As Managing Director of a Walthamstow-based social enterprise and a former employee of an award-winning Haringey-based youth media charity, I feel well enough placed to report that I’ve studied the recent panic on our streets and concluded that these events tell us little of interest about either the state of our country or the policies of our government. They also don’t tell us much about social enterprise.
Other than actions of those directly involved, if any one factor is causally responsible for what happened then it’s the unavoidable prevalence of 24 hour news. I think it’s unlikely that rioting would’ve got anywhere near Gloucester without the blanket coverage of what was happening in London and Birmingham. I’m sure someone French will have a series of points to make about this.
While (or if) I’ve got your attention, though, it may be worth grasping the shoehorn of justice to make an implausible suggestion as to how the onset of a nationwide bout of aggressive light-fingeredness clearly confirms the need for one of my company’s products or services. So I’d like to point you in the direction of One in Four – our national magazine by and for people with mental health difficulties. While the evidence so far is only anecdotal, as far as I know reading the magazine has never incited anyone to lift a flat screen TV.
Social enterprise leaders have had their own points to make. Writing on the Guardian website and her own blog, Social Enterprise London chief executive, Allison Ogden-Newton outlines two possible reactions to the rioting: “Maybe there is no sense, maybe all we need are tens of thousands of police on the street, CCTV cameras on every inner city street corner, or do we go a step further and create proper no-go ghettos like Harlem and the Bronx in New York, where access to the poorest black neighbourhoods are announced by burnt out blocks and gapping demolition sites that separate the taxpayers from the great unwashed. Or do we think again, and do whatever has to be done to get people into work.”
She goes on to highlight the potential role for social enterprises in making things better: “Social enterprises such as Livity in Brixton, which has worked with over 1,000 unemployed young people to access jobs in the media, or Catch 22 which turns around the prospects of no-hope kids in Haringey. Recently we have been told that we cannot afford such interventions, but after the last few days and perhaps with what is yet to come, can we afford not to?”
Social Enterprise UK‘s Peter Holbrook also has his say noting that: “We have created in our towns and cities communities of young people that are hopeless – lacking in hope. A generation that believe that they can only command dignity, self value and the respect of their peers by what they are able to wear and consume, a generation that has aspiration but no belief in their abilities to achieve the celebrity lifestyles that are so aggressively marketed to them, represented across our media in magazines, sports pages, advertising, news, film and tv.”
He goes on to suggest that: “A more balanced and plural economy with social enterprise at its heart will not only radically improve the way public services are delivered but could create the opportunities and most importantly, hope. Opportunity, mobility and hope offer the only real solutions to what the recent violence has highlighted – social dysfunction on a grand scale.”
Both are right, in that the changes they suggest would make things better but there’s a danger of setting social enterprise up to fail if we claim that we can deliver a society where people no longer want to nick stuff. We need a more just and sustainable economy because it will lead to a society that’s better for us all to live in but that won’t, in itself, stop people from wanting to smash shop windows.