|A scene from my journey to work - Clapham Junction|
The most bizarre week I can remember since moving to London in 1997, and in some ways even more disconcerting than the bombings of 2005. More than 50 people died in 2005 and nothing in the last week can come even close to that level of human suffering but for most people at the time it was clear that whoever was behind the bombings it was going to be a small group, and the chances of being caught up in it were statistically very small.
Not so last week. We saw waves of people, of all ages but predominantly youths, on the streets and wreaking destruction where they went. We saw looting but also acts of sickening violence characterised by the Asian student beaten in the street and then robbed while he bled, as his assailants pretended to help. I work in Stockwell up the road from Brixton and walked through the devastation on my way to work in the mornings.
|Shepherd's Bush - sheltering behind the shutters|
People got back to the Bush early but found the shops and other places also closing early – and this in the middle of the week in August. Normal it was not.
But then, it didn't actually happen here, and the question I have been wondering about is why.
Despite the efforts of some on social media, and our ever irresponsible local media with their hype and predictions about Westfield, the streets of W12 remained quiet while further up the Uxbridge Road in Ealing they burned and a man was murdered.
My theory, for what it's worth, is that three things happened. First, and most obviously, by Tuesday Shepherd's Bush was fully prepared, even with barriers surrounding Westfield itself. Secondly I think the work that our local police have been doing, which I witnessed for myself one Saturday night, has been paying off. You don't really want to be hurling a rock at someone you've actually got to know as a person, and not just a uniform. But thirdly I think we were saved simply by the fact that we are so fragmented here. If you live on the Edward Woods Estate, for example, you are physically quite a long distance from the next big estate, and the gangs that do exist here – most notably the imaginatively named W12 gang – are not very big. Bad people don't just come from estates - some of the best people live on them - but the fact that they are broken up I think stopped large enough groups forming last week.
|Behind the barricades - Westfield|
And of course there are a whole lot of good people in the Bush, many of whom were on the Green this Saturday at the hugely successful Bush Festival.
But before we heave a sigh of relief consider what all of this does mean. Many of the people we have seen being processed by the all-night courts are clearly people who will now pay a very high price for basically getting caught up and going along with something because they didn't think there would be consequences. Stupid, but not evil. The young girl who was an Olympics Ambassador, the wannabe model and even the teaching assistant from a school. Not hardcore gangsters.
But they did what they did and should be punished. They'll probably get more than they would have done otherwise.
|Pic courtesy of Open Ealing Blog|
The people really paying the price though are the 99% of young people who had nothing to do with it, but are nonetheless getting tarred with the same brush. Many of them have started the 99% Campaign to make exactly that point and are using the website to co-ordinate clear up and other voluntary work for the community.
Some of them, like those in West Ealing pictured above, have been trying not just to clear up the mess but to use the aftermath to build something better. People have met for the first time and new projects - business and social - are growing out of the experiences people have had. Read more on the Open Ealing blog, I've been talking to them in recent days and wonder what we might learn from them in our part of West London.
So spare a thought for them and maybe consider what you can do too. A bunch of us locally have been talking to the Masbro Centre in Shepherd's Bush about going for a tour of that service, which provides help and assistance to young people looking for jobs and to gain experience, as well as a youth club. Sadly the Council has recently slashed their funding, and the local Police are experiencing reductions in numbers too.
Those are political decisions and it's right there should be a debate about that but the reason we are talking to Masbro is to see what we can do as ordinary people who live here. There is always a need for mentors, advisers and others who can share their experiences with young people who might either have gone off the rails already or who are at risk of doing so. I know I almost did when I was growing up and I suspect I'm not the only one among you reading this.
So as the arguments rage around on the news and here locally between politicians, each competing to use more hard-line language, ask yourself what you can do – what could you share? What sort of time commitment would there be? What would it involve?
If you're interested in knowing more email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and let's see if we can make a difference.