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London on the brink? It feels like it

I’m writing this from my flat in London. I live on the Bemerton estate, behind King’s Cross station.

It’s classic inner city London: New developments next to 1960’s housing estates.

Middle class professionals in the midst of social housing tenants.

More social housing than new development, but it usually feels fairly safe, despite the obvious lack of wealth.

Last night one local supermarket on Caledonian road was attacked.

Much larger-scale incidents have been taking place in Enfield, Tottenham and Hackney since Saturday.

As I walked through my neighbourhood this evening the tension in the air was almost palpable.

On the way home I saw numerous heavy duty police vehicles headed out to the trouble spots.

Given the relationship on my estate between some local youths and the police, they may be back where I live tonight.

A journalist friend of mine has just been on the BBC talking about how some incidents are being co-ordinated via the Blackberry messenger service and are set to spread tonight.

He’s on Twitter right now, in the thick of the action.

Meanwhile the chair of the inner city youth education charity I am trustee of, Simon Marcus, has just been on Channel Four news talking about how communities can develop their own solutions.

It’s all feeling very close to home for me tonight as a result.

It looks like it will be a long night for the police and many others in London.

The trigger for this was apparently the shooting of a man in Tottenham.

It’s not yet known whether he shot a policeman who was also wounded in the incident a few days ago. Time will out the truth there.

It appears to be spreading tonight to other UK cities now.

What’s worrying about all this is anarchic nature of it all.

A few co-ordinated messages, passed on, and groups of teenagers and others have caused chaos, smashing up shops and looting in their own communities.

Commentators will blame the cuts in public spending meaning closure of youth clubs, combined with lower police numbers and record highs in youth unemployment.

My concern is that this may just be the beginning. We’ve been here before in the UK.

I grew up seeing scenes like this on 1980’s television, which was the last time we had this level of financial austerity.

It took a lot of time, money and effort to bring stability back to inner city communities in London, Liverpool and other cities.

Business can play a role here. By supporting local education and youth groups that make a difference.

I’ve seen first hand, and continue to, just how community projects, when run well, can make a difference in deprived areas.

The Boxing Academy is among the first wave of new, realistically-orientated community projects that really matter.

Unlike some UK charities in the CSR world who like businesses to hand them cash and have vast numbers of dizzy employees, real, lean, pragmatic community projects will need your company’s help in the coming years.

Time to get ‘strategic’ about community funding. Time to look at measurable results. Time to support organisations like the Boxing Academy. Take a look at their website for yourself.

Groups like this are the best chance companies have of making a difference in deprived communities in the coming years of slow growth and massive public spending cuts here in the UK.

2 Comments

  1. I'd imagine that the most important thing would not be charity but for business to get its act together and start acting responsibly.

    Britain has for far too long been happy to accept having huge disparities in opportunity: you have the old gentry, the new business gentry, a small middle class and a huge swath of people who have little to look forward to – ever.

    In factual terms Britain has the 2nd worst social mobility among OECD countries, with only the US worse. In other words, Britian is a laggard among its western European counterparts.

    Instead of tossing a few pennies to charity, it would be better if BusinessBritain took it upon itself to provide a real stake in society for these people.

    That means no more scraping wagies plus redundancies at the bottom. No more cynical tax dodging that robs britiain of the funds needed to create a better society. And no more giant bonuses at the top for doing these socially corrosive things.

    It means having a committment to provide a path for young people to grow and develop and make a fair age.

    After all, dead man or not, nobody goes around looking and rioting if they feel they have something to lose. These people are a sign that scraping by filling shelves at Tesco for peanuts wages isnt all that attractive a life prospect. So giving kids a nicer gentler path to the same outcome wont help. They wont be interested. They need to see that they have a fair and likely chance of something good in life by coming into the system – not just eking out a miserable existence.

    All these people are a clear sympton of the vast gulf that has opened up in british society – and businesses are a major cause of it.

    Ridding britain of Fred Goodwinism would be a massive change that actually draws these people in. Doing the same old things while funding charity or even education is NOT going to help, because it wont fundamentally change the main cause of the problem.

  2. Sorry to keep banging on this but just want to quote from a particularly insightful article on this matter, whoch points out that the root cause is too many people without a stake in society – and IMO its gonna have to be about real change in wealth, income and opportunity. This is not about charity – its about British business fundamentally changing its role and values:

    http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/christina-patterson/christina-patterson-we-cant-deny-that-race-plays-a-part-2334813.html

    "There are 169 gangs in London. There are 22 in Hackney alone. These are people, often people who have grown up on estates where almost nobody works, often without fathers, and often without any qualifications, skills, or ambitions, who feel that the world has let them down. The guns and knives they carry make them feel that there's a tiny corner of the world they can control. …….

    ….It wasn't these children who created the culture that told them that what mattered was the brand of their trainers, or the glitter of their bling. It wasn't these children who created the culture that told them that their one hope of escape was hip hop, or fame. It wasn't these children who created the institutions of a country where all the black workers were in the canteens. We have, as a society, created this monster and, as a society, and like those people heading into the trouble spots with dustpans and brushes, we must pick up the pieces."

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