I've always had a soft spot for Neal's Yard Remedies. I like the lovely smell their shops have. I like the fact that their products actually work on my horrible temperamental skin. And I particularly like it that their sourcing policies take environmental sustainability and equitable trade seriously – certainly a lot more seriously than many of the other premium 'natural' cosmetics brands out there.
Apart from anything else, they were one of the first 6 companies to sell Fairtrade Foundation certified cosmetics when a proper fair trade standard was launched for the sector in 2009, and have been pioneering attempts to bring the benefits of FT and organic premiums to producers even in such hard-to-reach areas as Somalia. The website is a bit disappointingly heavy on pseudo-scientific waffle about detox, anti-aging properties, free radicals etc etc (see the marvellous Bad Science by Ben Goldacre for more on this) but it shouldn't detract too much from basically nice, good quality products.
So when their website told me years ago that Neal's Yard's Manchester branch offered therapies I was quite excited, and rather disappointed to be told that it was an error. So I was pleased to find that, second time round, they had actually included a treatment room on the premises. Spurred on by an about-to-expire voucher, I headed down to John Dalton Street.
The massage I got from Flora Croal confirmed that if you want a fancy all-round experience of saunas and steam rooms etc you head to a spa, but often if what you're after is a really good massage, you head for somewhere with fewer bells & whistles. The treatment room at Neal's Yard is a bit unprepossessing and smacks of a former storeroom behind the shop, with some (admittedly very pretty) wallpaper and a massage couch added. Well, I guess when you're lying face-down having your back worked on you don't really care that much about the surroundings (although I could hear slightly too much of the shop goings-on to relax totally into my surroundings). But certainly no random Buddha heads strewn about the place here.
The massage itself was truly top-notch. There were the usual basic health/requirements questions at the beginning, and then onto the couch. Flora was using Neal's Yard products for the aromatherapy massage including some very nice neroli essential oil (and that of course meant that I got to feel better about the ethics of what was being used on me than if it was more mainstream spa offerings like Decleor, eSpa or Elemis. And, for the record, I wouldn't touch Estee Lauder-owned Aveda with a bargepole). She worked my back and shoulders over brilliantly, finding lumps and bumps quickly and intuitively and kneading and untangling them with fingers, thumbs and elbows. She also responded to some particularly stubborn knots in my back with the suggestion that I could combine a massage with a little bit of acupuncture at the end, which is another therapy she provides, so who knows? Maybe I'll engage with the idea of actually allowing someone to stick a load of needles in me and then lie still. Who knows? The arm and hand massage included some welcome joint manipulations and the whole thing finished up with a firm but gentle scalp and face massage that left me smiling.
Sacrilegious as it may be, Flora delivers a massage which gives the usually all-surpassing Jutika at Bodywise a run for her money. Neal's Yard is slightly more expensive and Bodywise is a slightly nicer environment. But if Jutika's not available sometime when I really need a massage, or I happen to be very much over the Neals Yard side of town, I know where I'm going.
Aromatherapy massage £40, Neal’s Yard Remedies, 29 John Dalton Street, Manchester, M2 6NY, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, Telephone: 0161 835 1713