Drug addicts passed out on the floor, people committing anti-social behaviour and frequent drug use putting people off the town.
These were the scenes blighting Mansfield town centre three years ago when the Mamba and spice epidemic swept the nation.
Mansfield, alongside countless other towns in Britain, became victim to the synthetic “zombie” drug in 2018 when it took hold of addicts for a fraction of the price of harder substances.
It led to calls from local leaders for the reclassification of the substance, as well as residents describing scary scenes of addicts knocked unconscious on town centre benches.
However, work to tackle the drug – which caused Ashfield District Council leader Jason Zadrozny to describe town centres as “like something from Dawn of the Dead” – was just as swift as the rise of the substance itself.
Police, council workers and specialist outreach teams worked to combat the substance on the ground, offering support to addicts and coming down hard on dealers.
It has led to a massive reduction in the use of the ‘spice’ drug in Mansfield town centre, with a leading police chief saying the “once common sight” is now a “rarity”.
But how did these teams get to the bottom of the problem?
“All the agencies were singing from the same song sheet to reduce an issue that was having a negative impact on residents, businesses, market traders and visitors,” says Councillor Marion Bradshaw, the cabinet member responsible for safer communities on Mansfield District Council.
“We and the police were using all powers available to us.
“The council’s neighbourhood wardens, anti-social behaviour officers, CCTV and legal teams all supported the police officers in driving down the issue with arrests, direction-to-leave notices and criminal behaviour orders for repeat offenders.
“But it was clear that enforcement alone was not going to be enough.”
The council became the first authority in the county to employ a substance misuse outreach worker.
This support officer worked with homeless and mental health outreach workers to encourage Mamba users to make “permanent changes” to their lifestyle.
However, this did pose its own challenges for the agencies.
“This was no easy task and it was not going to happen overnight,” Councillor Bradshaw adds.
“Changing long-standing habits is complicated and requires a build-up of trust.
“These outreach workers were able to get to know each individual and build up that trust, so that they could offer tailored support.
“This approach has been effective and we have successfully helped a small number of people with complex needs turn their lives around.”
Recognising the effects Mamba and spice were having on the community was a big factor in work taken by Nottinghamshire Police.
However, officers in the town shared the same attitude as the council and recognised from the outset that the issue needed to be treated “holistically”.
“It had been clear for some time that the abuse of these materials was causing considerable local alarm and having a detrimental impact on businesses,” says Inspector Nick Butler, district commander for Mansfield.
“We knew we needed to find an answer to this problem so started to analyse the problem holistically.
“We spent many months understanding who was abusing these substances, where they were doing it and crucially why they were doing it.
“It was quickly apparent that many of the users were either current or former rough sleepers – many of whom were living with considerable challenges in their lives.
“This was not a situation we could simply arrest our way out of.”
Working alongside the council and various local charities, officers moved to “fully understand” the needs of drug users.
This then helped officers to clamp down on the town centre chaos and get to the root of the problem.
Introducing Mansfield Live
“Once we knew people understood what we expected of them, and had the necessary support in place to address their drug use, we were relentless in our enforcement,” Inspector Butler adds.
“After gathering considerable community intelligence, we also targeted the main dealers who supplied most of these drugs – cutting the supply line as well as reducing the local market.
“All in all the measures we put in place have led to a dramatic improvement in this issue.
“What was once a common sight in our town centre is now a rarity.
“It is also pleasing to know that many of the users whose lives were so blighted by these drugs are also getting the longer-term support they need.”
One local charity which supports drug users and rough sleepers in the town is The Beacon Project.
The scheme provides outreach work from its base in St John Street, offering food, support and guidance to people affected by issues such as drug use.
And Louisa Hillman, who helps organise the project, told Nottinghamshire Live issues surrounding Mamba and spice appear to be reducing.
“I honestly haven’t seen or heard much about the Mamba and spice situation over Covid,” she said.
“I think because were still doing takeaway and have strict rules on them leaving the premises after, we just haven’t seen or had to deal with the usual drug issues.
“[It’s] nothing compared to normal but like I said, we’re not there for full hours at the moment.
“I’ve not been into town for months and when I have it seems dead.
“Most of our clients are in temporary accommodation at the moment, night shelter or hotels.”
And residents in the town also think there has been a difference in the visibility of town centre drug use.
Lynn Wagstaff, 61, who lives in Mansfield Woodhouse, said issues surrounding the drug in 2018 put her off going into town.
She told Nottinghamshire Live: “It’s an improvement, there are still problems in the town centre with crime but when the Mamba was everywhere it was awful.
“It put me off going into town at the time, people were just passed out on benches and the floor.
“I don’t think I was the only person either, I remember people describing it as being the ‘zombie drug’.
“I’ve definitely noticed less of it in town recently though, but it could be because it’s being done indoors rather than in public.”
Mansfield MP Ben Bradley, who was vocal at the time for the need to reclassify the substance, continues his calls in Parliament for a review by the AMCD.
He adds that he is “remaining hopeful” the drug – which was once a ‘legal high’ – could one day be reclassified as a Class A substance.