Taking back the streets

Community Organising, Contending Modernities, Research l

profile-AngusOn 12th November, we are launching a new report – Taking Back the Streets: Citizens’ responses to the 2011 riots. It will be the first report in our exciting new series on ‘Research for the Local Church’.

Here, Centre Director Angus Ritchie blogs about the significance of the report.

In the summer of 2011, London experienced riots which were quite unprecedented in their scale.  What was new in 2011 was that the police seemed unable to keep order in a significant number of neighbourhoods. Never before had so many Londoners had direct experience of civil disorder; of streets that no longer felt secure.

Policing a population is only ever possible by consent: with the active participation of the community.  The riots highlighted both the fragility of civil society and its vital role in keeping our streets safe.  They led many Londoners to a renewed effort to reclaim their streets as places of safety and community.

Our new report has two parts.

The first asks what the riots revealed about the state of civil society in the summer of 2011.  Much has already been written about the riots, but this report considers their impact from a unique perspective. It contains testimony from, and describes the practical responses of, religious and civic groups involved in community organising.  London Citizens, the capital’s community organising alliance, draws together over 250 churches, mosques, synagogues, schools and unions – the ‘anchor institutions’ in which local people already gather, day by day and week by week.

The second part of the report describes some of the work local people have been doing since the riots to reclaim the streets – building the peace and harmony that can only come when there is justice and mutual respect.  The listening that went on within London Citizens in the immediate aftermath of the riots was motivated by the desire to understand and then to act.  This report describes the action that has been taken, and raises the question of what more can be done, both by local people and by the wider society.

The report draws on around 4000 conversations instigated by Community Organisers in six London boroughs in the immediate aftermath of the riots, as well as the Citizens Inquiry into the Tottenham Riots, which gathered testimony from 700 residents in the area of Haringey where the riots began, in-depth interviews with community organisers in Newham, Wandsworth and Haringey, Tottenham about the work they have done since 2011.

Why does this report matter? Recently, the political narrative around Britain’s poorest communities has acquired a harder edge, and opinion polling suggests that there has been a similar hardening in public attitudes.  The language of ‘scroungers’ and ‘shirkers’ is increasingly deployed to suggest that Britain’s poor are responsible for their condition.

This report speaks of a very different reality.  It describes local citizens of all ages who are actively taking responsibility for their lives and for their neighbourhoods – citizens who recognise that the safety and wellbeing of their streets requires their active involvement.

All too often in political debate, our poorest neighbourhoods are talked about, and not talked with.  Yet the people worst affected by the riots have a vital contribution to make – both to the debate about what the riots meant, and to the actions that will enable their streets to be reclaimed as places of safety and community.

Taking back the Streets will be launched at the Centre’s seminar on Gangs and Street Violence.  Full details here

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