(Written about our excursion to ARA in February.)

When I was a youngster I’d attend discos in the local church hall. The pews were moved to create a dancefloor. There was a tinny mobile disco and crisps and soft drinks provided. Most of us were too self conscious to dance and the cool kids were all round the back drinking cider.

My first visit to ARA reminded me of those days. It takes place in a church and it had the table of snacks and pop and a sound system less powerful than regular clubbers are used to. But I can’t imagine horror films being projected onto the wall of Kirkland Mission or the playlist being so dark.

There is no publicity for ARA. You have to find out about events in Sacred Trinity church on the fourth Friday of every month for yourself. I discovered it on someone else’s blog and vowed to attend. It took me three months to get around to it.

The church isn’t licenced, so the night is bring a bottle. With beer and Guinness in a clinking back pack we set out, meeting the rest of our gang at Sinclair’s Oyster Bar. Sacred Trinity is over the Irwell, just inside Salford. Crossing the bridge and heading downhill I got that familiar sinking feeling. What if I’d read the map wrong? We rounded a corner and there it was- arched windows flashing and music audible from across the road.

On the door we were told the rules. It’s not the cool kids, but the cancerous smokers who have to hang around behind the building. Services are still held every Sunday, so respect the structure and fittings and tidy up after yourself. Enjoy yourself but don’t spoil it for anyone else. The toilets and a trust driven cloakroom are down a side corridor off the main dancefloor.

There are two dancefloors at ARA, though the second, The Belfry, is more of a dance corridor. Situated behind soundproof glass on the viewing gallery it allows you to look down on the main dancefloor. The music in this lair was too obscure, so we went downstairs, where the playlist is request driven and eclectic. Goth staples like the Cure mixed easily with the Pet Shop Boys and stuff I’d never heard before. At one point I was informed we were listening to very early Faith No More. “Back when they were still called Faith.” I offered, getting a black look in return. As the requests became increasingly niche, and we ran out of beer, we left at one in the morning.

I won’t pretend to be converted to the cult of ARA, but I can see myself going back. It wasn’t as busy as I’d expected, and I couldn’t shake that church disco feeling, but it was different. More groups should try the DIY approach to events and there should be more “alternatives to the alternative”, as the night has been called. Manchester’s already active nightlife could prosper further from the increased diversity.