When we think back on London in the year 2012, where will we cast our minds? Towards the gilded gallantry of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, perhaps. A right regal barge cruising along the Thames, and ...er, Grace Jones giving it stacks with a hula hoop. Or maybe we'll reminisce fondly on the overwhelming spectacle of the Olympics, on what is sure to be a truly unforgettable opening ceremony. We might think back on the sporting achievements of the current generation of athletic talent set to compete in the UK, positive role models such as Jessica Ennis and Tom Daley.
A far cry, then, from the images of the capital which were being beamed around the globe just twelve short months ago - reels of burning buildings, masked looters and criminal damage being enacted; the very worst of the UK, diffused to television sets the world over, as pockets of England's major cities erupted in riots.
Yet the cost to the country's reputation wasn't the only price which had to be paid as a result of this spate of antisocial behaviour,with an estimated £200 million of property damage sustained over the four day period of the riots in August 2011. Conversely, despite the inevitable 'overspend' controversy, the Olympics stand to generate a remarkable £10 billion in revenue for Britain.
So what has changed between now and then? Can we really claim to have addressed the social conditions which prompted these instances of revolt, or have we merely papered over the cracks with the pomp and ceremony ofthe 'London 2012' marketing campaign?
It's evident that the riots have had a massive impact. Much has been written on the topic, commentators, public and politicians clambering to offer explanations for their outbreak. Causes from social inequality to mere opportunism have been suggested and debated as reasons for apparently 'out-of-the-blue' civil unrest.
Yet in the relatively longer term, the government's response has taken the form of a series of mixed messages. The initial response was aharsh crack down on antisocial behaviour, with record numbers of rioters convicted. Yet it seems that in the interim Cameron and his cohorts have been at pains to further squeeze the very generation whose frustration resulted in rioting in the first place. Mightn't this be construed as a seemingly counterproductive move on the part of a government who have, time and again, pledged their dedication to youth issues?
Despite admittedly welcome initiatives such as the Youth Investment Fund, the general consensus among Generation Y is that the coalition is failing to serve their interests - not since Thatcher's eighties has such a cloud of despair hung over our youth, as joblessness, hikes in university fees and trouble in finding housing continue to take their toll.
Thank goodness, then, that in times of crisis such as these, we can turn towards youth-based schemes springing up around the country. These drives form the backbone of our communities, economies - of our society itself. If we can't look towards the coalition to provide support for our youth - and many feel they can't - we must blaze our own trail. As suggested by the community in Salford, one of the communities hit hardest by the riots as they spread from the capital into secondary locations, focusing our efforts on creating new opportunities for youth cannot be underestimated as a means by which to combat antisocial behaviour. Young people, concluded a report by the Riots Communities and Victims Panel, need 'a stake in society'. Even rapper Plan B weighed in on how to resolve the situation: "Find out what kids are good at. It will change their lives".
From Coca Cola's Future Flames program to the work of The Prince's Trust, to London's own Inspire campaign, there now exists a plethora of opportunities designed to do exactly that - change young lives. These opportunities, for driven, passionate young people will act as channels for discovering and harnessing the creativity, imagination and talent which will ultimately be our most valuable assets in digging the UK out of the worst recession it has ever seen.
Foremost among these programs is an incredible initiative for those between the ages of 18-29 dubbed 'The Project', with which I am glad to say I have had the tremendous good fortune to be involved. Through this scheme, Virgin Unite - the charitable arm of Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Group - seeks to offer a hundred young people an insight into the worlds of events, entertainment and media (fields notoriously hard to crack for school leavers and graduates), with the eventual aim of inviting ten finalists to produce their own youth festival in London's Royal Opera House this September.
Thus, thanks to #VMPTheProject and countless similarly innovative enterprises, it is my strongest belief that the enduring message of 2012 will be one of hope. Whether sporting or creative, entrepreneurial or otherwise, a wealth of fantastic opportunities is here for the taking.
Finally, the world has its eyes set on London for all the right reasons, waiting with baited breath and looking forward to seeing the best of what we have to offer. Inspired by the sporting successes of the Olympics, it's up to us to capitalize on the climate of prosperity the year has afforded us, to continue to carry the torch for London and the UK as a whole and ensure that the games, while spectacular in and of themselves, act as a catalyst for the nation's future glories.
Speaking in the direct aftermath of the riots, David Cameron declared, "Teamwork, discipline, duty, decency: these might sound old-fashioned words but they are part of the solution to this very modern problem of alienated, angry young people."
Today, these are the values which we must rely most strongly upon. The economy may not be perennially resilient, but our optimism should be, regardless of politics or background. With any luck, this summer will stand as proof that our generation have replaced the flames which ravaged swathes of our major cities with the burning flames of ambition, entrepreneurship and positivity. We must channel any and all dissatisfaction with circumstances as they are at present not into violence, but an unwavering desire to make the future a brighter one.
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