At a recent meeting with Mayor Johnson I was encouraged as I saw for the very first time in his Mayoralty a man consumed by the seriousness of the issue- giving his undivided attention. No jokes, no glib comments, certainly no buffoonery, just the job at hand. I underlined my recommendations to him that BME businesses need to supported and asked him to examine the community schemes - such as family intervention schemes - whose funding is due to run out in autumn with a view to ensuring that valuable work was not lost and that their funding continues.
I was disappointed to hear then, that while doing this good work the Mayor has been indulging in reactionary "quick-fix" arguments in the press, suggesting that Magistrates Courts should be recommending young offenders to Pupil Referral Units (PRUs). I could not agree less with him. PRUs do good work, but it is for headteachers to decide, on the basis of a pupil's record, whether these places would suit them. Courts already have a wide range of options open to them in convicting a young offender - they do not need more. And PRUs are already full to bursting. So unless the Mayor has some source of money for more places in the PRUs or if he has time to write a fresh list of sentencing recommendations for the courts I suggest he keeps his mind on what we actually can do to heal our communities.
It is for this reason I wish he had taken up my offer to come with me to Clarence Rd in Hackney, one of the worst effected areas in the Borough, for a street-reclaiming tea party that had been organised by the rector of Hackney, Fr Rob Wickham and the local community. Apart from a flying visit to leafy Stoke Newington, the Mayor hasn't made it to Hackney yet.
If he had come he would have met Siva Kandiah who has run the Clarence Rd Convenience Store until it was looted and the interior destroyed. Siva's shop is at the heart of Clarence Rd. Its where the neighbours from the nearby estate get their daily shop, its where locals exchange gossip and goings-on. A huge testament to how important Siva and his shop are to the community is the massive fund-raising push his neighbours have started to get his shop back up and running www.helpsiva.com.
He also would have met Pauline Pearce. You've probably seen a video of her posted on YouTube as she told rioters and looters exactly what she thought of them in middle of all the mayhem. Pauline is still up on Clarence Rd speaking to young people about what is going on and hearing the frustrations of young people who were not involved and now feel tarred by the same brush.
He also would have seen a scene of joy as Hackney residents young and old reclaimed their street and celebrated the diverse mix of life that makes up life in this fantastic Borough.
Rather than pronouncing on the state of society in the media it is these people that the Mayor and his party colleagues need to hear from. Before jumping to their reactionary quick fixes they actually need to listen what is going on in these communities from people who are doing the graft and really standing up for their communities.
I left the tea party in Hackney with the words of Siva ringing in my ears: "I believe in Hackney. I believe in this community. I am filled with hope."
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