For decades, donning a disguise and trying to complete the Otley Run has been a rite of passage for students living in Leeds.
The pub crawl includes around 15 pubs, depending on who you ask, starting at Woodies Ale House, on Otley Road in Headingley and ending a few miles south of the town center – if participants visit as far as they usually do. ‘t.
Since the tradition has existed, locals have enjoyed seeing the mismatched Super Mario characters, groups of sexy lifeguards and the odd six-foot-high rugby player dressed as Marge Simpson.
But now anyone who tackles the Otley Run may face more than just a hangover afterwards – they may also be hit with a £1,000 fine. Leeds City Council said it would start cracking down on anti-social behavior in the drinking race after residents’ complaints escalated.
“It was a fun thing and a well-known feature of the area, and it didn’t cause too much trouble,” said Al Garthwaite, a local councilor for Headingley, Hyde Park and Woodhouse. “As an adviser, I haven’t had any complaints about it.”
But since the pandemic, the number of booze and costume groups has exploded and a different – and more troublesome – demographic has joined in, causing constant and sometimes serious problems for those who live and work in Headingley. Garthwaite said: “The groups seem to be larger and we find that they are male only groups, adult males in their late twenties through to their fifties.”
She said these groups, many of which are bachelor parties, have started coming from all over the UK on organized trips. British Transport Police reported more people getting off the train intoxicated at an hour earlier, it added.
“They basically create a trail of destruction. These men are probably Mr Nice Guy at home, they probably have families, jobs, but they become Mr Nasty Guy when they’re all together, getting drunk.
Olympia Agorini, reception manager at The Box, one of Headingley’s liveliest bars, said that in her four years there she had noticed a difference. “Saturdays have always been busy but now the clientele is difficult. There are a lot of middle-aged men in London, and they don’t behave well. They don’t care about being banned because they’re going back to London. They have no affiliation with Headingley and no respect for the area. This shouldn’t happen.
Issues reported to council and police include littering, broken glass, vomiting, public urination and more serious crimes like harassment of shop and bar staff, sexual harassment of pedestrians and flashing, including around children.
Garthwaite, who is the senior adviser on ending violence against women and girls, said she had also had reports of many similar incidents and held meetings with local residents and the MP for Leeds North West Alex Sobel to discuss antisocial behavior. “A lot of young women have told me they don’t go to Headingley on Saturdays in particular, so they don’t go to the shops, they don’t go to where they live.”
A student said she was so harassed by a group of men that she ended up in traffic to get away from them, while an elderly woman said the men obstructing the streets meant she no longer went to mass in the cathedral on Saturday evenings.
Pubs now refuse the most drunken groups. The Original Oak, one of the biggest pubs on the road, turned away 98 people last Saturday and they were given a radio to alert others further down the road to the worst offenders.
Garthwaite said no one was trying to cancel the Otley Run but more needed to be done to protect residents. “The police have asked for funding to be able to increase patrols. The police are on patrol, but their numbers have been drastically reduced, and if they are called in an emergency they are not there to prevent things from happening,” she said.
A municipal crackdown would be possible because the area is covered by a public space protection order. Although it has not previously been enforced, the council and police have the power to impose fines of up to £1,000 on anyone who causes a public nuisance. Advisors are also looking at a common code of conduct for all bars to allow other customers to report bad behavior.