Reflecting on the riots


This week marks the one-year anniversary of the riots that shook the country following the Tottenham killing of Mark Duggan. They weren’t the first riots Britain has seen, nor will they likely be the last, but the swift escalation came as a shock to many, and opened up old wounds of class, race and generational conflict.

Though familiar to the older generation, these riots were also unique in their own way. The rapid transmission of information, particularly through social media, spread the violence to cities across the country, transcending the Tottenham locality. Others, like Birmingham artist Casey Rain, used the internet to safeguard their communities by crowdsourcing information faster than traditional news media. The sentencing, too, highlighted the changing nature of justice in a digital world – two young men were given four years for a Facebook riot that never actually happened. As the dust settled, we were left with many questions about how to treat a generation of digital discontents.

Amidst the many reactions to the riots, one thing that stood out was a mistrust of young people. The dangerous hoody stereotype reared its ugly head once again, and once again sweeping generalisations took over. One year on, things would appear to be looking up.

For all of their problems, the Olympic Games have successfully brought the nation together in a spirit of celebration. Thousands of young people have stepped forward to work for the Games (including two of our co-creators, Arfah and Suraj). We’re learning to promote what Britain has to be proud of, and hopefully that will include the incredible talents of our teens and young adults. Of course, the Olympics may be the biggest program going on this summer, but it’s by no means the only one…

Leading the way in changing perceptions of youth is vInspired and their brilliant campaign Reverse Riots, which acts as a platform for young people across the country and beyond to share their skills, ideas and positive contributions to society. The government’s National Citizen Service offers thousands of school leavers a summer programme of exciting activities and learning, culminating in a youth-led community project.

Other examples of community work being led by young people can be found at the 2012 Young Advisors Awards, celebrating work done for and by youth. DJ Charlie Dark is changing the notion of a running club with his Run Dem Crew, a dynamic and challenging sports project helping London’s young people achieve more.

These are just a handful of many, many projects and programs helping young people have a positive impact this summer. No one has forgotten the riots, and there are certainly lessons to be learned, but the first crucial steps are to engage youth in responsible relationship to community.

For anyone aged 18-24, you couldn’t get much better than Spark+Mettle’s flagship program, Star Track. We offer six months of free training, mentorship and networking to get you more confident, clued-up and content in aspirations for your career and your life. Applications are open now, so check it out.

Ultimately, what the past year has revealed is the huge problem of young people. We don’t mean the actual people, but that vague, tricky term itself – young people. It describes several million individuals who may or may not have anything in common, and whose diversity should really be emphasized before anything else. Those two words lend themselves to a precarious image in the media.

At Spark+Mettle, we want to listen to young people – all of them – because there is a whole world of ideas out there. Star Track trainees aren’t called ‘co-creators’ for nothing. Perhaps if youth had more of a voice, the riots could have been avoided. Perhaps if we gave them a voice now, future riots can be avoided. In fact, why not several voices? Technology is already changing the way generations interact, so let’s harness that power. The older generations will seed the future, but it’s young people who will be making the decisions – so it only makes sense to start empowerment now. This Sunday is International Youth Day – what will you do to make a difference?

Photo: Bill Dickinson