What happened to the Tottenham streets that I used to call home?
Andrew Grice, who grew up near the scene of the riots, returns with Nick Clegg to hear how the area is recovering
Andrew Grice has been Political Editor of The Independent since 1998. He was previously Political Editor of The Sunday Times, where he worked for 10 years, and he has been a Westminster-based journalist since 1982. His column, Inside Politics, appears in The Independent each Saturday.
Thursday 01 September 2011
Four weeks on, the people of Tottenham still describe their state of "shock" and "bereavement" over the riots which sparked copycat disturbances in English towns and cities.
That was the message that local residents, community leaders and businessmen delivered to Nick Clegg when he visited the north London borough yesterday. Takings in the shops are down 75 per cent, according to local traders. The loss of shops destroyed in the riot, including the blazing Carpetright store which became a symbol of the disorder, make the area less attractive to outsiders. Restaurants say business is sluggish; some regulars will not visit after 7pm in case there is more trouble.
Tottenham already had the highest level of unemployment in London at 13 per cent; now its young people fear that putting their N17 postcode on job applications will hinder them even further after the TV pictures from the blackened High Road flashed round the world.
As it happens, I know the area well too. I spent my first 18 years two miles away, just over the boundary with Edmonton. In those days, Tottenham was seen as the rougher of the two areas. The only looting I got up to was an occasional bottle of pop from the lorries obligingly parked outside the Tizer factory on the Tottenham-Edmonton border at 5pm each day. No CCTV cameras then. Tragically, in recent years a gang culture has been evident in both places and there has been a spate of teenage murders, some the product of gang rivalry.
My mum was a secretary at a Tottenham school and my sister a housing manager for the local authority. As a kid, I went to the epicentre of the riot zone once a fortnight as my dad banked there. Since the age of seven, my spiritual home has been White Hart Lane, the ground of Tottenham Hotspur.
So it felt like going home yesterday as I watched Mr Clegg get a progress report from some of the victims he met when he toured the area two days after the riots. Sometimes politicians are awkward in such meet-the-people events, a celebrity desperate for someone to get them out of here. But the Deputy Prime Minister was relaxed and impressed most of the people he met yesterday. There were complaints about insurance claims and banks but the locals were pleasantly surprised to see him again, fearing the political caravan would move on.
A few doors away from the police station which saw the initial protest over the death of Mark Duggan, Mr Clegg met 15 local people, police and council officials in The Garden House, a Turkish restaurant and bookshop where the terrified owner, Basok Kartal, 25, barricaded herself inside for six hours as the riots raged outside. Boys as young as 10 and 11 tried to break in. They were not local, she explained; she would have recognised them. Many were so young she is sure it was "nothing to do with the cuts; for them, it was like a PlayStation game." They grabbed clothes or goods that they could keep or sell.
Although many horror stories are being relived, there are also tales of hope. When Ms Kartal's restaurant reopened after six days, she was inundated with flowers from well-wishers. Patricia Fisher, 44, whose flat above the Carpetright store was destroyed by the fire, recalled how she escaped death when her fiancé, Garnett Weekes, persuaded her to leave by the front door – even though that meant heading towards the rioters. They are living in a hotel in Finchley. Today strangers come up to her in the street when she returns, asking her how she is and begging her: "Don't leave Tottenham."
The sense of loss among the local people is not merely financial. People are grieving over the damage to the reputation of their area. But they seem a resilient lot, determined to fight back, as the area did after the 1985 Broadwater Farm riots and the murder of PC Keith Blakelock.
Mr Clegg promised he would not forget the people he met on 8 August and would ensure the lessons were learnt. He announced the setting up of the "communities and victims panel" to investigate the causes of the riots. It will be chaired by Darra Singh, chief executive of Jobcentre Plus. "Only by listening to people who have been affected by the riots – the victims – will we ever be able to move on and rebuild for the long term," said Mr Clegg.
David Lammy, the Labour MP for Tottenham, has already invited Mr Clegg back for a third visit. He welcomed the Deputy Prime Minister's commitment but will press for more practical help. "After the New York and Detroit riots, shops were still boarded up years later; we cannot let that happen here," he said.
Riots in brief
Boy, 11, who stole bin had previous arson sentence
An 11-year-old boy stole from a department store during the London's riots just days after he had been sentenced for arson and criminal damage, a court heard yesterday. The boy admitted taking a bin less than a week after being punished for trying to start a fire on a bus. The boy, from Romford, Essex, who cannot be named, was handed an 18-month youth rehabilitation order at Havering magistrates' court in Essex.
Victims panel members announced
Members of the Communities and Victims Panel, which will lead a "grassroots review" of what happened in the riots, have been named. The chief executive of Jobcentre Plus, Darra Singh, will lead the review. He will be joined by Simon Marcus, who founded the London-based Boxing Academy charity, Heather Rabbatts, a former BBC governor, and Maeve Sherlock, a former chief executive of the National Council for One Parent Families.
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