Battersea Buzz: ten days on

Battersea Buzz: Community and improvised flip-charts came together

The riots sometimes seem such a long time ago, and it’s almost tempting to say that things are largely back to normal. Yes, there are a few scars remaining – perhaps most notably the boarded up Party Superstore – but most shops are fully restored and back in business.

But some scars will remain for a while, we will have to wait and see if there’s a long-term effect on trade in the area. It looks like a few stores will not re-open as a result. And the arguments about how those involved are dealt with looks like it will rage for a while yet.

Battersea Buzz, however, looks like it was a success. I’ve said from the start that it really was a means to an end, something to help the community come together and share their ideas. It cannot, therefore, take any credit for anything that happens. But I hope it played a part in what comes next.

And what is coming next?

Well, the Clapham Grand will be hosting a benefit called ‘Up The Junction’ on 8 September, featuring Chris Difford. This will raise money for Victim Support and St Marks.

There is an (unrelated) ‘Up The Junction’ Facebook group discussing a range of ideas to raise money and build the community.

Meanwhile a lot of people are looking at how they can get involved in mentoring – and James Mummery from Future Foundations is helping co-ordinate this.

Some events have already taken place: last Tuesday over 200 runners raised cash with the Clapham Pioneers running club, for example.

I’m sure there’s plenty else going on that I don’t know about (as well as plenty of ideas in their formative stage where we’re continuing to try to put the right people in touch with each other).

Counter-intuitively it seems that the overall effect of the disorder will be to have created a stronger Clapham Junction. The tragedy is that the foundations include so many tales of irreparable loss.

Battersea Buzz

The response after the disorder in Clapham Junction has been amazing. But one thing that is starting to become clear is that there isn’t quite the focal point that last Tuesday’s cleanup had.

On Tuesday it was obvious, the streets needed cleaning. But now it’s less obvious. So people are still itching to ‘do something’ but there are lots of different ideas on what that ‘something’ might be.

Many are suggesting events that will allow the community to come together. Others are suggesting fundraising to help businesses or residents affected back on their feet. Others are suggesting something that will help work with Battersea’s less affluent areas or with local young people.

One of the key roles the council can play in this is as the facilitator and enabler: and thus Battersea Buzz was born.

It’s been done quickly, but we will be hosting a meeting for anyone interested at 7pm, Tuesday 16 August in Clapham Grand (who have generously provided the venue).

The name might not be the best marketing, but we felt the ‘buzz’ represented a lot of the positives:

  • there’s the link to Battersea with the reference to bees (as seen at BAC, the old Battersea Town Hall),
  • it alludes to people coming together talking and sharing a common purpose,
  • most of all it represents the real buzz and excitement in the community in response to Monday night’s trouble.

The purpose is for people to come together, meet, share and have ideas… basically, to see what magic happens.

We’re still finalising the format, but it will be designed so the community remains in the driving seat.

It is open to everyone, but could you please register using the EventBrite site (‘tickets’ are free) so we have an idea of numbers and can get a feel for who is coming. You can also get a ‘not attending’ ticket to register your interest and share any ideas you have or skills you can offer.

Learning from the rioters (and the cleaners)

I am not alone in spending a lot of time thinking, possibly brooding, about the recent disorder, and one of the things that has struck me is that, in many ways, there are things we can learn from the rioters. Just as we can learn from the responses of public agencies and things like #riotcleanup.

That might seem controversial (I’m not aware of anyone praising the looters organisational skills) and to some it might seem offensive. It certainly isn’t meant that way. Instead, it has struck me that just as we can learn from the positive public response and from how the police responded, we can learn from how a huge group of law-breakers formed, seemingly quickly enough to avoid giving enough advance notice to counter them.

Part of my thinking is influenced by recently re-reading a Demos report, Resilient Nation into the role of the public in resilience which I referenced in my speech at our recent Neighbourhood Watch conference and have had a blog post sitting in various states of drafting on exactly the topic of how we work, collectively, in those extreme circumstances like riots.

You could argue there are two case studies here: the rioters and the cleaners. I’d stress I have no inside knowledge other than what is publicly available.

Case study one: the rioters
From what you can gather via the media, it would seem they organised via Blackberry Messenger, nominating a meeting point at which they could congregate and then descend en masse to begin their looting.

It doesn’t seem there was any particular leadership structure, although obviously some people would have more influence than others. Indeed, it might well be that the method of selecting the unfortunate area to suffer was almost democratic, with unpopular suggestions being deleted and popular suggestions being forwarded until they became the dominant proposal (such a model could account for a number of the rumours circulating, as well as creating a few strong contenders until late in the day, meaning the police had to spread resources between them).

However, there was a clear vision of what they were doing: arriving in such numbers that the police would struggle to control them, leaving them able to loot with relative freedom.

Case study two: the cleaners
It is easier to see what happened with the clean-ups, because they organised far more transparently via, predominately, Twitter. Essentially, a number of people had the idea of turning up to help clean up. I was even one of them, and was going through the motions when it became clear that some of the meeting points and times were becoming very popular and gaining a lot of support.

Again, there doesn’t seem to have been any real leadership structure, but again, like any large group some people took on more responsibility, such as setting up the Riot Clean-up website.

And, again, there was a simple, clear and utterly compelling vision of what they were doing: they were going to clean up the mess in their town.

Parallels between the two
There are obvious parallels between the two, but I would argue the simplicity of the vision they both shared was a real strength — it resulted in a distributed leadership model that was incredibly powerful in achieving its aim. It didn’t actually matter that not everyone followed central orders, if they turned up late, or somewhere else, so what? There were plenty of people in the right place at the right time who all knew what they wanted to do.

The lessons are perhaps in how we work with that sort of model. With the cleaners it was easy. They actually had a shared vision with the police, council and businesses — they worked with them and were perfectly willing to respect their decisions. I’m willing to bet a lot more man-hours were spent patiently waiting behind cordons than cleaning, simply because those wanting to help recognised the police’s need to examine the scene took precedence over their will to clean.

But how does one deal with the distributed leadership of the looters? That’s the tricky question, and one I’ll leave for another time.

Some more thanks

I’ve just been into the council’s Community Safety division to thank some of the staff for their response to Monday’s disruption.

It’s all too easy to overlook those that often work unseen, or who you might just think it’s their job. However, I felt it worthwhile publicly noting their work over the past few days which have been anything but their normal job.

They have, for example, been volunteering to take shifts in our CCTV control room so it can work round the clock (it normally closes after peak hours).

They have become the council’s central point of contact for anyone who wants to volunteer (and if you want to add your name to the list you can email

They’ve been hard at work collating and distributing information from many sources to whoever needs it, the council’s civil disorder web pages and the Safer Wandsworth Twitter feed and Facebook page.

There’s even one person in there who has returned from holiday to help out!

I was responsible for Community Safety for five years, and was always proud of what the Wandsworth team did. The past week hasn’t surprised me, because I knew they would rise to the occasion. But hearing about how they all pulled together and went above and beyond their usual duties touched me. Wandsworth is incredibly lucky to have such dedicated staff, and I had to offer them a small bit of publicity they so richly deserve.

And now: shop in Clapham Junction

Persian cooking at Tarragon

Going through Clapham Junction is surreal experience. I went along it early on Tuesday morning and for a large part of it you would be hard pressed to know anything had happened. The council, businesses and some fleet-of-foot glaziers had tidied up so well it was business as normal for most. Even the cordoned off area didn’t seem that bad, largely because the cordon kept you so far from the worst of the damage.

Now you can get to the central Clapham Junction area you can see more of the destruction. This morning it was a mix of boarded up shops, semi-permanent broadcast locations and a bit of traffic congestion caused by ranks of tradesmen’s vans supporting the repairs being carried out.

But the key thing is that Clapham Junction is open for business. Even the boarded up shops are open, serving customers while they wait for new windows.

And this is a key message: Clapham Junction is open, and we should be shopping there.

The response on Tuesday was fabulous and inspiring. But the damage is not just cosmetic; many businesses – especially the independent businesses – will be hurt by Monday’s vandalism and looting.

Many will be having long and difficult discussions with insurers, and many will find that they aren’t covered for riot.

Even those that escaped unscathed will have concerns that cash-flow, still recovering from the recession, will suffer if Clapham Junction’s reputation has suffered.

And, could anyone be blamed for wondering if it’s worth going on when some of the people you serve can suddenly decide they are entitled to come and help themselves to your stock, trashing the place while they are at it?

After the clean-up, the one thing that will really help, is that we all shop local.

That doesn’t mean we all have to spend every penny locally or close our Amazon accounts. But if we all decided to choose a local restaurant instead of heading into town or did our convenience shopping near home in SW11 and not near work in the West End or City. The cumulative difference would be enormous.

I’ve been trying to make my difference over the past few nights. On Tuesday I had a fantastic meal at the relatively new Tarragon. Last night I went along, with some visiting American friends, to the excellent Donna Margherita – one of London’s best pizzas. I’m not sure where tonight’s meal will be, but it’s not like Lavender Hill doesn’t offer plenty of choice.

Of course, that isn’t sustainable. I’m just too old for so many nights out and am already feeling the pace. But from now on whenever I reach for my wallet outside of Battersea I’m going to ask myself a simple question: “Could I buy this in SW11?”

I’d like to challenge everyone to do that too.