As I sat and watched the news last night, aghast at the devastation being wrought, it was the human stories – the ones that the rioters care not one jot about – that really struck home.
As an independent kitchen retailer the news story that really resonated with me was the fire at the ‘House of Reeves’ furniture store in Croydon. It’s owned by two brothers (like us) who are the fifth generation of their family to do business in the area. One minute they were trading and the next their store, their family business and the immediate futures of their 15 employees and all their dependents had gone up in flames.
So embedded in their community had they become after almost 150 years in business that that part of the town, Reeves Corner, was named after their company!
Of course the authorities need to get the situation under control before, inevitably, someone is killed. But once the violence has ceased how will the likes of the Reeves – and other small retailers -recover? In truth, given the difficult economic conditions we all face, the growth of the supermarkets, the Internet and belt-tightening everywhere, many smaller firms won’t find it financially viable to get re-established.
However, for those who are going to try or have no option but to start again, I think the answer is to be found within their local communities. In the aftermath of what’s happened, evidence is emerging that local people are recognising how important their communities – including independent retailers – are to them.
London – and the country’s other big cities – are often thought of as just huge, impersonal metropolises. They’re most certainly not that! Like every town, village and hamlet up and down the country they’re made up of communities of people who are, whatever their circumstances, bound together by the places that they live and work in. Their neighbours and the local shops and businesses – many of which are often meeting places for the elderly, young mums and everybody else living there or just passing through – are integral parts of what a community is.
For me, all retailers – and their customers – whether they’ve been directly affected by the riots or not, have a major part to play in the building of their communities.
As I’ve mentioned in a previous blog (‘Being Truly Local’) we’ve always believed in the importance of local. It’s not just about making an occasional charitable donation or claiming to be ‘local’ just because of where you do business – anybody can claim that. It’s about offering practical help.
Since our creation we’ve recognised, for example, the importance of sourcing as many of the products and services as possible from local suppliers. This helps keep the local economy running, allows local companies to survive, and hopefully prosper, and keeps employees in jobs because more of the money generated isn’t going back to a corporate head office bank account to be spent elsewhere in this country or abroad.
It’s heartening to find that as I write this, two of the current top Twitter trends are ‘#riotcleanup’ and the wonderfully named ‘#riotwombles’! Both feeds are dedicated to bringing local people together to help the clean up process and show the rioters that people value their communities, and more importantly, that community spirit will ultimately prevail.
And it’s this community spirit that needs to be harnessed as the memories of the past few nights fade and are consigned to history. My hope is that long-term benefit will come from the tragedy unfolding currently and that communities will recognise and re-evaluate the important part that local shops play in bringing social cohesion to an area and continue to support them.
I’m not looking for a return to the ‘good old days’ (I was never sure when they were anyway!) But, in the same way that it got its fingers burnt with ‘Hackgate’ a few weeks’ ago because it cosied up too much to the Murdochs, this Government needs to review its relationship with big business and their lobbyists and start considering small business-friendly policies that recognise the important part that local businesses have to play in their communities.
Otherwise, how long before the breakdown of communities will see more regular occurrences of the frightening type experienced over the past few days?