Some of the most disturbing images of last August’s riots in England featured retailers and shops. Whether it was the sight of Reeves furniture store in Croydon ablaze, or the independent retailers stunned among the debris of their wrecked stores, the scenes seem worlds apart from those of Olympic jubilation a year on.
I spent most of that week speaking to Cabinet Ministers and officials about what retailers wanted from the police, courts and politicians, as well as communicating advice to members and getting their feedback on the impact of the riots.
The costs were not just measured in physical damage, lost sales or even the trauma suffered by retailers and staff. There was a sense that the decent majority had been overwhelmed and were powerless to resist lawlessness and violence, that communities had broken down.
So a year on, how have retailers and the communities they serve responded? Recent research that we have conducted paints a positive picture. The police - despite continued resourcing issues - appear to have got closer to the community. Communities are more united and retailers are playing an increasingly central role in community life.
“Retailers aren’t passive recipients of policing in their community “
In stark contrast to the fearful lines of riot-armoured officers that appeared powerless to contain rioting on the Monday night of the riots (the night of the Reeves fire and some of the highest profile incidents in Clapham and Hackney), the police now have the confidence of Britain’s local shops to prevent further disturbances. Over half of independent retailers are confident in the police’s ability to respond, and less than a quarter are less confident than a year ago.
Not surprisingly, many independent retailers find it hard to make a judgment on whether their community is more or less safe than a year ago, or more united than a year ago. But there are three times more retailers feeling their community is more united than it was a year ago, and almost twice as many believing their community is safer.
Looking for some of the reasons behind these attitudes, our survey also revealed that retailers are a central part of the reinvigoration of communities. Half have worked with the police in the past year, and two thirds are linking with Police Community Support Officers. A third are getting involved in local partnerships and beat meetings. Local retailers clearly aren’t passive recipients of the policing in their community - they are shaping it through working with the police and other local groups.
Delving further into the data, it’s clear that community engagement goes beyond crime prevention. Perhaps driven by the Jubilee, we have seen record levels of community activity in the past three months: 89% of retailers are engaging in some form of community work, and while the most common activity remains collections for charities, over a third have supported community events, and a similar number have been sponsoring local sports teams or other activity.
There is still more we can do, but the response to the riots has been positive - retailers haven’t given up. Rather the opposite.