Millions around the world watched on television as young Londoners took to the streets in fury. The shooting of Mark Duggen by police sparked widespread riots during August 2011.
Creative commons (c) Karol England
Businesses were smashed, over 2000 shops were looted and the police were attacked. Insurance claims totaled over £300 million.
Patrick Regan has been working in some of London’s toughest areas for 15 years. His urban youth charity XLP has given hope to teenagers and young people growing up in tough environments.
Early warning signs
I asked him if anyone saw the riots coming.
“There’s a lot of youthworkers who have been working in the city for quite some time saying something like this could happen.
“I was at the Tory Party conference in 2007 saying the problem is escalating and we need to intervene earlier. I don’t think loads of people were surprised. It always takes a trigger and the Mark Duggan case was the trigger.”
After the riots, 4000 people were arrested and around half of those charged. But some of the sentences dished out were controversial. One student with no previous convictions was jailed for 6 months for stealing bottles of water worth £3.50.
When I saw all our communities going up in smoke and the wave of negativity that followed in the media about young people, I was really gutted.
Was this tough justice really fair? “People need to be punished if they’ve committed an offense,” Patrick replies.
“The challenge and the debate is around enforcement vs. intervention. Enforcement only ever gives you short-term solutions. We can see from all the evidence there were 16,000 prior convictions to the people who were sentenced. Reoffending is huge in this country and we have a conveyer belt of putting people away and them coming out again and reoffending.”
The author of No Ceiling To Hope argues the country needs to deal with “root issues” such as gang culture in order to prevent future trouble. He is also critical of the short-term outlook that some have adopted.
“The government really need to invest in measures where they work with people that live in those areas. Because they are the ones that understand it better.”
'We were devastated'
He doesn’t think much at XLP has changed since the riots. And why should it? The charity were already mentoring teenagers, tackling educational failure and battling gang culture.
“We were devastated when it happened because we’d been working in these communities for 15 years. When I saw all our communities going up in smoke and the wave of negativity that followed in the media about young people, I was really gutted. Many of these communities like Peckham have been trying for years to get rid of the image that is associated with it. I actually think places like Peckham are amazing places to live, vibrant, full of incredible people doing some amazing stuff."
In the aftermath of the riots Patrick met everyone from Nick Clegg to Boris Johnson. “Everyone was out and about but we need to be constantly praying for peace and engaging,” he says explaining XLP will hold a service for peace in Peckham one year on from the troubles.
Desmond Tutu & Patrick Regan
Just a few days before our conversation, Desmond Tutu had been to see XLP and the work they are doing in the centre of London.
“He’s an 80 year old man who most of our kids don’t even know of. But he really is a modern day legend. There was one particular kid who said to one of our workers the night before ‘I don’t know why I wake up in the morning’. He had no hope, no aspiration.
“At one point, Desmond Tutu grabbed his hand and said 'you know what you are? You’re a VSP - a Very Special Person'. It was quite a moving thing to watch and it reminded me that despite everything, when you speak worth over someone, it’s amazing the results you get. To the kids he was just an ordinary guy but he spoke worth over this kid and you could tell he was completely and utterly impacted by that. We need to keep that as a distinctive in the church.”
Always an optimist
It isn’t easy for Londoners to be positive in the midst of chaos, but Patrick is an optimist. “I don’t think it’s all doom and gloom,” he says. ‘There’s loads of stuff that’s positive about these communities and the church is brilliantly placed. We last longer than a 5 year political term. We’re in every community across this country.”
“People in church want to do something but often don’t know what to do. I’ve been saying to guys, volunteer, become a mentor, connect with Street Pastors. Do something that involves your time because politicians alone and police alone aren’t going to solve these problems.”
Despite everything, when you speak worth over someone, it’s amazing the results you get.
It’s easy to blame others for the riots. Whether it’s the looters, the lack of police action or even the court system, fingers have been pointed at a variety of individuals. Even Twitter and Blackberry’s messenger system came under fire as teenagers used the mediums to encourage criminality during August last year.
Patrick knows the way forward isn’t as simple as better policing or harsher sentences. He talks about prevention far more than punishment. Placing the emphasis on community action, his message to Christians is simple. Think long term, get stuck in and serve the community.
“We have to take some responsibility ourselves,” he says.
August 3rd, 2012 - Posted & Written by Sam Hailes