Kaye Wiggins reports on the clean-up efforts in Brixton last night
As I left work last night, I quickly checked Twitter for the latest on Brixton. For the first time since Sunday’s violence, the page did not fill up with rumours of riots and stories of trouble. Instead, there was talk about volunteers getting together to clean up the damage. I went along to help out – and to find out why it was happening.
Outside the Ritzy there was a group of around 30 or 40 people brandishing binbags, gloves and brooms. They chattered enthusiastically, sharing stories about where they lived and how shocked they were by the riots across the city and beyond. They grinned and cheered for the press photographer. Before long, I found myself with a glove and a binbag in my hands.
As we set about getting to work, we received some odd looks from passers-by and even police officers. Some teenage girls shouted “well done” to us, but when we said they should join us they giggled and said, “I wouldn’t go that far.”
We soon realised much of the damage had already been cleared up and there was little for the volunteers to do. We settled on clearing some broken glass from the doorway of the Vodafone shop. This rankled a little, since the volunteers weren’t in it to help capitalist giants save money. But we reminded ourselves that removing broken glass was, in any case, a good thing for Brixton.
Once the Vodafone glass was cleared, we scouted around for more work to do. Trouble was, there wasn’t much. We swept some scattered shards of glass from the pavement outside the station, and we tidied the pavement outside KFC. Then we retreated to Windrush Square for a quick gathering before wandering to the Effra Tavern to get to know our new-found neighbours.
Some Twitter users have already observed that this was largely (but by no means exclusively) a young, white, middle class affair. As @lascasartoris points out, we must give huge credit to the local businesses that reopened despite everything, the residents that went to a Monday afternoon meeting to discuss what should be done, and to the council and police for cleaning things up so that there was little for the volunteers to do.
Still, the clean-up tells us something. Plenty of residents, including those that work outside the area and cannot play a part in its everyday life, feel strongly about Brixton. They are willing to give up their evening to do a fairly unglamorous chore because they want to make that point. Well done, folk.