Debate rages over 'fair share' of new asylum seekers

Plus the rest of the weekly briefing

Dear Millers — welcome to this week’s briefing, which features a debate about asylum seekers, a stunning Home of the Week in Rochdale, and some great recommendations, including talks at Manchester Literature Festival and a fabulous hidden gem antiques village.

This weekend we published a fascinating piece by Jack Dulhanty about the little-known world of virtual reality addiction. He met a young woman called Georgia, who found herself spending whole days with a VR headset on, and even went to bed wearing it. She has just graduated from a university in Greater Manchester, but she told Jack that the experience had a profound impact on her life and her relationships — and even led her to start working as an exotic dancer.

Here’s an extract from the piece for those who missed it:

Before long, VR removed her need for the real world and she would go for weeks without leaving her flat. "I wasn't going outside at all — this was a complete replacement," she tells me, with her headset sitting on the table to her left. It became an addiction, or perhaps a dependency — during our conversations, we jump between the two terms. By her own estimate, she was spending 10 to 15 hours a day in VRChat. Day in, day out. It peaked with one session which lasted 35 hours, during which she only removed the headset to get food or go to the bathroom. 

The sheer time she spent on VR inevitably meant she started neglecting relationships and her university work. “It was like a full-time job,” she tells me during one of our conversations at her flat in Salford. She began to put her headset on to sleep and noticed that she slept better that way. VRChat has dedicated sleep worlds: large, quiet spaces doused in soft blue light, where users can go to sleep together. Some people — or, their VR avatars — cuddle.

One Miller described the story on Twitter as “one of the scariest things I’ve ever read.” Another said it was “deeply unsettling but intriguing at the same time.” It’s certainly one of the most unusual stories we’ve published so far. Please do share it on social media if you liked it.

Last week we published a piece by longtime Miller and writer Phil Griffin, who returned to see one of Manchester’s “greatest art treasures”, a profile on Manchester’s new council leader Bev Craig, and a lovely piece about the quiet life of a north Manchester cemetery.


This week’s weather ⛅

Our forecast comes from local weatherman Martin Miles, who says “High pressure will keep our weather mostly settled this week, and despite a few dreary mornings, we should see some sunshine as well. Temperatures will be around the seasonal average for October, and rainfall will be minimal. Arguably, ideal weather for getting outdoors and enjoying the colourful autumn season.”

  • Monday 🌥 Patchy fog will gradually clear to allow for occasional sunny intervals. Breezy PM. Max 14°C.

  • Tuesday ☁️ Predominately cloudy. Patchy drizzle/light rain will affect areas mainly in the East, not amounting to much. Max 14°C.

  • Wednesday 🌥 A murky start, with patchy mist/fog. Skies will gradually brighten, and there will be a few sunny intervals during the afternoon. Max 15°C.

  • Thursday 🌥 Very similar to Wednesday. Sunny intervals will develop after a murky start. Max 15°C.

  • Friday 🌦 A weak cold front will bring showery light rain during the morning. A drier and brighter afternoon will follow, but it will feel chilly. Max 12°C.

  • Weekend 🍂 Increasingly unsettled. Saturday should still be mainly dry, but rain will likely set in from Sunday as low pressure moves in off the Atlantic.

For the full forecast, please visit Manchester Weather.


The big story: Rochdale shoulders ‘unprecedented demand’

Top line: Last week the BBC reported that Rochdale is set to receive more asylum seekers, which has prompted a new debate about the way in which they are accommodated.

Inside the story: The borough currently houses around 800, according to government figures, one of the highest numbers in the UK. Labour councillor Allen Brett, the former leader of the council, said he was unhappy about the news. "Why is it always Rochdale?" he asked, calling for a “fairer system” across the country.

How it works: There is growing disquiet about the very uneven way in which asylum seekers are distributed between local authorities. For example, in 2018 it was reported that 180 councils housed no asylum seekers at all. More recent figures show that Braintree council in Essex took one asylum seeker in the three months to June, whereas Rochdale was asked to house 734. Last month, the Guardian explained why this happens:

It mostly arises because asylum seekers are housed by private companies that tend to choose housing in cheap, and consequently deprived areas, which in turn are more likely to be under a Labour authority.

The ‘Seven Sisters’ tower blocks in Rochdale, where some asylum seekers have been accommodated in recent years. Photo: Colin McPherson/Getty Images.

The numbers: Earlier this year the MEN reported that Greater Manchester accommodates 15% of the UK’s asylum seekers, with Bolton supporting over 900. Rochdale has around 800, and Manchester and Wigan have similar numbers.

  • The number of supported asylum seekers doubled in Greater Manchester between 2003 and 2018

  • Recent analysis from The Guardian found that as of March this year, only 6.5% of asylum seekers have been placed in the south of England, compared to 42% (of all 44,825 asylum seekers) placed in the North.

Speaking to The Mill, Councillor Brett said that he first heard of the plans just over a week ago and that he understands that the new asylum seekers will be from Afghanistan. He told us:

We’re a poor borough with stretched resources. I thought Rochdale wasn’t taking any more asylum seekers. We’ve got more than our fair share. As far as I know, there aren’t extra resources.

Looking forward: GM mayor Andy Burnham is pushing for a different system, saying in August that “the current situation is unfair, unsustainable and increasingly chaotic.” We’ll be publishing a more in-depth report into this story soon — join up as a member to receive that. And if you have information to contribute, please email dani@manchestermill.co.uk.


🕵️‍♂️ Grist to The Mill: If you want to tell us about a story or pass on some information, please email joshi@manchestermill.co.uk, mollie@manchestermill.co.uk or dani@manchestermill.co.uk. We are always happy to speak to people off the record in the first instance, and we will treat your information with confidence and sensitivity. Get in touch.


Home of the week

This absolutely stunning 3-bed Georgian-style villa in Rochdale is just as lovely on the inside, with beautiful sash windows. It’s on the market for £475,000.


Other local news in brief

  • The head of an Oldham college has spoken of their fears over low vaccine uptake. Glyn Potts, head of Newman Roman Catholic College, says his experience of the vaccine programme “has been mixed,” and cited parental consent was an issue. Within the school: “It’s unlikely to rise much higher than 40 to 45 percent, which is obviously a worry as we are now heading into the winter period.” Read more.

  • Manchester City defender Benjamin Mendy “has been refused bail for a third time ahead of a trial facing multiple charges of rape and sexual assault,” reports the BBC this morning. “The 27-year-old is accused of attacking three women at his home in Cheshire between October 2020 and August 2021. Mr Mendy, who was not at Chester Crown Court for the hearing, is being held on remand at HMP Altcourse, Liverpool.” Read more.

  • The MEN reports that eight women in Greater Manchester have been killed since the murder of Sarah Everard. Following the conviction of Wayne Couzens for Everard's murder, Greater Manchester Police's Deputy Chief Constable Terry Woods said women's safety was a “top priority” for the force. Read more.


Our to do list

📚 Literature | Manchester Literature Festival kicked off on Saturday and continues this week. Booker Prize winner Bernadine Evaristo is part of a panel tomorrow and on Friday biographer Rachel Holmes will be talking about Sylvia Pankhurst. Book here.

🎨 Painting | PopUp Painting is coming to Northern Monk Refectory on Thursday with an evening art class themed around Van Gogh’s Mulberry Tree painting. All art supplies included, no experience needed. Book tickets here

🖼 Exhibition | At HOME, artist Venessa Scott has created a mural for Black History Month, celebrating the impact of people of colour in the UK, in the form of a subverted Union Jack. Find out more.

🛍 Shop | If you’re at a loose end this weekend, drop into the wonderful Levenshulme Antiques Village, an Aladdin’s cave of mid-century sideboards, Victorian desks and lovely bookshelves. 965 Stockport Road, Levenshulme M19 3NP.

🍜 Food | Vietnamese restaurant I Am Pho in Chinatown is a great spot for some casual dining. It’s about £8 for a bowl of pho and you can usually get a table straight away on a weekday (except Mondays when they close). Find them on 44 George Street, M1 4HF.

🎶 Music | Starting this Wednesday, The Hallé will be performing an American-themed concert ‘From the New World’, featuring the music of Florence Price, the first African-American woman to gain recognition as a symphonic composer. Book here.


Photo of the week

Dachshund Fritz, who hurt his back while “having a go at the postman” in 1973, with his makeshift carriage of roller skate parts. He’s photographed in Manchester alongside 10-year-old Stephanie Light. Photo: Mirrorpix via Getty Images.


Our favourite reads

Music For The Jilted Generation The Fence Magazine

This amusing dispatch from the Conservative Party Conference sees Fergus Butler-Gallie trying to find the journalist Alex Wickham, “the reported godfather of the Prime Minister’s child.” “It wasn’t only the young and the thrusting, there were some older faces to be found in the midst of the party too. The Stop Brexit Man was there, merrily embarrassing himself for the amusement of attendees.”

Through crack and crag — The Economist

We enjoyed this obituary for legendary climber Joe Brown, who died on 15th April 2020. “That first time was not to be forgotten. He was 16, the youngest of seven, a small skinny boy from the grimmest part of Manchester. His father was dead; his mother did cleaning.”

Currents and the ClydeBig Issue North

Mayflies author Andrew O’ Hagan speaks to Richard Smirke in this interview. “For the first time in my career I wanted to make something exist in a state of permanence that was ephemeral: those boys’ friendship, their visit to Manchester all those years ago and then their dependence on each other 30 years later as they face life and death questions.”

School of savageryThe Irish Times

Mike Harding writes a powerful account of his time at St Bede’s College in Whalley Range. “My mother is both proud and glad: proud that I’ve got the place and glad that, as she sees it, I have moved one step further away from the redbrick streets and a job in the local ICI chemical factory, the CWS biscuit factory, or worse.”

Review: Rick Astley and The BlossomsManchester Evening News

As concerts return and Manchester’s music scene livens up again, we enjoyed this colourful review from the MEN. “Ricky Astley teaming up with Blossoms to do a concert of songs from The Smiths felt a little like something Alan Partridge would have pitched between Youth Hostelling with Chris Eubank and Monkey Tennis.”


Book of the week: Supper Club by Lara Williams

We enjoyed Supper Club by Manchester-based writer Lara Williams, a sharp and intimate tale of food, feasting and the complexities of female friendship. Tired of the monotony of day-to-day life, two friends set up a secret society of hungry women who meet after dark for increasingly transgressive bacchanal dinners.

The thought of gathering people together and cooking for them felt plump with potential. A clan of my own that I could feed and nurture. An image of us, wild and hungry—and still expanding. The weight gain was Stevie’s idea. She wanted us to be living art projects.

Supper Club is available to buy here.


Covid-19 update

  • Case rates: The case rate for Greater Manchester is 393.2, up 18.8% from last week compared to England’s 357, up 5.1%. Trafford has the highest infection rate in GM of around 800. This surge is down to infections among school children, with the highest rates seen among 11 to 14-year-olds. Manchester has the lowest infection rate of about 200.

  • Hospitalisations: The latest data shows that hospitalisations are falling across GM. As of the 3rd October, the number of Covid-19 patients in critical care was 40, down from 47 the previous week. The number of Covid-19 patients in hospital minus critical care was 285, down 14 from the previous week.

  • Vaccinations: As of the 3rd October, 72% of adults (over 1.7 million people) in GM have received the second dose of the Covid-19 vaccine. That’s 93% of over-70s, 86% 50-69s, 61% of 18-49s.


Letters to the editor

I was working at BBC North West editing the lunchtime TV bulletins the day of the “20 dead” headline (‘An explosion for dignity’). I remember the news coming in just before the bulletin was due to start and having to write the lead story about the “dead prisoners” and physically run to the far side of Broadcasting House and up several flights of stairs, to deliver it into the handoff the presenter, as the opening titles came up. That was the day I broke the four-minute mile record! Rachel, Manchester

It is often the case that new art installations in churches are usually applauded by those who don't attend the churches in question (‘Returning to one of Manchester’s greatest art treasures’). Coming to view a piece in situ, whether at St Augustine's or St Mary's for example, is always a good thing. Living with a stand-alone piece is another matter entirely, as of course they demand more of one's attention than is reasonable. Certainly, the Christ in Glory and the Stations of the Cross do exactly that; they are loud, disruptive, jarring, and certainly misplaced for the purpose they have within the life of the building. Chris, Manchester


That’s it — you’re all caught up.