Reflections on the London riots

Cathy Corcoran – CEOCathy Corcoran


Cathy CorcoranOn Tuesday 9thAugust, the riots took on a personal note for me.  Although I live less than two miles from the furniture shop which was set alight the night before in Croydon, it was the TV coverage that alerted me, not sight of the flames.

On the Tuesday I was doing some last minute shopping in Sainsbury’s before going on holiday.  Before getting to the checkout, we were all told to leave immediately.  When I asked the security man, he told me that ‘250 thugs have been spotted on their way here to loot and smash up the place’.  Being evacuated from Sainsbury’s at 2pm on a Tuesday afternoon was a surreal experience.  There was nothing surreal about the rising sense of panic trying to get out of the car park with selfish drivers pushing their way out, ahead of anxious parents with small children.

Besides feeling scared and jumpy, I started to get angry; an emotion that was reinforced and strengthened as I watched the news that evening. Friends were calling to check we were all right;   and I described what I felt about the looters and rioters in very colourful language, expressing the profound hope they would soon get their come-uppance. By the way, I never did get my shopping and no-one came near the store.

Being out of TV range for most of my holidays, I was spared most of the post event analysis; the break also gave me the chance to calm down and get what happened into perspective.  Yes there were crimes committed by opportunists and there is absolutely no excuse for putting lives at risk or for destroying someone’s home or livelihood.

A month on, and looking back at some of the media coverage, and catching up with my emails, however, it seems that everyone has an opinion about what happened and why it happened; about the motives of the rioters and how they should be dealt with – with phrases like throwing away the key getting several mentions.

But oh how simple life would be if it were all just about crime and punishment. The homeless young people who call the Centre their home all have different stories to tell about how they came here. Only by listening to their stories, and finding out happened to them in the past and getting them to talk about  -and work towards – what they want for their future are we able to help them overcome the barriers they face.

Coming back to the riots, until we know the right questions to ask, and until we learn to listen to the answers, and make some radical changes about the growing inequalities in our society, retributive justice might make us feel better but it will not prevent what happened from happening again.