London communities, brought together with the help of social networking site Twitter, are working to reclaim and repair their streets after looting and rioting across the capital. Hundreds of defiant Londoners gathered — with brooms in hand and a Blitz spirit — to prove that no amount of broken windows can break their spirit.
© Cavan Pawson
The idea of the riot clean-up came to artist Dan Thompson late on Monday night: “I know there are good people out there, so I was just trying to think of the quickest way to make things better. It felt like a powerful statement —this is our city, it belongs to us, we’ll clean it up.”
Thompson was joined by musician Sam Duckworth of “Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly”, who set up the @riotcleanup Twitter account in the early hours of Tuesday morning. It soon had 70,000 followers. Volunteers rang local police stations to check where help was needed, then sent times and locations.
“In Hackney and Camden there were big turnouts but we found the councils had done a great job of clearing the main roads, so we volunteers helped small traders clean up,” said one. “It felt very positive — to say to traders ‘we’re behind you, we’re supporting you’.”
'It is a powerful statement: this is our city - it belongs to us. We will clean it up'
Then clean-up volunteers converged on Clapham, where police welcomed the help but advised heavy gloves against the large amount of dangerous glass. Twitter followers from all over the capital arrived by train at Clapham Junction, carrying brooms. “It’s like Hogwarts,” quipped one Tweet. Shops handed out food and water as the community began to clean.
Brit award-winner Kate Nash spent the morning as team leader for the clean-up in Bethnal Green, where she lives, then moved on to Clapham. “There was a really nice atmosphere,” she says. “Hundreds of people with brooms and bin bags. They just put the last fire out and everyone cheered. Yesterday was about fear but today is about hope.”
Twitter has been blamed for helping incite looting — or at the very least letting looters compare notes on where to go to get a good haul, say volunteers. But now Londoners are showing that it can also bring communities together to reclaim their streets.
“Even if we clean up today and they destroy it again, we’ll just clean up tomorrow,” said Nash. “This is what London is really about, not mindless violence.”