Moment that mattered: The London riots
“I had been coaching the National Youth Wind Orchestra of Great Britain on the day the riots began. I got back to Croydon around 9pm; at the road junction opposite my flat I saw lots of people standing on the streets, looking down the road towards the centre of town. There was a smashed-up van at the junction outside my building, and the whole area looked like a war zone. I immediately decided it wasn’t safe to stay, but I wanted to go and feed my two cats, Pierre and Dmitri, before I went to find somewhere to stay for the night. On the way into the flat, which I owned, we passed groups of people with handkerchiefs over their faces, who were talking about moving on to another part of town. I assumed the main trouble was over, and any further problems would involve looting and vandalism. It never occurred to me that things could get worse.
I was inside the flat for no more than five minutes; I was due to fly to America the next day, so I assumed I’d be back in the morning to pack. I fed the cats and left, checking into a hotel for the night. I found out that my flat had been burnt down the next morning, when I saw a picture on the internet. There are no words to describe how that felt. I so desperately wanted it not to be true. All I could think about was Pierre and Dmitri, and how terrified they would have been.
“If I were to meet the perpetrators, I’d like them to know what it feels like to lose literally everything, but I’m not sure that would solve anything”
I am a freelance musician and full- time PhD student. I make a modest living and was able to live on a small income because I bought my flat 11 years ago before the house prices skyrocketed. On the morning after the fire, I stood in the side road next to where my flat had been, ash on the ground, wondering what to do. There were no officials on the site who could direct me towards some help.
I lost absolutely everything: my cats, my home, my instruments, my music, my work and my security. Although it was three months ago, that day feels like it was yesterday. The pain and the upset is still raw, and although I’m doing the best I can to get on with my life and find some sort of new normality, there is still so much hurt, which I doubt I’ll ever escape from.
There has been a huge amount to deal with since then, like the admin of insurance claims and claims to the Riot Damages Act and funding schemes, finding somewhere to live and trying to find a way of getting back to work. Still, I consider myself lucky. I have been overwhelmed by the support I’ve received from friends and family. The local music shop set up a fund for me, through which I have been able to use to buy the essential things I need to be able to work again; the messages of support and donations from strangers from all over the world has been one of the most incredible things I have ever experienced. There’s a lot of good out there.
The government pledged that all the losses would be compensated for – I hope they stick by that promise. I hope the victims won’t be forgotten now that the political agenda has moved on. For a while the focus moved to the perpetrators and the sentencing they were receiving, but I hope the plight of the victims will be given continued coverage as we try to get access to the help that was promised to us.
To me, the riots seemed completely pointless. What was gained from killing my cats and destroying my home and my work? If I were to meet the perpetrators, I’d like them to know what it feels like to lose literally everything, but I’m not sure that would solve anything.
I feel that the riots came about as a result of a lack of awareness from government, beginning with discipline in schools and the gradual decline of the education system in this country. Before the riots, I definitely had a sense in Croydon that adults were scared of the younger generation. The police didn’t seem to have much authority and the whole area was becoming more and more scary to live in. People need to be given a sense of pride in the area they live in and a sense of community responsibility for matters to improve.
I have always loved London and lived there since 1995, but I now feel like I need some distance from so many people in order to recover. The buzz of the city has lost its appeal, and although I always want to live within reach of it, I don’t think I could cope with living there any more.
I’ve seen the very best of people in the last few months, and that is unforgettable. This is a huge test, but I feel that in the end I can gain strength and come out of this as a better and stronger person than I was before. I am determined not to let this disaster hold me back.”
You can donate to Carla’s fund at www.justflutes.com/fund-for-carla-rees-page66.html | Her website is www.altoflute.co.uk
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