The England Riots: Part 5 – The Warning Signs


The 2011 riots devastated a number of communities around England. News organisations and various forms of social media quickly informed the nation of the unfolding events. However, young people felt that they were all painted with the same brush. People tried to make sense of what was happening themselves, and documented the events. When the damage was done, communities came together to clear the mess away. Once the dust settled, people tried to understand what had happened in an attempt to try and prevent this from happening again.

Believe it or not, some people in the community warned that something like this would happen. Youth leaders in particular warned that cuts in youth services would have a negative impact on young people. I remember reading that the cuts could lead to an increase in crime and gang violence. People were on edge, waiting for something to happen. But I don’t think anyone could have possibly predicted the scale of the riots and how quickly they spread. Some youth leaders said that they weren’t really surprised that the riots took place.

To an extent we were warned that some sort of social unrest would unfold, but these warnings fell on deaf ears.

So the riots have come and gone. Various reports have been published, and a number of recommendations have been made. However, attention has moved away from those events. People have moved on. The euphoria of the Olympics, and now the birth Prince George, has swept all the bad memories away. Other countries are no longer advising their citizens to avoid visiting the UK. We are now looked upon favourably now as a holiday destination. The ‘feel-good’ feeling has taken over – for most people.

The reality for a number of people is that life is still tough. The problems outlined in a number of reports still exist. The recommendations from those reports have simply been set aside to collect dust.

If you listen carefully enough, you can hear that people are warning that the riots could happen again. Not necessarily on the scale that it did two years ago, but something can still kick off, and some believe that this can happen a lot sooner than we think. If social unrest erupts again, this time I really wouldn’t be surprised. We have been warned.

In a recent interview, the ‘Hackney heroine’, Pauline Pearce, said: “People are getting restless. Silent rivers run deep and in the silence you do not know what’s brewing.”

Problems are still definitely simmering under the surface, and those problems can spill over at any moment – all you need is a trigger. Even though it doesn’t feel good to talk about bad experiences, we need to learn our lessons. We can’t allow the memory of the riots to fade away.

I just want to leave you with a story that I covered in 2010. I was writing about a student sit-in at Middlesex University for a local paper and I decided to turn it into a feature for a coursework assignment.

In a tongue-in-cheek kind of way, just from what I saw and heard, I warned that the protests could turn violent. Here’s my article. But little did I really know that it would actually happen.

So what’s my message? Pay attention to the signs.

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