- Tower Hamlets
Every day as Maurice Reeves drives to work, the last part when he has to walk to his furniture store after parking the car, is a painful experience.
The 81-year-old will never forget last summer when the main House of Reeves shop, which his family founded and had ran for 147 years in Croydon, burnt down during the riots.
Maurice walks a further 100 metres down the road to the sister store to which the business was shifted, “I miss most coming into work, walking across the road to my big store. I know the old footsteps and then I get across to the road and it is not there. There is no door to walk in and it is heart-rending.
“I spent half my life developing the store and it’s just memories now. I don’t like walking across the road anymore,” says Maurice, Chairman and Managing Director of the House of Reeves, which was established by his grandfather.
It is only his hardened spirit that keeps him going. Maurice was just a nine-year-old when the store survived German air raids during World War II. While the Blitz united Londoners, last year’s violent and unexpected riots have left behind great fears and uncertainties.
In April this year Gordon Thompson, the 34-year-old with a history of crime was convicted of the Reeves arson and sentenced to 11 years in jail. But many of the hooligans who attacked the store last year still walk free.
Now, even a chance meeting with any of the suspected rioters is enough to unsettle Maurice: “They are all in the streets. It is in the unknown again”. “Where is the safety?” he asks.
Today, as Maurice and his family struggle to rebuild the business, he realises that his spirit alone would not have been enough without the support of loyal customers and the local community who gave “100 per cent support” he says.
As the Olympics draws to a close the government has been quick to acknowledge the ‘inspirational’ role of Maurice Reeves. The Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg has sent him an invitation to attend the Olympic closing ceremony.
“It came to me as a total surprise. Both me and my wife will be delighted to attend the ceremony,” said Maurice, who was nearly choked with joy.
But not even such sincere support from the community and government can erase the memories of the loss suffered by the Reeves family.
Life is no longer the same, says Maurice. The crackdown that followed the riots has not made life any safer. “In the past year we have been burgled once and twice vandalised,” says Maurice, referring to the new premises.
This is one anniversary no one is celebrating. His memories of growing up in the store that his grandfather built were shattered. On that day, as rioters and looters ran amok, overwhelming the police forces, there were fears, but no one imagined that the destruction would be of this magnitude.
“I don’t think anybody envisaged that the riot would reach this scale in Croydon,” Maurice recalls, “It has changed everybody’s lives.”
But, while the physical loss can be quantified in monetary terms and may even be recovered, Maurice has lost something more precious.
“I lost respect for people. I lost respect for certain parts of the community. I lost respect for the police, politicians and judiciary. They all played a big part. The whole system is corrupt,” says Maurice.
For the authorities, Maurice and others like him have just one message. “We don’t need words – we want actions. You must have a deterrent.”
Last year’s tragedy has brought home an ugly truth that Maurice has had to swallow. “Today’s generation don’t have a sense of anything, no respect or values at all. We have to live in today’s environment,” he says sadly.
But the feeling of bitterness has not stopped the Reeves family from reaching out to the young in the community.
Today, the sister store of House of Reeves, is plastered with four thousand photographs of young people holding positive messages about themselves.
The initiaive called Reverse Riots, which launched in June this year, was set up together with a local volunteering charity called Vinspired. It aims to challenge the negative perceptions of Britain’s youth, which were amplified following last year’s riots.
The online and social media project has given young people the opportunity to show the world what they offer to society, demonstrating that despite the headlines, they can make a positive contribution to their community and country alike.