I hope you don’t mind if I go a little off-topic today (there won’t be a single photo for starters!). I’m back from holidays and have a really lovely shoot to blog about but there have been such momentous events going on over the past few days it seems wrong to ignore it completely.
With the blanket media coverage, I don’t need to go into any detail about what’s been going on – the wanton looting, violence and arson that started in London and then spread like a contagion across the country. Many people – me included – have almost felt like prisoners in their own homes for hours at a time, while senseless rioting and carnage has carried on around them. The damage caused to people and property is despicable. The callousness is frightening.
Having said all that, as I woke up today and nervously switched on the news and social media, the mood seemed a little different. Yes, there were horrible images of the violence that erupted in other cities – most notably Manchester last night – but those clips were interspersed with stories of people coming together, people who’ve said enough is enough and who’ve decided to do something about it. It’s these stories I want to talk about.
As the rioting escalated on Monday night, the Twitter community rallied and began to organise clean up groups to help tidy up their neighbourhoods that were being so horrendously damaged. By Tuesday morning, there were hundreds of people on the streets of London, wielding brushes and marigolds. (In a gloriously English twist, they decided to call themselves the Riot Wombles. Brilliant!)
There was also a call for donations of clothing and household items for families whose houses had been burnt to the ground. London responded as word spread and clothes, bedsheets, toiletries and other useful items started to flood in. I can’t confirm, but I’ve heard that there were more than 30 flats above the Allied Carpets building that was completely gutted by fire. And that’s not counting all the other buildings that were burnt down. (Just as a side note, if you can donate anything then please take them to Apex House 820 Seven Sisters Road,Tottenham.)
There’s also this lovely story about a couple in Camden who made cups of tea for the police officers protecting their street (some of whom had been on duty for over 30 hours).
Or what about we hear it for the staff of a Nottinghill restaurant, who protected customers from looters who broke in with “rolling pins, fry baskets and other dangerous kitchen tools”?
I even saw one call for a “Carrot Mob” on twitter – the public were asked to buy their fruit & veg from Lewisham market in support of the local traders there whose business had suffered.
And let’s not forget the unsung heroes – people who tried to carry on as normal, who went back to work on Tuesday morning and opened up shops and businesses as much as they could, despite having to commute through areas of potential conflict. I know my other half was back at work at 8am on Tuesday morning, and he works off Mare Street where worst of the violence happened in Hackney on Monday night.
Tuesday evening brought stories of groups who took to their streets to protect their neighbourhoods against rioters. In Dalston, Southall, Green Street, Enfield, Eltham – communities took it upon themselves to guard their streets, their families, their businesses, their way of life. There were heroic scenes in Dalston where members of the Turkish community came face to face with rioters and successfully sent them packing. More than 700 Sikhs stood guard on the streets of Southall (some of these men were in their 80s!). I know there are concerns about vigilantism or these groups being hijacked by groups with the aim to cause racial violence but I have as yet to see any evidence of the latter. All I know is communities have mostly felt appreciation for and reassurance by these groups as a result of the police, in some cases, not doing enough.
Irrespective of how the police as a whole dealt with the crisis, I am absolutely grateful for the individual police officers who put themselves on the front line. (I have friends who know policemen who were deployed and received serious head injuries. And for a what? The chance to steal a £2 pair of socks from Primark. That’s so offensively and inherently wrong.) It was so nice to hear reports of members of the public going out of their way, thanking and applauding the police. Yes, I do think the police could have prepared and organised themselves better, but this isn’t necessarily the choice of the individual officer. If you were frustrated by the lack of police power, imagine how frustrating it is for them, standing under a hail of missiles and not being able to do much about it.
Anyways, I just wanted to get that off my chest. I know it might not be the end of the riots but the past few days have already shown the worst of society but the best of it too. Whereas people may not have thought there was much sense of community in London (and other big cities) before, I think they’ve been proved wrong. I’m so proud that London fought back, in it’s own quirky little way sometimes, but fight back we did.
Londoner and proud.