester, such as Manchester Student Safety Facebook page, are rarely updated with relevant information. There’s much less engagement with these purpose-built services than there is within Fallowfield Students Group. First off, we didn’t have any knowledge of Manchester Student Safety’s existence prior to the research of this article. Secondly, the last instance of helpful warning, similar to those on FSG was posted on July the 4th. Not only was this a long time ago, but the warning is not nearly as urgent as some of those on FSG, and it features a tellingly irrelevant reply:
Social media hype does seem to have a positive impact – the SU seems to be taking note. They have been looking into implementing a ‘Night Owl’ scheme. The plan is designed to spend thousands of pounds on putting responsible and trained students at locations throughout Fallowfield to help students who are unable to find their way home safely. However, the scheme has faced traction on FSG, and many have asked for an increased police presence. Furthermore, due to the inability for any Night Owl to arrest or start formal inquiries, they are unlikely to substantially reduce the number of burglaries. However, since the scheme has been ‘tried and tested’ across a number of University cities, it is likely to prove effective at preventing vulnerable students being assaulted or mugged on their way home from a night out. In addition, one might offer that a minimal security presence is in many cases preferable to heavy-duty, or 1984-esque police presence. Not many people are keen on Big Brother watching them.
Whilst the Night Owl plan is a step in the right direction, there’s obviously a number of issues with the current situation. The University of Manchester earns a revenue of £987.2 million and is the second largest university in the country. Manchester Metropolitan University has a smaller yet substantial revenue of £233 million, meaning that the two universities that largely populate Fallowfield bring in over £1.2 billion each year. But where is this money going? At the moment there is ongoing large-scale construction work across the University campus, which is part of the University’s £1 billion initiative for 2020. Why then, when you travel just a little way to Fallowfield, is there little evidence of increased security in the area? Where is the expenditure on student safety?
Since the implementation of austerity measures, the government has slashed public spending on security; there are even plans to outsource policing private police forces and further reduce the number of police on the streets. This kind of profit-driven thinking has been reflected in the local council’s attempts to train and pay students to work for the police in fighting crime and reporting house parties. These plans were immediately scrapped by the UoM Students’ Union. Jack Houghton insisted that “we cannot allow the council to use students to police the streets that they are meant to be policing”.
It is clear that enormously rich universities, as communities in their own right, need to do more to protect their students. In the meantime, students are forced to fill the void and fend for themselves. In Manchester, Fallowfield Students Group has provided a platform for students to warn others about threats. The group has had a massive role in fostering a sense of community among Fallowfield students. Not to get all David Attenborough on you, but one might note that much like emperor penguins in an Arctic storm, amidst threats to their security, students have been able to use technology to huddle for safety.
The fact that groups like this have to be used to draw the attention of Universities to the problems that their students are facing is all too shocking. We look out at a world which favours cheap, flawed schemes, such as student vigilantes in the place of police forces. Furthermore, with a potentially-strapped police force, surely the universities should be at work to improve the security situation for their students. For one, they should be in greater contact with the unions that exist within them. Social media, via. Fallowfield Students Group, has brought the age-old question of social responsibility to the surface. But does it mean that anything will change? We’re not yet decided. The Fallowfield don creeps on.
By Sophie Billington, Samuel Gibbons, and Joe French. Investigative credit to Jenny Knowles.
Special thanks to all those who’ve offered their thoughts, opinions, and Facebook posts for the formation of this article.
The featured photo is a real image of the robber described by Jake Walker above.