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Clubbers at Warehouse Project
Photograph: Jody Hartley

This new drug-warning app could save your life on your next night out

A whopping 200,000 people are now receiving push notifications about dodgy stuff that’s doing the rounds

Chiara Wilkinson
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Chiara Wilkinson
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When Warehouse Project re-launched their app last month, with a load of shiny new safety features, they never imagined it would end up having the impact it did. They certainly didn’t imagine it would be downloaded by more than 200,000 people, at least 20 times the capacity of a usual WHP event, and reach people all over Manchester – and beyond. 

But that’s exactly what has happened. The app has introduced a new drug-safety feature, which sends out warnings as push notifications directly to users. It’s the first of its kind: at the moment, there’s no other trusted platform that exists in the UK which can send out such information on a large scale. Sure, you’ve got Pill Reportsa well-known website with reliable, up-to-date information, and The Loop, a non-profit harm-reduction service which regularly posts reports on its social-media pages. But the reality is, not everyone remembers to check online before a big night out, and they certainly won’t during the event. Receiving instant warnings as soon as they come in could ultimately be life-saving. 

The drug information is collected by WHP’s lab partners, MANDRAKE, a harm-reduction and drug-testing facility based at Manchester Metropolitan University. Alerts are sent out about substances seized during WHP events, as well as drugs found elsewhere in the city. ‘You can’t control what’s out there,’ says James Pyrah, WHP’s head of marketing. ‘But you can control the messaging to people about a specific thing that could potentially cause harm.’ Evidence from The Loop showed that there was a rise in fake and potentially dangerous MDMA that circulated around the UK during the 2022 festival season – for example, 4-CMC, a substance up to 1.5 times stronger than MDMA, was doing the rounds at Lost Village Festival in Lincolnshire.

The number of people receiving the WHP warnings is far higher than those going to their events: each party tends attract 8,000 to 10,000 clubbers, but the app now has more than 200,000 users. That means that its warnings will also reach people going to smaller venues, which wouldn’t usually have the budget to develop their own version of the app.

4-CMC, a substance up to 1.5 times stronger than MDMA, was doing the rounds at one festival

‘Once, we put out a warning at 4.20am [after the event],’ says Chelsea Teesdale, WHP’s head of digital marketing. ‘It’s not only for people who are at WHP, it’s also for people who might be at a house party or at an afters, or who are outside of Manchester. It’s grown into something we never expected, but we’re more than happy that it’s happening.’ 

The good news is that WHP only put out three red-alert drug warnings (meaning the drugs are dangerously concentrated or being dangerously mis-sold) in the month since the new feature launched. ‘It’s more about making customers aware about what is out there,’ says Teesdale. Rather than taking a zero-tolerance approach, the drug warnings are there to educate clubbers and empower them to talk openly with welfare staff on site. 

An apple watch with a drug warning
Photograph: Warehouse Project

When it comes to other safety features, the upgraded app also incorporates a messaging service where users can add important contacts like family members and friends. The app can send them your live location from Google Maps and provides an option for emergency calls, as well as a feature allowing you to contact WHP staff for less urgent requests, like losing your keys.

There’s an interactive map, which shows the on-site welfare area as well as the real-time locations of selected friends, similar to Apple’s Find My Friends function. It also allows users to add locations like hotels. ‘A huge aim is to look after the people who leave the building at 3am as well as when they’re inside,’ says Pyrah. 

One of the main positives is reassurance – people can get pre-night out nerves, parents can be worried

The map feature is similar to another nightlife-oriented app, Where You At, which launched at the start of this year in partnership with the Night Time Industries Association. ‘The big problem we’re trying to solve is that you can be in a nightclub and there’s no signal or service, or no way of getting in touch with your friends,’ says co-founder Lauren Levine. While the WHP app works by using the venue’s free on-site wi-fi, Where You At installs bluetooth beacons in spaces so users can communicate with friends even when they’re somewhere remote, like at music festivals or in underground clubs.  

The NTIA have also been working with a tech company, Help Me Angela, which was developed to help nightlife staff get home safe at night (you essentially let it know when you’re on your journey, then ‘check in’ when you get back home). ‘One of the key issues we have had with recent challenges in safety is our customers’ understanding of what safeguards we have in place,’ says Silvana Kill, director of operations at the NTIA. ‘In many respects, the ability to share some of these safeguards through apps is an ideal medium for Gen-Z audience.’ 

Going forward, WHP hopes to take the app’s map and safety features to other events, such as Parklife festival, and work on improving its GPS system and incorporating a group-chat function. And while it’s great that all of these things are now available, hopefully, they won’t need to be used much. ‘One of the main positives is reassurance,’ says Pryah. ‘People can get pre-night out nerves, parents can be worried. The practical elements haven’t been needed often, but we want them there just in case.’

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