Locals sweep into action by fighting back with brooms
Published 10/08/2011 | 05:00
They came armed with brooms and they weren't afraid to use them.
The good people of Clapham Junction in south London assembled outside the station at 9am yesterday determined to right the wrongs of the night before, when they had watched from their homes as youths went marauding through the streets with their spoils: a plasma screen television here, a pair of Nike trainers there.
St John's Road is usually populated with yummy mummies who shop in Waitrose and eat in Recipease, the Jamie Oliver outfit that has hake fillet with Scottish rope-grown mussels on the menu. This part of the world is sometimes referred to as Nappy Valley, but you wouldn't have known that yesterday.
The streets were strewn with broken laptops and odd pairs of high heels from the branch of New Look. Waterstones was untouched. The residents were mobilised by Twitter. By 10am there were about 50 people, but by midday that figure had grown by a couple of hundred.
They were headed by James, a helicopter pilot, and Mike, who worked for the disaster relief team at the Red Cross. He had worked on projects in Pakistan, Chile and Gaza but hadn't expected to be co-ordinating efforts quite so close to his own home. "There are similarities, though," he said. "It's all about pulling the local community together."
And together the community pulled, making cups of tea for one another and handing out doughnuts.
The local Homebase dropped off a shipment of brooms and heavy duty gloves; which must have been a refreshing change given that the previous day teenagers had unsuccessfully been trying to extract crowbars from them. The local vicar, the Rev Paul Perkin, arrived with churchgoers wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the words "God loves Battersea". Surveying the burned shell of Party Superstore, which donated its profits to a children's charity, this hardly seemed to be the case.
Yet there was something undeniably moving about the groups of people who had turned out to applaud the police, a reaction they could scarcely have imagined just a couple of hours previously.
Phillip Beddows, a former councillor in the borough, stood in the middle of the crowd and thanked everyone. "The community should be able to heal itself," he announced, to cheers and claps.
But there was just one problem: the police couldn't let anyone through. The area was, after all, a giant crime zone. And the council was concerned about health and safety. It was almost laughable given the scenes this corner of south-west London had witnessed the night before.
"I cleaned up the mess from the giant HD television that had been smashed on my doorstep," said one resident. "I think we are all capable and competent enough to clear up without hurting ourselves."
The local MP, Jane Ellison, was having none of it and hit the phones. She solved the problem before the cleaners became rioters themselves.
And so it was that, a little after 2pm, 500 people followed the rubbish trucks down St John's Road, clearing broken glass into dustpans and empty shoe boxes into council recycling bags. They helped to pull down the broken shutters of the Orange shop and board up the windows of Debenhams.
Somebody found a printer, still in its box, complete with the name and address of the person who had ordered it. It turned out to be round the corner, and they scuttled off to deliver it to its rightful home.