No smoke without fire: how riot stereotypes damage Tottenham

The London suburb of media depiction is totally divorced from reality

Share
Related Topics

Think of an unnamed outer area of London, one you’ve never visited. Chances are the images that will come to mind will be pleasantly suburban: Victorian terraces, the occasional park, a dusting of shops. If you’re less romantic, concrete might feature more heavily. Either way, the image is peaceful, perhaps even dull.

Now add a riot. Burning buses, masked crowds and police clad like stormtroopers. Vivid stuff. In the absence of any other context, it’s sure to supplant any residential idyll.

For Tottenham, the Broadwater Farm riots of 1985 did exactly that. The monstrous beheading of PC Blakelock burned an image into the public imagination that has dogged the area ever since. And just as the area was beginning to feel that it was escaping that legacy, along came last August.

A different suburb

Yet Tottenham on the ground bears almost no resemblance to its portrayals in the media. Far from seething crowds of hoodies, it is remarkable how empty the streets can feel. It has its gritty side, and there are astonishing and undeniable social problems, but it is no feral jungle. Instead, the truth is much closer to the residential vision – mainly Victorian, albeit dilapidated, and a scattering of housing estates.

It is hard to overstate the damage caused by this disconnect between its public image and the reality of life in the area. The social challenges are immense, and the statistics are shocking, but this does not translate into downtown Mogadishu. Go and see for yourself.

This damage comes in several forms. Londoners and tourists are unlikely to visit the area; businesses to relocate there, or developers to invest. And these are important factors: visitors bring money, and money and businesses bring jobs. Developers bring premises and new homes, and new homes – both social and private – are essential in an area where 25 per cent of households are overcrowded.

Almost as bad, many residents have internalized the narrative of Tottenham being destined to stay under the heel. Time and again local job-hunters feel they’d be judged by their postcode, their essential confidence undermined before they’d even sent their application.

Of course, the public image isn’t the only issue here. Visitors come when they feel they have something they want to see, and there is a sore need for more entertainment for visitors and locals alike, particularly in the wake of the closure of the famed Mecca Dance Hall.

Businesses require more ‘soft’ infrastructure too. As unromantic as a local coffee chain may be, more facilities such as these, with chemists, high street banks and the amenities that modern office workers expect have a role in coaxing new employers to Tottenham.

What you can do

Developers need the scent of demand in order to take on the huge financial risks involved with new projects. Scaring away potential tenants not only undermines their willingness to invest, it also drives away the business rates and council tax that can be used to invest in the area.

Tottenham is not perfect. Fluffy exhortations to only look at the positive fail the area in a different way. But so does the propagation of an unfair, dismissive and ultimately intellectually lazy picture. The very act of doing a place down will continue to drag it down. This is a process in which everyone is complicit.

So you can help Tottenham too. Not by donating money (although there are plenty of magnificent local charities worthy of it). Not necessarily by visiting it. But simply by – the next time you join the conversation – thinking twice about the language you use, or the pictures you pick.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Read Next
New rules mean individuals will no longer be allowed to register other people in their household  

A political voice that really needs to be heard

Rebecca Armstrong
If Miliband is PM, it is expected that Cameron will stand down as party leader quickly  

Election 2015: The Ed Miliband I worked with in Downing Street

Nick Rowley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living