Manchester riots – has the city recovered?

By Jen Lau

The summer riots spread across the country and had a huge impact on Manchester, but are there still remnants of the disturbances, or has the city fully recovered?

On Tuesday 9 August, Manchester city centre was overrun with hooded and masked crowds of people, as the police were met with what they described as “unprecedented levels of violence and criminality.”

As the largest public disorder event in recent history, one of the most shocking incidents that day was the arson attack on fashion retail store, Miss Selfridge, on Market Street.

An image of the blazing shop billowing with flames is etched in the city’s memory after being splashed across the country’s news pages and reports.

The store was forced to close after the damage caused to the building totalled an estimated £400,000, but they managed to recover quickly as the store was repaired and re-opened two months later.

Miss Selfridge shop assistant Rebecca Sanderson, 19, said: “I was very surprised that this was the only place to have got burnt down but in that respect, I think the city did well because I didn’t hear about any other arson attacks.”

From listening to the accounts of businesses who witnessed the events, we get an impression of the organised chaos and anti-social behaviour that surrounded the unrest.

Manager of TJ’s Fast Foods, Amir Zadeh, was working on the night of the riots and he recalled: “There was a lot of talk and tension in Piccadilly Gardens, but most people thought it was hearsay. Then, at about 4:30pm, I started to hear screaming and the voices of panicked people.

“It was like a scene from the film 28 Days Later, with lots of people rushing around and it was frightening to see people breaking into shops and smashing everything around them.

“Manchester seems to have recovered business-wise but people are still scared at night and there are definitely remnants left from the disturbances.”

A source that runs a shop in the city centre said: “Some guys came up to me and told me that they were not going to touch my shop. It was a bit surreal and they even shook my hand, but I don’t know why they decided to leave me alone.

“Every other shop surrounding mine, even those next door, got broken into and completely smashed up.

“But while it was happening there was absolutely no police around whatsoever – it was like an alien nation where everyone was fighting for themselves.”

The idea of the riots being a form of organised crime is certainly a disturbing thought and shows how anti-social behaviour can quickly escalate towards acts of violence.

Another eyewitness source described their surprise at how well-prepared the rioters were and said: “I even heard groups of people talking and deciding on which areas to hit next – it was terrifying when I saw all the chaos around me.

“It was all planned and organised though – I saw leaflets telling people where to go, which shops to hit and what to do if they got caught.”

It seems that rioters managed to stay ahead of the game and were able to anticipate both situations and outcomes as a result of their actions.

This surely indicates that the intelligent planning that was put behind this case of social unrest could occur again in the future.

The clean-up operations that were implemented by volunteers, as soon as the day after the disturbances, proved to have been aided by the assistance of social networking sites.

This was despite accusations of Twitter inciting unrest, although a study funded by the Joint Information Systems Committee found there was no evidence to support this theory.

Professor Rob Procter from the University of Manchester, who led the research team, said: “We found strong evidence that Twitter was a valuable tool for mobilising support for the post-riot clean-up.”

The ‘I Love MCR’ campaign also aimed to repair the damage caused to Manchester’s reputation and to encourage people to visit the city centre.

The grass-roots driven campaign seemed to represent the feeling of the city in response to the incident and gradually became a symbol of the city’s resilience.

The campaign was intended to evoke a strong sense of civic pride among those residing, working and living across the city region.

Marketing Manchester, the Arndale Centre, Manchester City Council and CityCo (Manchester’s city centre management company) quickly started to co-ordinate activity, and develop a strategy, so they could provide a rapid response to the events with an immediate impact.

The branding for the campaign soon appeared all over the city and profits from the sale of I Love MCR t-shirts even went to supporting the charities, Reclaim and Forever Manchester.

Marketing Manchester’s press and PR manager, Trevor Evers, said: “Businesses engaged their support so offers and opportunities poured in to enhance the campaign, allowing for it to naturally grow, develop and evolve for the city’s community.”

The Manchester Arndale Centre also played an integral part in the campaign, as 350 businesses decided to participate.

The I Love MCR Facebook wall and the love wall that was displayed in the Arndale Centre reflected the growing support of the general public in the aftermath of the disturbances.

The Centre has recently reported their best-ever footfall figures for a Saturday, demonstrating that the centre continues to go from strength to strength.

They even predict that they will break their 40 millionth customer record by the end of 2011.

This suggests that Manchester businesses have recovered financially since the riots, with shoppers feeling fully prepared to spend their money this Christmas.

Laura Dyson, Marketing Manager of CityCo found that footfall statistics around the time of the riots showed an obvious dip in the days that followed, but anecdotal evidence points to a quick recovery as most retailers were back to average trading by the weekend.

She added: “The campaign was extremely successful – it tapped into the pride, the business and residential communities feel for Manchester and the identity of the campaign allowed for people to pick up on it and share the message very easily.”

Councillor Pat Karney, city centre spokesman for Manchester City Council, supports this view.

He said: “The I Love MCR campaign saw a tremendous outpouring of Mancunian pride and showed overwhelmingly that the decent majority were not prepared to let the actions of a few mindless yobs deter them.

“It captured the imagination of the public and the business community alike and acted as a focal point which allowed the city to quickly move on and return to business as usual.”

Following the riots, the Greater Manchester Police also held a community event in Manchester City Centre and named it ‘GMP Loves MCR’.

Yet, there still seems to be very mixed opinions about the riots and the possibility of them occurring again.

Music Technology student Jack Berry, works at the I Love MCR stall in the Arndale Centre and believes Manchester has recovered really well since the riots.

“Even young people my age are fully against them and the damage that’s been caused. I don’t believe the riots could happen again – it was a one off thing with an excuse behind it,” said the 19-year old, from Salford.

However shopper Mark Long from Wigan, disagrees and feels that the unrest was not caused by rioting but by calculated criminals.

“I definitely think the riots could happen again, but it would be on a bigger scale this time because organised criminals would get it right and be more involved,” added 52-year-old, Mark.

No matter what lies ahead for the future of Manchester, it is clear that many lessons have been learned from the summer disturbances.

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