Changing perspectives on the London riots
By Lizzy Baddeley, on 2 June 2014
Our first ever winner, Dr Hannah Fry, tells us about her experiences running her Focus on the Positive project.
At the time I was working as a research associate at UCL, studying the patterns in the London riots of 2011. During the mathematical analysis, we came across some links which surprised and shocked me, but which I didn’t have an opportunity to investigate as they weren’t the main focus of our academic paper.
As many people who lived in London at the time might have guessed, the people involved came from some of the most deprived neighborhoods of the city – places with the lowest incomes, the worst schools and the poorest living environment, but these were also areas which had been worst hit by disproportionate cuts to their youth services, which had been creating huge issues for the young communities in and around where the riots took place.
In Harringay for example, where the riots began, 8 out of 13 youth centres had been closed down in the months leading up to the riots and one local resident, Chavez Campbell, even predicted that there would be trouble on the streets that summer in an interview with the Guardian just a week before the riots materialised.
I wanted to try and understand a bit more about the human side of the riots and to hear directly from the people that the media had been so quick to demonise in the wake of the events. The prize money from Focus on the Positive gave me the perfect opportunity to explore what had happened from a different perspective and to connect with the communities who had had so much written about them, but so little opportunity to offer their own opinions. It gave me the chance to make a short film that would clearly lay out my findings.
During the research for the film I interviewed charities, youth workers and young people across the capital and I heard stories that shocked, appalled and surprised me – even as a Londoner myself. I came away with a new view of what had happened – to my mind, the riots were not the result of innate criminal instincts lying dormant in certain groups of society but a manifestation of deeper underlying problems in our cities.
I had originally wanted to capture the voices of the young people I had spoken to on film, but it turned out to be much more difficult than I had expected to get people to open up on camera, but I hope that, regardless, the short piece which resulted might offer some insight into another way of looking at things.
Dr Hannah Fry is a lecturer at the UCL Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis where she researchers Complexity Theory.