After the riots: Croydon will “never forget”

Sari shop being rebuilt in Croydon

Pic: Sarah Whitehead

The sky-high flames that engulfed London Road and Reeves Corner, from the Croydon arson attacks on the night of August 8, provided some of the most unforgettable scenes of the London riots.

Shops were looted and businesses and homes burnt to ash.

Three months on and the effects in the borough worst hit by the riots remain. An Independent Review Panel has been set up by the council to look into the causes behind the destruction.

Since the riots, free parking and retailer discounts have been put in place to help locals.

On London road, music shop Rock Bottom, that sold instruments and manuscripts for 36 years, is still unrecognisable from looting and fires. They lost 380 guitars during the riots.

Owner Carl Neilson, 60, from Purley, and his 18-year-old son, who suffers from special needs, escaped from back entrance of the shop when it was broken into by around 30 “very young looking” rioters. Rock Bottom suffered £180,000 worth of damage, and help from insurance is “very slow”. He added: “The council has stopped the rates on the place and they gave us £1,000 which has not gone far.”

Some damage, however, was irreversible: “My son was completely traumatised. He will not go into Croydon after dark. We will never forget that Monday.”

In total, 77 homes were lost during the riots. Labour councillor Mike Selva, of Broad Green ward where the most damage occurred, said all the families have now been re-housed.

One such resident was the internationally renowned flautist Carla Rees, whose entire musical collection was destroyed with her flat, as EastLondonLines reported in August. “At the moment I’m living in a rented house, but still paying the mortgage on the flat that was destroyed,” she said.

“I’ve been told to expect it to take 12 to 18 months before a decision is made about what will happen to my flat, so although I’ve got some stability at the moment, the future is much less secure.

“I have received nothing from the council tax. Although they have waived the council tax payments of the flat that doesn’t exist.”

Met figures show that Croydon witnessed the highest number of offences committed. So far, the figure has reached 482.

Neilson said: “I phoned the police three times when the riots hit us but they told me they knew what was going on but they couldn’t help.”

Selva added: “The image of police is badly damaged in the eyes of the public, there is no doubt about it. The public feel that the police failed to protect them during the height of the riots.”

Scotland Yard has not yet responded to the Independent Review Panel.

Maurice Reeves, 94, owner of the Reeves furniture store, watched his family furniture shop of five generations burn to cinders on his wedding anniversary.

He said: “50 per cent of our store burnt down. We’ve only got this site left which we’re trying to make work. A lot of painting and refurbishment is being done as the outside was all burnt.”

For the Reeves family, a wealth of history also went down in flames with their store. “We’re going to put pictures showing the history of Reeves all the way around it so people will get a sense of what has been destroyed.”

At the end of London Road, where locals suffered some of the greatest losses from the riots, community spirit and acts of friendship have begun to rebuild livelihoods. “It is during times like these when you realise how good your neighbours are,” says Vimal Hassan, who lost his five-year family business Cut’n’Stitch Tailor when petrol bombs were thrown into the shop, producing a fire too big for fire services to extinguish.

Mr. Hassan continues his tailoring business in the back room of the Al Waqt electrical store pic: Sarah Whitehead

Hassan was able to resume trading after setting up shop in the back room of the Al Waqt electrical store, owned by close friend Muhammad Yaqoob Baig. “We help each other. When people come in for saris we ask if they want their phone fixed and vice versa,” laughed Baig.

After borrowing sewing machines from friends and receiving £2,000 from The High Street Fund, set up to provide emergency financial help to small businesses directly affected by the riots, Hassan is now able to continue the family business.

“Our customers have been loyal to us and continue to come to us. Yaqoob has been very kind to us,” he said.

“It will take almost three years to restore our building so we are currently looking for somewhere to move. At present we are doing fine and feel very lucky.”

Selva added that while the economic climate is making business more difficult, he is hoping things will turn around.

“It is the family shops that are suffering most as they have built up custom over the years which has now been partially lost through the August events. Hopefully with Christmas coming businesses will pick up.”

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