On Monday, a week after the Woolwich riots, I decided that it was time I saw the aftermath for myself. I also wanted to see the Woolwich Wall (the boards outside the Wetherspoons Pub).
Wellington Street remained closed at the point it meets General Gordon Square, I’m not sure why exactly but I’m assuming it’s to do with controlling access to the Pub whilst the surveyors examine the damage.
The wall has already been the subject of much blogging on 853, and woolwichriots has also aggregated some riot coverage. More recently the wall has attracted some media interest and attention. It will also be the meeting point for a community gathering this Thursday the 18th of August from 7pm.
My overall impression of the wall is that most of the messages on there fall into three main categories: those declaring love for Woolwich and Wetherspoons; those directing dismay and anger towards the rioters; and those reflecting on what it all means. The display of affection for Woolwich is particularly striking, mainly because the place has felt relatively unloved since its grand art deco cinemas and shops went into decline in the mid nineties. For this reason, the Woolwich Wall could be a significant step in getting the place back on track as it prepares to host the Olympics next year.
Apart from the Wetherspoons, other places that were affected by fire include the pile of rubble which now stands where Blue Inc. (and the flat above) used to be. This was the most disturbing sight I encountered, and I’m pleased to say no one was seriously injured in this fire, although the strain of having one’s home or workplace burnt down is still a terrible thing to have to deal with. The adjacent section of Powis Street remains completely closed off, and includes the JD Sports and Nandos opposite, which are boarded up.
Fires also affected several units around the new Wilkinsons supermarket, including Barclays, and The Point, a young peoples’ service, which illustrates the self-destructive nature of the rioting.
As well as burning, the riots also saw quite a bit of looting. I was saddened to see the boarded windows at Birts Jewellers, which must be one of the longest running businesses in Woolwich, having been around for nigh on two centuries. Pasted up outside were signs reading “Closed due to Riots, for peace of mind, items pledged are secure.” What this hopefully means is that Birts will be back. I have a soft spot for the place, partly because it’s so old, but also because when buying some important jewellery a few years ago, and having been put off by the aggressive salespeople at Hatton Garden, I found the staff at Birts to be amongst the warmest shopkeepers I’d ever met. I’ve been back to the place several times since, and hope to do so again very soon.
I didn’t look everywhere, but I believe that Charles Dance Jewellers on Hare Street was also broken into (another very long running local firm), as was another jeweller on Powis St, but not H. Samuel, which was open as normal. Other shops targeted by looters included the banks, bookies, and electrical gadget chains.
Despite all the wanton destruction, the vast majority of shops on Powis Street were open as usual, and the prevailing atmosphere was no less bustling than it has been over the last few years since it began to overcome the decline of the nineties. In terms of atmosphere, Woolwich town centre seems to be coping stoically, even heroically with the aftermath of the unrest, and the Woolwich Wall, and the grass roots organisation behind the meeting this week confirm that there is a healthy determination to continue regenerating the town.