Hope, help and community

by Stella Creasy

Fear is a powerful motivation for action. As I stood on Sunday night with other terrified and angry residents and watched looters turn up and trash Walthamstow I wanted it just to stop. This was our home. Our shops. Our people frightened. Nothing justifies this and ever will.

Since then I have worked with police, outreach workers, residents and the council to try to restore order and calm to our streets– to sweep up the glass, separate internet fact from fiction, account for the welfare of people and try to assess the damage. To channel this fear into something positive. To draw strength from a commitment to the capacity of collective endeavour to restore and replenish rather than demolish and destroy. Because to do otherwise is to give up hope.

Those who label these events indicative of a sickness in the areas where they happened get short shrift in Walthamstow. Only a strong community could put together a pop up canteen for all those helping to keep our community safe. Springing up overnight, with hundreds of volunteers we are providing cakes, tea, hot food and friends for our police and outreach workers. That tells you what we are capable of – not the broken glass outside our local bank.

Following the weekend, young people have played cat and mouse with the authorities in Walthamstow. They are setting fires, taunting officers, frightening residents and damaging local businesses. My community, like many others in the UK, is now dealing the fact that the looters have unravelled the boundaries of socially acceptable behaviour.

Changing this isn’t about shutting down twitter, or handwringing about liberal elites. It is about restoring those boundaries and showing those testing them there are consequences to their behaviour.  That’s why speedy justice and strong sentences are important as a means to illustrate to those rioting and looting- and those who help them- that it isn’t worth it.

It is also about our increased police presence. Our Borough Commander Steve Wisbey and his team have had less sleep than anyone, working round the clock. Only when the calm has held for several days will the emotion of this time dissipate- and so too the rumours driving the tweets, bbms and texts which are fuelling disorder and fear.

Yet it is too easy to see this as solely about criminal acts and mindless thugs. On Sunday night there were agitators who instigated events, exploiting tension and technology to organise criminal activity in a way not seen before. But a strategy that only deals with these people is one which only sees half the story.

We also need to tackle those who followed their lead, the young people excited by the talk of riots in town centres or fires being set. The ones who created the crowds and context that make anti social behaviour possible. Sometimes as bystanders, sometimes simply swept up in the atmosphere, they were not there through anger about their civil rights but because “entertainment” was happening. They didn’t have a burning sense of injustice but a sense of indifference to what alternative choices exist for them- and a growing recognition even these are falling out of reach.

When the madness of this week subsides, we must be clear a socially just society is one which can build bridges of opportunities for every young person and guide them in the right direction or clamp down on those who drift.

At crisis times like this, the people who can lead this activity become indispensible. As the sirens wailed, telling the kids out in Walthamstow they needed to be at a youth centre when they could see riot police marching was pointless. It was the relationships they have built up over time at such centres with the outreach teams that made them stop and think again about joining in.

Many of the outreach organisations who have worked with police on the streets in Walthamstow these past nights to restore calm have lost funding in the last year. Yet this week when the community needed them they showed their value for money. Talk of the big society presumes such people will always magically appear, risking the possibility we don’t see the importance of this work and so will lose them all together. As we look to the future we should be clear about why they make a difference and fund them accordingly.

This isn’t just about social order but also achievement. These relationships don’t just help young people learn right from wrong, but also have support to make the difficult transitions in life- whether from primary to secondary, secondary to college, college to training or university, and on to work. It is a given parenting is important in this process -and so too are these wider relationships. We shouldn’t be afraid to say in our vision of the good society there is family and there is community – and if we value both we have to invest in both. We must also ask more of our young people themselves because if you give responsibility, you get responsibility. Peer mentoring opportunities and leadership skills should be part of not just the curriculum but all services for young people.

Above all we have to make it easier for communities to cooperate not just in times of crisis. It is not enough to hope schools will know how they can help. When asked, they have done so in Walthamstow by using their text message service to reach out to parents and request their assistance keeping track of kids. We should be actively building them and others into networks so that in good times and bad we are working for mutual benefit. This isn’t about more or less state vs more or less social fabric, but how the join between the two helps us achieve more together than we do alone.

The rumours are still flying in Walthamstow, bringing fear and mistrust with them. We need to cement the calm we have reconstructed over the past few days to enable us to move on to rebuilding those relationships of trust.

The choice isn’t between consequences or incentives, it is the mix of both that shapes a good society. We also need the Government not to think that because the bricks have stopped flying their job is done. They need to help us plan not just for six days of calm, but for six months of community nurturing. In these difficult times, I hated being made to leave my patch but I went to parliament to ask the Government to listen to those of us on the ground.

We are doing our bit, now we need them to do theirs and invest in our future. The community I represent needs and deserves nothing less.

Stella Creasy is Labour MP for Walthamstow.

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10 Responses to “Hope, help and community”

  1. Deb Scott says:

    I agree with your statements. ‘We should be actively building them and others into networks… for mutual benefit’. I’d like to know your suggestions of how we should be doing this and your response to the massive range of cuts the council is about to impose which will impact on everyone living and working in Waltham Forest.

  2. AmberStar says:

    Mentoring, setting a good example, giving young people opportunities to be like us…. It’s hardly a solution is it?

    I mean, who are these disaffected youths supposed to emulate? Are the ordinary, law abiding people happy, fulfilled, achieving their potential, building a better future? Or are they stressed, tired all the time & worried about losing their jobs, homes & everything they’ve struggled to achieve?

    When hard work & being good at your job is no protection from private sector down-sizing & out-sourcing & re-structuring & off-shoring or public sector cuts & reforms, what is there for ‘ordinary’ young people to aspire to?

    What can we teach young people about hard-work & community when we, the Uk public, have consistently voted for ‘grab what you can’ governance because no credible alternative has been available?

  3. Steve Small says:

    Dear Stella

    Thank you so much for this article, this is very sensible, balanced and well-thought out. You are a positive force for change.


    Steve Small

  4. Alexis Chase says:

    How do you work with the police? I know the police have nothing but contempt for people like me. I am a responsible, hardworking mother of three sons. My partner and I have been together for twenty years. None of us has been in trouble with police but we have still been treated with utter contempt by them when we have needed their assistance. I am black, I regard my children as black and through experience they identify as black even though once upon a time they thought they could choose given they have a white father. Age and experience has taught them otherwise.

    This started with the shooting and killing of a black suspect in Tottenham. They didn’t have the decency to inform his family. They apparently found out he was dead via the news. The IPCC are now saying they may have mislead the public about his death. Explain how I or any black person or poor person can trust the police. I certainly understand why people in Tottenham don’t trust them – historically they have good reason.

    I am sure that as a white woman MP you will have more luck working with the police. I on the otherhand am cautioning my sons to be extra careful. Not only do they have to be wary of the police they also have to be wary of the EDL a racist organisation now claiming to be defending communities as an excuse to physically attack black and asian men.

  5. Matty says:

    “How do you work with the police?”
    Unfortunately, there is little alternative, we do need a police force don’t we? Police relations with black people are not great and it seems in your case they are terrible but I think that there have been major efforts to make things better. People like Lee Jasper are very critical of the police but he has worked with them to try to improve things. In 2002, one in 33 met police officers were from an ethnic minority, in 2009 one in 11 officers in London was from an ethnic minority. See http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/standard/article-23711916-one-in-10-met-constables-from-ethnic-minority.do

  6. Jenny says:

    The police have a very dfficult job. Uhfortunately their resources are totally inadequate for the work they need to do and this will only get worse in view of the cuts being imposed by this government. The problems of the last week are deep seated and criticising the police will not help. People are questioning why they should ahere to respect and hard work when there is no return and they cannot afford even the basic essentials of life after working hard all week. But remember the looters were not only kids. So called responsible adults were looting as well. Why is very deep seated and no easy answer is available. All we can do is stop and punish such people severly as is being done. That is the only way to stop them.

  7. Terry Wheeler says:

    Last week was like a bushfire- the ingredients were there to be ignited by probably a relatively few hard core gang activists and embers stirred by some criminal elements. But it was more akin to mass oubreak of hysteria that drew into the flames people who are generally impoverished, some from families where since the last Tory government dependancy is the norm, and people of good educational acheivements and perhaps in work who see an uncertain future and yearn for stable and fulfilling lives. We do need to change the context such that community companionship is restored as you advocate and we need as well to recognise the importance of stable employment in building confidence and developing stable relationships. It was a new experience for our Police and they coped- the casualty rate could rasily have been much higher; but 5 deaths are still too many. The response of the legal system does needs to be robust in the circumstances. However we need to remember all the people who caused the worst economic and social uncertainty for 75 years remain largely untouched and we need to be sure that the lessins of 75 years ago are applied- difficult when conservatives are in control everywhere

  8. Ex Walthamstow says:

    My first furious anger has died down and I am able to think more clearly now.
    The children, kids, teenagers, have no places to go to.
    The local libraries are closing down indicating that youth does not deserve to be educated.
    Youth centres are non-existent indicating that the young people are not worth taken care of. They are not ‘worth’ being’ invested’ in.
    There is no will to cater and care for the young.
    And they have no future.
    Only rich kids are able to afford an education. Obviously the ‘thick’ and ‘poor’ are supposed to stay quiet – doing what?- sitting pretty on a park bench? Realising that they will never have a job, or own their flat or ‘afford’ children?
    The anger is tangible.
    Look at the society we have created.
    The new flats built around the Wood Street area are tiny.
    You can”t stay inside, there is nowhere outside to go.

    Where are the cinemas, the swimming pools the sports centre, the threatres, the libraries, the free internet access, the art centres, the community places?
    Local volunteers are giving their all, caring and working incredibly hard for the communities. Their love for an area, its diverse communities and fantastic people saved Walthamstow. – This is the real spirit of this brilliant slice of London.
    But there is only so much a volunteer can do. There needs to be a serious rethink about what has ‘worth’ in our communities and what hasn’t.

    I am still in shock about what I have seen happening to London I loved. I still feel disgust at the mindless violence and the dreadful fire starters. But I read the following sentence and I can’t get it out of my mind:
    “A riot is the language of of the unheard.”
    I find it so hard to listen. My anger is still to hot.
    My love and thanks goes to all the wonderful people of Walthamstow who showed that it can be so easy and beautiful to do good things.
    Thank you.

  9. Shelly Khaled says:

    Stella, your sense of stake hold in our community is an inspiration.
    It is a genuine sense of purpose you have and we will move forward with you leading and championing our community. Thank you for all your commitment and care.


    I find this article very vague, unhelpful in its rhetoric of excuses, skirting central issues and failing to look at the bigger picture. Perhaps try looking at things from an anthropological point of view. Labour has a clear track record of being afraid to discuss certain issues and that is a shame.

    You can throw all the money, leisure centres, libraries, council housing blah blah blah you like at those that rioted. This will only make the problem worse. If trillions of dollars of aid have only worsened the situation in Africa, do you think it will be any different here? If in 1980 when the Zimbabweans were handed a breadbasket of a country but have since turned it into a basket case wasteland- is it any wonder that these same such & similar cultures have failed to do anything of any worth here too? Multiculturalism is a great thing. I love living in a diverse and vibrant community and I’m part of the diversity myself. But its time politicians started picking and choosing a bit more. Contrary to good willed thinking, not all cultures are equal. There are cultures now in this country in too large a number/too unhealthy a quantity, which never have, and never will be able to make net positive contributions to this country.

    In life there are ‘givers’ and there are ‘takers’. We all form part of a larger whole.

    School teachers, law students and Olympic ambassadors had one thing in common, but it wasn’t deprivation. These rioters didn’t spring up from the poorest estates in the truly most deprived areas of this country such as the Northeast or Glasgow. They sprang up in areas that are by and large populated by certain cultures as we can all clearly see from the news footage and photos. Imported cultures that have just imported problems from difficult places. Some of the largest contributions of these taking cultures that I can see on the streets of Walthamstow are knife crime, graffiti, gangs, litter, fighting and fighting dogs. I regularly have to hear aggressive rap music, very foul language & heated arguments when I walk my dog which has been attacked by fighting dogs from these imported cultures. Dare I say anything I might be knifed or hacked with a machete.

    A great example of giving cultures that contribute would be those from Eastern Europe. These are very hard working people, up early I see on the tube at 6-7am in the morning building the Olympics construction site and often the ones doing the hard work pouring the coffees and waiting tables. I look around and its obvious who is missing. These newcomers though have achieved more in several short years than other cultures have in decades and without all the state support, handouts, libraries, leisure centres, council housing etc etc etc.

    What London witnessed was purely cultural phenomenon, a culture of learned helplessness’s and cultures that constantly seek the contributions of the givers with minimal effort on their own part. Until these cultures are ready to help themselves, nothing will ever change. Positive change comes from within. The more doled out, the more helpless they become. This is not an issue of cuts.

    Unfortunately the damage is done and the rot has set in. A points based immigration system such as the Canadian or Australian model (and look at those countries now) could have weeded out many of the takers and bestowed this country with contributors-highly skilled people such as engineers, healthcare workers and business people coupled with hard working tradesmen & labourers who come ready to give having been vetted on language ability, education, work experience & training. Canada & Australia teem with vibrant immigrant communities who have integrated well, worked hard and built successful lives for themselves, but the demographics again are very different…. different cultures, different selection criteria and appropriate numbers have yielded vastly different results.

    I hate to say it but tough sentences, some firm discipline and a large police presence are the only thing now that can keep the peace in inner city London. Otherwise its escape to the countryside or a new life abroad.

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