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How A Manchester Community Ended Up Full Of Superheroes And Disney Princesses During The Coronavirus Lockdown

"We've got about four or five Batmen, we've got probably about five Spider-Men. We've got a Captain Jack Sparrow.”

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A small Manchester community has become the home for superheroes, princesses, and mascots following the lead of two local men who donned Spider-Man costumes on their daily runs and are now bringing smiles to the faces of children stuck indoors as a result of the lockdown.

Martial arts instructors Andrew Baldock, 44, and Jason Baird, 34, are two men from Stockport who have inspired people to join them on their mission to spread positivity, which has resulted in an explosion of people dusting off their fancy dress wear and making the most of their outdoor time.

Baldock, who first hit the streets of Stockport for a run dressed as Spider-Man on March 28, told BuzzFeed News: “It’s absolutely insane. I started this just in my local neighbourhood. I just thought I'd be going out, cheering the kids up. Literally in the space of a couple of days with Jason jumping on board, it just went absolutely mental.”

The pair have been using their daily exercise time to make their way through the local area and wave to children from a safe distance and have unintentionally found themselves heading up a community of characters wanting to get involved.

Baird, who owns the Jason Baird's Black Belt Academy where he and Baldock became friends, described their viral fame as “slightly overwhelming”.

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Martial arts instructors Andrew Baldock (left) and Jason Baird.

He said: “I put a post on our group before just saying we put the suit on to begin with just to go for a jog. It just started with a single jog for myself.”

In Stockport, the pair are currently admins of two WhatsApp groups with around 35 figures with whom they coordinate to avoid clashes, and the group definitely has range.

Baldock said: “We’ve got more than a handful of Disney princesses, we've got a couple of Belles, got a couple of Snow Whites, about four or five of those. We've got about four or five Batmen, we've got probably about five Spider-Men. We've got a Captain Jack Sparrow.”

Baird explained why two groups had been created and admitted that he does have the odd concern, given the surge in popularity of the Facebook group, which has over 7,000 members within days of being created.

The father of two said: “The whole point of the first WhatsApp group is to make sure that everyone knows first and foremost social distancing is the main thing. We're telling the kids to stay inside, we're keeping that social distance in place but obviously trying to make people smile and be happy, and then after that, the team have created a superhero chat where they're building a nice bond so they've made friendships out of this as well, which is nice.”

“I've had a few people send the odd picture where someone's not doing it right. We had somebody that wasn't keeping to the social distancing, so I had to take that person out of the group because I don't want it to spoil what we're doing.”

Baird believes that the campaign has the potential to have a global impact.

He said: “I'd say round the country there's got to be at least 250 people if not more. I'm being sent links of people now — there's postmen dressing up as Little Bo Peep, there's a street that every morning when they put their bins out they're dressing up. I got a post from someone in Malta to say there's a Spider-Man now in Malta, Japan, too.”

Anthony Devlin / Getty Images

The group are now using their growing visibility to bring attention to their fundraising efforts for the National Health Service (NHS).

Baldock explained: “That's what superheroes have always been about. That's why we call the NHS the true superheroes, this is why we're supporting them with the JustGiving page that we're doing. Superheroes are there to give us hope, to make us feel that it's not all doom and gloom. There's always that person that will be there to save the day.”

To their surprise, their fundraising page received a large donation from an anonymous person using the pseudonym "Peter Parker," but Baird has heard a few theories about who the mystery giver could be.

“People are suggesting that it might be Tom Holland who played Spider-Man, some people are saying it's Keith Lemon because he followed my academy on Instagram around that same time and I've had a quick chat with him.

“He's not said it's him, but he was then seen in a Spider-Man uniform the day after on his YouTube channel so it's just speculation, but it could be anybody really.”

As the nation waits out the lockdown, both men and their entourage of characters have pledged to continue to participate for as long as possible, and they have hopes of celebrating the end of the lockdown with “the biggest” fancy dress party Stockport has ever seen.

Here are just a few of the local people getting involved.

Emma Ainscough, a 40-year-old mum of three, transforms into Wonder Woman for her runs.

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She said: “I was just scrolling through Facebook and seen a video of Spider-Man in Stockport and children’s faces lit up, seeing them, knowing how hard the children around my area find it with lockdown I wanted to help. I asked Jason If I could put on my Wonder Woman outfit I have from a fancy dress party a few years ago.

“It gives us something to look forward to, having a purpose. The children fill my heart with joy every day. The response I’ve been given is sensational. That day I asked Jason if I could join the group. I couldn’t even imagine how it’s changed my life, just for putting the outfit on going for a run waving to the children. Their smiles are priceless. I have many stories of my journeys that will always be close to my heart now, and I can’t thank the NHS staff enough for what they do and how they put their lives on hold to protect us.”

Jayne Clark, a 32-year-old salon owner who is sprinkling a little magic dressed as Cinderella.

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The mum of two said: “I heard about Stockport Spider-Men on Facebook and was looking on in awe at them brightening up people's day. I own a hair salon in Cheadle so I’m used to doing this every single working day. Making people look and feel amazing is what I love about my career.

"I used to do princess parties and already had the costume so I thought, I wonder if a superhero needs a princess? I messaged Jason and he was happy for me to go ahead. I thought Cinderella would be an amazing accompaniment to spread some magical positivity. She’s strong, courageous and never gives up even when times are hard.”

Sarah Watson, a 37-year-old coachbuilder by day and Batman by night was inspired after encountering Spider-Man while on a food run.

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She said: “I saw Spider-Man when I was travelling to the shops one day, [and] it gave me goosebumps at what a great thing this is for the children and the NHS fundraising. I had a Batman suit so there was no thought in it really, I wanted to be part of the #StockportSpidermen knowing I've made just one child smile, let alone many children smile in a day, is the greatest feeling.”

Jen Malone, a key worker, does her rounds on her days off accompanied by her 9-year-old son, Ewan, who is a student at Jason’s martial arts academy.

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The 39-year-old said: “I already had the costume from World Book Day as I'm a nursery nurse in a primary school, but I also love the fact that she is so caring. And everyone knows who Snow White is — she was the first-ever Disney princess.

“I've really missed seeing all the staff and children. We are on a rotation system at school. So I see a handful of staff and a few children whose parents are key workers. It is very strange. But we are such a strong and caring staff."

Staci Langley, a 38-year-old learning support assistant and children’s entertainer, has been participating as Elsa.

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She told BuzzFeed News: “I do children’s parties so I already had the costume. The original two Stockport Spider-Man inspired me to cover my area through the Stockport Spidermen group.

"The whole team are hopefully providing children with an alternative, happier memory when they look back at this time, instead of remembering that they couldn’t see their friends and families, they will remember that a superhero or princess was on their street.”

32-year-old business owner Chris Thompson took inspiration from his days spent at Haven holidays with Bradley Bear.

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"I set up my own party business, mobile DJ'ing and as a kids entertainer, and I’ve had him [Bradley Bear] for 13 years. When I saw Jason on TV, I said to my partner that I should be doing that — I’ve got Bradley Bear, he’s sat on top of the wardrobe. Obviously I’m not able to do any kids' parties at the minute, so why not? And that's when I contacted Jason.

“I’ve had a NHS nurse message me asking me to go past their house over the weekend because they’re isolating and they want me to come by and wave at them through the window. We all just pull together around here, especially with things like the Manchester bombing. It's as if we’re just getting stronger and stronger, and obviously we’ve been put up with this challenge, what we’re facing at the minute, and I think we’re all just trying to do our bit to pull through as a community and keep everyone going.”

And their influence has gone beyond Manchester.

Karl Budworth, a 43-year-old HGV driver from Widnes, Cheshire, has been dressing up as Batman.

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“I'd worn the costume before for Widnes Parkrun, but this time was when Jason was on 5 Live. I thought, Hey, I've got a costume, I'm a runner, and I'm daft enough to do it. [I’ve] been out four times in six days. Amazing response from everyone, kids with birthdays, parents playing Batman music, police and posties waving.”

Tommy Matthews, a 21-year-old physiotherapy student who recently returned to his home city, is now Bristol’s own Spider-Man.

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“A couple of weeks ago my sister told me about my nephew, he's 5, asking when the superheroes were going to come help, and then I saw a couple of guys from Stockport who were dressing up as Spider-Man whilst going for a run to cheer up kids in isolation.

“Everyone's loving it. I've had a lot of positive responses from people on multiple social media accounts and people cheering me on during my runs. I created a group on Facebook, similar to the Stockport Spider-Men, called the Bristol Spider-Man so people knew when to keep an eye out for a Spider-Man to run past.

You can support the Stockport Spider-Man campaign here.


Ade Onibada is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.

Contact Ade Onibada at ade.onibada@buzzfeed.com.

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