Camden heading in the right direction a year on from the London Riots

A year ago today (Thursday, August 9) an army of volunteers from across Camden tried to sweep away the trail of debris left by a gang of yobs who had vandalised and looted their way through Chalk Farm and Camden Town.

The scars inflicted on the borough have mostly been repaired.

But addressing the root causes of the violent disorder is not as easy as a new lick of paint or as simple as rounding up the culprits and handing them long prison sentences, argue community leaders who work with children from poor backgrounds.

Paul Perkins, of The Winchester Project, which was built from the rubble of the Old Winchester Arms in Swiss Cottage, knows a thing or two about salvaging wreckage.

He is currently pioneering a project – piloted in Harlem, New York – to take children from “cradle to career”.

“It would be easy to say the riots were a bit of an anomaly but for those of us working in the sector, they were extremely sad but not very surprising,” said Mr Perkins who has been at The Winch for 12 years.

“It’s unlikely that we will have riots again very soon, but the right lessons have not be learnt and, on a national stage at least, it has been a missed opportunity. But I think in Camden we are moving in the right direction and asking the right questions.

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“To a certain extent it has made us take stock and think, ‘Are we doing the right things and are we making a difference?’”

Police have so far made 142 riot related arrests of which 70 people have been convicted.

Harry Potter actor Jamie Waylett, from West Hampstead, was jailed for two years for being part of the masked mob and the heaviest sentence passed saw one youth incarcerated for seven years.

But to Mr Perkins and colleagues in the youth sector, this “heavy-handed” knee-jerk reaction is a sure-fire way of generating crime in the future - sending those already on the wrong path to the “university of crime”.

Foyezur Miah, of the Queen’s Crescent Community Centre in one of the most deprived areas of the borough, claims despite the good youth work, community leaders are constantly battling against cuts to their services and predicts a bleak future ahead.

“With the economy still going down the drain the issues of unemployment among young people is only going to get worse and the effects of that will be felt in three years time,” he said.

“Those cuts will be felt most keenly in the most deprived areas of the community and with reduced community services there will be fewer positive opportunities for them.

“We need to tackle that need or we are going to have another riot or a huge social problem on our hands again and we need to deal with it now before it’s in our face.”