Party Superstore: Just how Golfrate likes it.

Steve Jobs once expressed frustration that Barack Obama focused on the reasons why things can’t get done instead of just doing them. Part of the problem may be that he doesn’t have as much power as people think. And this is true of all politicians; right down to the humble councillor.

The idea that there is a political class with huge executive power is a myth. The best politicians realise that, and lead by persuasion, they have a vision and invite – hopefully successfully – people to join them in making it a reality. Wandsworth can clean the streets, but we need successful businesses and people to shop there to make a vibrant town centre; we also need successful businesses and happy shoppers.

Which is why, ultimately, politics is mostly about frustration. You often won’t succeed; there will be a snag, people disagree, time runs out. You accept it, learn the lessons and move on, because you know when it does work out the hard work and failures are worth it.

And rarely do you talk about it. Perhaps because politicians don’t like failure. Perhaps because discretion is sometimes the better path.

Then sometimes you are, frankly, so pissed off by something that you want to point fingers.

And this is one of those times.

The Party Superstore on Lavender Hill is a highly visible reminder of last year’s riots. A scar on Clapham Junction that, because of the scale of damage done, will take a long time to heal.

But we wanted to put a plaster on it. Something to make the area look a bit nicer. The idea was some artwork, a backdrop of lavender, with butterflies drawn by local children.

Twee, perhaps, but a lot nicer than the currently boarding.

The council was keen, and would fund it. A local business was going to provide the artwork and materials. The Party Shop owner, Duncan Mundell, was enthusiastic every step of the way.

Sadly, Golfrate, the building owner, was not so keen. They said no.

This was a bit surprising, since it would be at no cost to them. And would make their property a little more attractive while it was repaired. And since they’d initially proposed a large advertising hoarding they can hardly oppose a display on the shop frontage.

Those less charitable than I might wonder if the council’s rejection of their massive advertising hoarding and their rejection of the artwork are related. There is an appealing simplicity in that conclusion but I have no idea how true it might be.

What I do know is that this appears to have become another example of where the council tried to bring people together to make something positive happen, but just couldn’t quite get everyone to agree. It’s sad that Golfrate, for whatever reason, couldn’t bring themselves to let other people pay to make their property a little nicer, but that is their decision.

Golfrate have every right to say no, and we have to respect that right. But I certainly don’t respect the decision.

The other thing happening in Clapham Junction this weekend apart from my surgery (well, tonight) is the finale of Offret, the EU funded ‘process-based, community-focused project’ that I commented on last month.

Apparently it is

the culmination of the project will be an artistic intervention on the building that has been affected by arson, a video-collage of the different visions, as a collective memory to be projected in the night of 11/11/11.

Considering the complexity of the events, the aim is to gather multiple perspectives: from the affected community, business owners, rioters, their families, police officers.

The project hopes to provide a communal experience for participants, local community, festival visitors and general public. It will discuss the self-determination of society and its capacity to regenerate itself. By bringing people together for discussing an unwanted act of violence we hope to empower and inspire people into believing that they can also shape the future of their cities and society.

I’m still nervous about exactly what they will be projecting onto the Party Superstore, but also a little curious about how it will work.

The projection is from 6pm until 8pm tonight, at Clapham Junction and online.

* A prize for the first person to correctly identify the reference in the title. Judge’s decision is final. Terms and conditions apply.

I’m a self-confessed Philistine, and while I leave it to others to decide how honest I am about my Philistinism, I don’t think anyone would imagine I would have willingly chosen to spend last Friday evening at a “process-based, community-focused project that will be part of the Exchange Radical Moments! Live Art Festival.” But that’s what I did.

It actually provided an interesting contrast with my Saturday morning which saw me visiting the newly re-opened Party Superstore, to which I shall return.

I’ll confess my reasons for attending the workshop were not entirely positive. Instead they were motivated by concern (shared with several others from the area) that the project was also planning a video projection of images from the riots on the Party Superstore. The artistic merit of this can be debated, however, I was not alone in thinking it would be a fairly awful idea in an area that needs its confidence building – not reminding of a fairly horrific night for residents and businesses alike.

I have remarked on the strange dilation of time since the looting, which took place just two months and an age ago. While I’m one of those existing in a bubble, looking at how the council responds and discussing the Kinghan report, most people have moved on. And such was the case last Friday; those attending to express concern at the video projection outnumbering the four or five who attended for other reasons (what was particularly interesting was that only one of those, I think, was actually from Clapham Junction).

A lot of the discussion was inevitably about blame: MPs’ expenses, phone-hacking, government and council policy, war in Afghanistan and Iraq, even “men” – half the population – were hauled before the artistic court for judgement to be passed.

My blood pressure only just remained below fatal levels.

Afterwards I reflected on the five stages of grief. I remember denial on 8 August. I remember very real anger on the 9 and 10 August. I would like to think I’ve moved to acceptance, as have most of the people in the area. This doesn’t mean it’s forgotten or ignored, but that it’s time to move on, look at how we complete the recovery and, ideally, the area is left even better than it was on 7 August.

Yes, we still have lessons to learn, the police and justice processes are still rolling, but generally we are focussed on the future, not a snapshot from the past. I’m not sure we can still do that when we are seeking to excuse looting by blaming the actions of politicians or journalists. And I’m not sure what drives people to travel to raise these issues.

Instead we could focus on the positives, which seem to come to light on an almost daily basis (indeed, only last Friday I heard about plans for a local ‘apprenticeship’ scheme being developed).

But what better symbol of what the future holds is there than the Party Superstore: now open on the third floor of Debenhams and the old Dub Vendor. An incredibly positive symbol of a community that works, because without Debenhams goodwill the Party Superstore would not have returned for a long time – achieved without European funding and something I know will benefit Clapham Junction far more than any video projection!