It has been a little hard to know whether or not to add to the volume of material that has been written and broadcast etc about the English urban riots of the last week. What can be added to the condemnation and commentary?
But as this blog is meant to be a commentary on retail issues, then it seems that given the pictures of burning and looted shops in a number of high streets and city centres (though not confined totally to these), some words may be required. So let’s leave aside the discussion of criminality and policing – we will all have personal opinions – and think about some of the retail aspects.
High streets are often thought off as at the heart of communities, so when these hearts are so damaged, what does that say about those communities? Well clearly for some the shops represent a target to be attacked and exploited, broken into, burned and looted. Whilst many of the stores attacked were obviously chain retailers, and often selling expensive or saleable products, independents also suffered. But that distinction is not relevant; it was the place that was the target, theft and destruction the outcome. Community; what community?
But the reaction has been more heartening. People have come to defend and to repair these streets, stores and places. There has been a widespread and sympathetic response to those that have lost livelihoods, or in some cases where they lived above the store, their homes and belongings. Stories of the personal investment in place development and the sense of communities trying to say “not here” and “no more” abound. High streets can be the heart of communities and people recognise and value that, especially when they are so damaged or under attack.
So can this spirit be captured and harnessed to bring back life to spaces and places such as the high streets on our screens and in our papers this week? Let us hope. But the damage to confidence and individual retailers is not easily forgotten. The loss of stock, premises, trade, the security of staff, the cost of clean-up, restocking and probably enhanced security and insurance may all weigh heavily on decisions that individuals and individual companies now have to take. At this time, of all times, confidence in the future is in short supply, so as much support as possible needs to be given by as many as possible. Rebuilding high streets economically and socially has to help us all.