This week’s rioting in cities across
England has shocked the nation – but it has also prompted displays of human
nature’s better side.
I have experienced two such displays in the
past two days in my local area, Brixton in south London, where several shops
were looted and a Foot Locker store was set on fire during disturbances on
On Tuesday evening I joined around 30 or 40
other volunteers for ‘Riot Cleanup Brixton’, in which local residents
brandishing brooms, gloves and binbags took to the streets to clean up the
On Wednesday I went to a second event:
residents were meeting up to donate blankets, clothes, baby food and toiletries
to be sent to those in Tottenham made homeless by the riots.
At both events, there was a sense that we
do-gooders were of limited use: the streets were mostly clean by Tuesday
evening, leaving us to sweep glass from the doorway of a Vodafone shop and
remove a few shards from outside the station before retiring to a local pub.
On Wednesday, Haringey Council had
published a statement saying it was “overwhelmed with the generosity of
donations of clothing, food and many other items” and no longer needed more
blankets and clothing, before we made our donations.
Still, the events were gatherings of
well-intentioned locals who were willing to give up their evenings at short
notice to do their bit for others – even if it was more about making a
statement than offering much practical help. Similar events took place across
London, in Liverpool and in Birmingham.
The question now for the voluntary sector
is how to harness this sporadic goodwill that breaks out at times of crisis.
Can these last-minute do-gooders, who turn up in response to Twitter and Facebook
posts alone, be turned into longer-term volunteers who help out regularly at
charities that do the gritty, everyday work that is of real value to those
communities? And if so, how?
Read Kaye Wiggins’ blog for the Brixton Blog on the local clean-up efforts