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

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

Recruitment Genius: UI / UX Designer

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This firm are focussed on assis...

Recruitment Genius: General Processor

£7 per hour: Recruitment Genius: A vacancy has arisen for a General Processor ...

Recruitment Genius: Outbound Sales Executive - B2B

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A great opportunity has arisen ...

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Associate

£14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Full time and Part time positio...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: Our representatives must represent us

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
MP David Lammy would become the capital’s first black mayor if he won the 2016 Mayoral election  

Crime, punishment and morals: we’re entering a maze with no clear exit

Simon Kelner
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot