On December 15, over 100 children marched from Whitechapel, Tower Hamlets, to Mare Street, Hackney in celebration of Eid-al-Adha, Hanukkah and Christmas and to symbolise a ‘reclaiming’ of the streets for civil society.
The procession was organised by London Citizens, the capital’s largest and most diverse community organisation. It brings together local Mosques, Temples, Churches, Gurdwarahs, Community Groups, School communities, trade union branches and other associations.
The march went past local historical and community landmarks, including the childhood home of Sir Jack Cohen, the founder of Tesco, and the Blind Beggar pub where William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army, used to preach.
Quizzes were given out to the children to fill in as they went round the boroughs. A number of groups also came in costume, including children from St Elizabeth RC Primary School, Hackney, who came as match-girls.
Leaders of all the main local religious and community groups were present and helped to lead the march, including Father Rob Wickham from St John at Hackney church, Senior Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg from the New North London Synagogue and Mr Md Abdul Bari from East London Mosque.
The idea for the procession was originally devised in June purely as a celebration of the three winter festivals of Christianity, Judaism and Islam. However, after the riots in August it also took on the idea of reclaiming the streets for the communities who live in the areas affected.
Neil James, lead organiser of London Citizens said: “We’re here trying to celebrate the role that civil society plays in making London a great city. We think that civil society is based on the institution of civil society – faith, education and community associations have played a critical part in making London what it is.
“The march was planned back in June, but the riots were a call to arms for us – a call to action for civil society. The streets were empty and if anything it was possibly our fault, because we bought the myth that you can leave it to the police and the state to protect us and keep the streets safe and they have a part to play but, frankly, so does civil society. We’re going to Hackney partly because, on August 8 in Mare Street it was a pretty terrible scene, and to say that we are responsible for the streets, we are responsible for the peace of communities and that this should never happen again.”
The marchers stopped as York Hall, Bethnal Green for some hot drinks and lunch, while the children put on presentations showing the history of civil society in the neighbourhood.
The procession finished with a ‘Seasonal Assembly’ at St-John-at-Hackney church, led by the religious leaders who had been at the front of the march.