If London is a place of brusqueness and apathy, then the streets around Clapham Junction were a marked exception on Tuesday afternoon.
Determined to reclaim the city following a night of mindless rioting, people from all over the capital rose early to stock up on brooms, gloves, dustpans and bin liners before heading out to the previous night’s hot spots. Responding to a Twitter campaign run by @Riotcleanup and @artistsmakers, the aim was to support local shopkeepers and help clean up the streets.
Some early birds in Hackney and Camden Town were left with little to do, as councils had efficiently cleared the streets in the early ours of the morning. But the word on Twitter indicated that there was still work to do in Clapham Junction.
A small crowd started gathering outside the station entrance at around lunchtime, armed with their cleaning gear and sporting slogans such as “We Love Clapham” and “Power to the Peaceful”. The gathering slowly grew into a cosmopolitan mix of school kids on summer holiday, posh-looking students, self-employed arty types, skiving office workers, self-appointed community leaders, moms, dads, grandparents and the odd rastafarian.
With the swelling numbers came Twitter-fuelled predictions regarding further riots and some heated arguments about the underlying causes of the previous night’s violence. But the atmosphere remained peaceful throughout, with people getting increasingly excited as it became clear that the police would eventually allow people to pitch in and help clear the streets.
Cheers went up as the fire brigade concluded their investigation of the by then infamous burnt-out party shop on Lavender Hill, whilst workers from Wandsworth Council’s environmental services arrived to co-ordinate the clean-up.
A small group of people were led into a side street, where they were told to wait another 30 minutes to allow shopkeepers to inspect their premises first. People waited patiently as a solemn group of business owners quietly paraded down a deserted, debris-strewn St John’s Road.
The police cordon was finally removed, and people flooded onto the street – many more than was required – leaving the street thoroughly spotless within about half an hour. Eager helpers assisted shopkeepers to clear out and tidy up their shops, whilst others enjoyed the free coffee handed out at Starbucks.
St John’s avenue quickly became the cleanest street in London, without so much as a shard of glass, cigarette butt or piece of chewing gum to be seen. Yet people didn’t leave. The local accessory store erected a sign, saying: “Clapham, you’re amazing” and started playing some upbeat music; people gathered around shops to talk and hang out and a local photographer conducted formal portrait sessions featuring group of people with yellow gloves and giant brooms at her makeshift street studio.
It is rare to see a group of Londoners gather like this, without a specific mission to spend money, sun worship, consume or be entertained. With the cleanup done, people displayed a desire to remain, simply for the sake of remaining; to soak up the atmosphere and to reclaim the streets in a peaceful yet defiant gesture showing that London has a community spirit – if we choose to unleash it.
Tags: Documentary, Events, London, Photojournalism, Photos, Politics, society, Street