It started as a “broom army” of clean-up volunteers but quickly expanded into a broader movement of donations, cash appeals to rebuild popular businesses and community initiatives.
Provoking comparisons with the wartime Blitz spirit, communities have responded swiftly to this week’s rioting and looting by using impromptu websites and social media to co-ordinate attempts to help the victims of the disturbances.
In Hackney’s Hoxton Square, east London, dozens of bags were sitting on the pavement in one of the donation drives organised through Twitter and Facebook for those left homeless by the riots. Donors of all ages turned up regularly throughout the day, offering everything from lentils and electronic goods to utensils and toys to the volunteers, who included the singer Kate Nash.
Ms Nash said: “We’ve seen all different kinds of people from all different backgrounds. One of my favourites was a little kid who was two and a half years old and he gave away his space monkey pyjamas, which was very sweet.”
Volunteer Sonny Malhotra, a photographer, said: “We’ve got this huge workforce of people able to take their time out and we will do something with it; we just need to know what people need.
“One of the immediate things we have planned is pop-up [temporary] shops for shopkeepers who have lost their premises . . . We don’t want to see lots of people losing jobs to mindless vandalism.”
By Thursday, innovative ideas were spreading around the web as hastily created sites to raise money for individual victims of the rioting received brisk traffic.
One website, KeepAaronCutting.blogspot.com, set up to help 89-year-old Tottenham barber Aaron Biber whose uninsured shop was wrecked, was receiving donations at a rate of about £2,000 an hour. Set up by three interns at BBH, a London advertising agency, by Friday morning it had raised more than £25,000.
An update on the site said Mr Biber was “overwhelmed by the fact that so many people that don’t even know him are helping him”.
A Tumblr page to “do something nice for Ashraf Haziq”, the young Malaysian man who was pickpocketed by rioters as he lay bleeding on the pavement, raised more than £7,000.
Copycat sites soon appeared, with HelpSiva.com raising money to resurrect the business of shopkeeper Siva Kandiah, who had run the Clarence Convenience Store for 11 years before it was ransacked. Another offered to help rebuild Reeves, the Croydon furniture store that was burnt to the ground on Monday.
Even special “anti-riot” tea went on sale at OperationCupofTea.com, prompted by a widely circulated image of Camden residents serving hot drinks to policemen on a riot-shield tray, with proceeds pledged to go to riot victims.
Volunteer cleaners, co-ordinated via Twitter, were also still arriving. In Ealing, one group of teenage girls primed for the clean-up operation, complete with Mrs Mop-style headscarves and brandishing brooms purchased for the occasion, said they had turned out to help restore order. Angela Truss, 17, said: “It’s all such a mess. This sort of thing just doesn’t happen in Ealing. We just want to clean up and get things back to normal again.”
Local councils’ clean-up teams in riot-hit neighbourhoods were helped almost everywhere by willing residents as well as some staff and councillors.
Sir Merrick Cockell, chairman of the Local Government Association, said: “Out of the ashes we are seeing the amazing spirit and solidarity which we know is at the heart of our communities – residents, shop owners, council staff and a myriad of others standing shoulder to shoulder in the clean-up effort.”
Additional reporting by Helen Warrell
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