Sunday, 14 August 2011

Riots & Shepherd's Bush: What did it mean and what can you do?

A scene from my journey to work - Clapham Junction
So what was all that about?

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.

Open Ealing
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 and let's see if we can make a difference.


  1. Totally behind you on this one, Chris. You're bang on the money, as always. The last few days, I've been making a point of walking up to patrolling officers and thanking them for what they are doing.

  2. If the Masbro Centre is to lose some government funding, wouldn't a fund-raising effort be a good idea?

  3. The thing about the riots is that it's not only brought out the worst in London, but it's brought out the best too.

    What doesn't kill you makes you stronger. It's a terrible shame, and a complete travesty, that during the riots five people tragically lost their lives. We shouldn't let them be forgotten, and I am sure that this experience will, in time, improve our city - if not, the nation.

  4. I live in the William Church Estate just off LIme Grove, in one of the two tower blocks - I am a leaseholder. This is a small estate with mixed housing - private, social and housing society. There's the odd gang of youths hanging around - but not the least threateningly - some pissing in the lifts of our block, a reputed soft drug dealer on one floor, etc etc but no basic trouble ever and much friendliness and community spirit. I do wonder if the fact Shepherd's Bush and Hammersmith were unaffected relates to the fact that much social housing in our borough is mixed up with other types - even the sometimes notorious White City Estate is not cut off to the extent that estates in Tottenham and Brixton are - and that there are plenty of places to go and cheap shops to hand. The wonderful ethnic mix doesn't seem to be any kind of problem either. No one group dominates and people show every sign of getting along well. In my block certainly. Youth groups I imagine are hit here as everywhere else. What will happen when our council gets its way and destroys the shepherd's bush end of the Goldhawk Road with its long established small businesses and of course the market itself - a so-called improvement - god knows. The wisdom to hand? If it's not broke don't try and fix it. But they never learn.

  5. thanks for that. from everyone at OPEN

    jack Jones, exhibitions and projects
    0208 579 5558
    113 uxbridge road, W5 5TL

  6. So horrible what happened and so horrible to see it happen to place your growing up in but at least people never gave up and all helped to make things beter