Forget pints in the pub, these four Romford dads prefer spending their Friday nights hunting down spirits in Havering’s most-haunted buildings.
Paranormal Essex, made up of four lifelong friends, live stream their séances on Facebook on Fridays, and since May have amassed views of up to 10,000 per video. After such a sudden success, they are now in the early stages of providing material for a well-known streaming service.
The lockdown was instrumental in making the ghost hunts so popular, says main presenter Adam Waughman, with all non-essential shops and facilities closed and people at a loss with what to do with their Friday nights. But Adam, 30, says it’s something he has been drawn to for a long time.
After losing his dad last year, as well as one of his best friends as a teenager, Adam was keen to explore the possibility of reconnecting with them.
He explains: “I wanted to prove to myself that my dad is still out there somewhere and that I’m going to meet him there again another day, because he was so young and we were best mates. That and the fact that I love old buildings. I love the smell of them.”
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For the group’s medium, Rob French, 29, his connection with the paranormal beyond goes as far back as his folks can remember. He is a descendant of a family of Travellers, both Romany and Irish, and clairvoyance is the family trade.
He says the sixth sense was passed down through generations of females in the family, and that he is the first male and the first of his 21 siblings – most of whom live in Ireland – to have inherited it.
“My great nan gave my mum her [tarot] cards and taught her, because you have to be gifted them – you can’t buy them – for it to work,” he explains.
“I started seeing things when I was about six – old women who weren’t there and dead family members. I used to have stuff moving around my room and I’d do the Ouija board by myself and stuff would be flying around.
“Since doing [Paranormal Essex], I’ve learnt how to protect myself and to shut off to it. Now when I’m at home, nothing happens.”
The team visits a new site every Friday, either places they know to be haunted or those recommended by locals – Pluckley village in Kent, Manningtree in Colchester, St John’s Church in Havering-atte-Bower. Most are in Havering, Essex and Kent.
On their first expedition, to Cash’s Well in Basildon, Rob said: “We caught a little kid [ghost] on camera. I had someone going through my pockets. We had a full conversation with the geezer who owned the well.”
I was also shown photographs of smoky figures from various trips to ruined castles and cellars.
So it was with not a little trepidation that The Recorder accompanied Paranormal Essex to a séance in Breton’s Manor, Rainham, setting up in a room that was fabled to be visited by the spirit of a First World War soldier’s wife whose husband had been killed and for whom she was still pining.
Adam put a device in the middle of the table. It races through all the radio frequencies at once and then transmits through a speaker (the “black box”). According to the team, the spirits navigate the airwaves to communicate with the living.
They also placed a little plastic ball that lights up with movement in the middle of the table.
After Adam had the Facebook stream going and greeted all their viewers, everyone spread their hands out on the table, joining pinky fingers to make a circle and Adam began calling out to the spirits.
It must have been a quiet night in the spirit world, however, for not one came to talk to us and no one had their pockets rifled.
My religious cousin, whom I had brought along with me, put it down to the fact that she had said a strong prayer beforehand and there was no way that any ghost could break through its spell. However, the ghosthunters admit that sometimes “the vibe isn’t right” and there have been other occasions where not a wisp of a phantom has appeared.
So how do they keep their Facebook viewers happy, coming back for more each week?
“I think it’s us,” says Adam. “We banter between each other. While we’re serious about the spirit-hunting, people have said that they’re hooked because we’re funny and it’s entertaining.”
Rob adds: “Some of the other groups in the area that do this have got much better equipment than us, but it’s all a bit too serious. They don’t have charisma and people fall asleep.”
Other team members Ryan French (Rob’s brother) and James Hayes chip in: “Also, other groups do fake things and people can recognise that. We do have times when there really is nothing and that’s why, when something does happen our viewers know it’s authentic.”
The weekly streamings have brought the friends, who are landscape gardeners by day, a bit of fame in the Romford area, with their green transit “ghostmobile” van often being recognised from the videos.
They are hoping that if things go well with the streaming service, they will be able to upgrade their equipment with state-of-the-art ghost hunting technology.
In the meantime, though, Paranormal Essex is planning various events to support the living community. For Halloween, they will be holding a children’s fair at Breton’s Manor, which is a community centre, to raise funds to prevent the building being converted into flats.