Fri, September 20, 2013

London rebuilding one year after riots

By THANE BURNETT, QMI Agency


A large fire breaks out in Surrey Street after rioting took place in Croydon, England on August 8, 2011. Riots and looting have broken out all across Greater London and are now spreading across the country following the shooting of Mark Duggan by police in Tottenham, North London on Friday, August 8th, 2011 WENN.COM

LONDON - Before the flame, there was the fire.

Now this city struggles to decide what light it will follow long after the Olympics end.

A year ago this week, London saw riots that burned boroughs and spread like tinder to towns across England.

Looting and arson ruled the streets for days — ignited originally by peaceful protests in Tottenham after police shot a local man, but then fueled by hollow excuses and criminals who saw opportunity in the smoke.

Police recorded an estimated 3,443 crimes across London associated with the riots, along with $312-million in damage and more than 3,000 people arrested.

Not surprising, in the year since, 40% of those taken in during that week, and later released, have been rearrested for new crimes.

There’s no doubt the Games — and Royal Diamond Jubilee just before — put a different face on London from one year ago. Shop fronts have been repainted, the scars of destruction are still around but harder to spot and these Games haven’t seen the kind of protests some feared would return.

For locals like Trevor Reeves, this represents a new beginning.

His House of Reeves furniture shop in the hard-hit London neighbourhood of Croydon became a symbol of the cost of chaos.

In business since 1867, it was burned to the ground in a day.

On Monday here, he unveiled a photo mosaic that wallpapers the outside of his other shop, across the street from where his other one was gutted.

It involves pictures of more than 4000 U.K. children, holding up positive messages.

From his window, Reeves can see the scar of one of the worst days in his family’s long history. But he can also step outside and look at the images on his walls and new projects being unveiled around Croydon, and says it’s more than a temporary façade.

“You could feel it when the Olympic torch came through (Croydon) — such a swing of emotion,” he explains, saying the riots themselves woke many people up.

“I saw grown men crying in my shop,” he recalls of one year ago.

Local officials say new government money has created business opportunity and renewed a sense of pride in the corner of South London.

Before the riots, Reeves said people walked the streets with a defeated and dark edge to them — upset with their lot and the community they called home.

“The mood is now closer to what I remember as a child,” says the 57-year-old shop owner.

“It’s not Utopia,” he notes, adding they’ve had a burglary and repeated vandalism over the past year.

“But things are better. Like your house, you feel better when it’s tidier.” London Mayor Boris Johnson went one step further, saying on the anniversary of the start of the riots Monday, the disaster represented a culture of easy gratification and entitlement, while the Olympics represents a showcase of conservative values.

Children in Britain can now see what effort and commitment brings, he added.

But not everyone is convinced.

A year after his music shop was looted and burned, Carl Nielson worries things could reignite.

“I think at some point it will kick off again,” he told the UK Telegraph. “I see it in the streets with the unemployment rate around here and the kids (who) have no jobs.” A recent poll found one in four young Londoners believe the riots could soon be repeated.

Only a small number would need to believe that, to make it so.

They figure all this goodwill used to welcome the world is about to expire.

London is having its day by hosting the flame.

What they don’t want in the days to follow is a return to the fire.

Thane.burnett@sunmedia.ca

Twitter: @thane.burnett