Riotcleanup, Two Years On – A Learning Revolution for the Future

The above was posted on 6th August by @heardinlondon.

Mark Duggan

Mark was shot and killed by police on 4th August 2011.

120 people, including his friends and family, marched from the Broadwater Farm Estate to Tottenham Police Station two days later to protest. It was a peaceful protest but sparked riots later that night that then spread across parts of the UK.


I created a hashtag, #riotcleanup the evening of 8th and went to Clapham Junction the next day as part of a response to the escalating riots. This response was very quickly put together by a mass of people. It seemed like the most positive thing to do at the time. Here were buildings that had been attacked and shops that were smashed up with their contents missing. There were the people doing it, running free through the streets with televisions on their backs. And the rest of the world thought the UK was in the midst of a civil war. Or at least, that’s how the 24-hour news channels made it seem.

After #riotcleanup

In the days, weeks, months and years that have followed #riotcleanup I’ve met lot’s of amazing people and learned many things. I took some volunteers from a large company to Hackney to dig an allotment on an estate. I put forward the idea for…

#Wewillgather, getting people together to do good things

…which, with a team of people, was transformed into – the idea being that it enables people to set up short-term community-helping projects. It exists to ‘get people together to do good things’ – guerilla volunteering as it were. The concept got funding by the Cabinet Office through Nesta, who are quite simply amazing. They are encouraging fantastically innovative projects all the time, so if you have one, go check them out.

#Wewillgather was built with Twitter at its heart and is pretty much entirely open source. Developers out can go and access the code on the site now.

I also sat in a meeting in Hackney with the Riots Communities and Victims Panel, chaired by Darra Singh.

Simon Marcus, Heather Rabbatts and Baroness Maeve Sherlock were on the panel too. Themes discussed included a loss of faith in the police, youth unemployment and a lack of opportunity, perceived or otherwise, in certain communities. The report that followed the series of meetings is very interesting reading.

The Riots Communities and Victims Panel Final Report

The panel felt the riots were triggered by the police handling of Mark Duggan’s death, particularly how the police communicated with his family. It was the spark, but not the cause. There were multiple causes, which include a failure of the education system, a failure on the part of public services and a failure to create and promote apprenticeships and work opportunities for young people. The panel argued that character building should be as important as academic achievement at school and that ‘themes of mutual respect, confidence building and dealing with setbacks’ should be taught.

How should we continue to respond to the causes that led to the riots?

As I said, I’ve met a lot of people in the past couple of years. Some of those people are pioneering solutions to the problems we face. I’ve listed a few below.

Young Rewired State and the Learning Revolution

The lovely Patrick Socha, who built the initial #riotcleanup website was 16 years old at the time. I was so impressed by this that I went and met some of the young people who are going above and beyond what they are taught in I.T lessons at school. Emma Mulqueeny runs Rewired State and Young Rewired State. Young Rewired State gives young people who are good at coding the chance to attend hack days. Data for these hack days is supplied by all sorts of top organisations. I believe more and more young people will be able to build and develop cool stuff online in the future. This will allow young people not only the chance to work with big companies, but to create their own digital businesses. They might be able to lead the way when it comes to self-organised learning and perhaps create ways young people can learn in a digital environment. Think (more) lessons via YouTube.

Charles Leadbeater and Ken Robinson talk passionately about revolutionising learning over on TED Talks.

Participle: redesigning public services

Following what I’d learned about how we pretty much need to overhaul the key elements that make our society work (no pressure) I applied for a job at Participle and went to an interview. Participle is a company that employs a team of designers to work on re-designing our public services. Charles Leadbeater is on their panel. I’m not going to lie, I felt I was too small a person to be able to take on what was an important role in an organisation I’d only just encountered. Plus I am actually a writer, so it would be a bit of a career change. But I did get an interview, and they were very nice.

‘Those that didn’t riot had something to lose – family respect, a job, education. Local public services are not spending enough time creating and promoting opportunities for individuals to volunteer to help their communities.’ – Riots Panel report.


At Social Media Week a while ago, someone mentioned a book that led me to discover Ushahidi. Ushahidi amass data and create crowd maps online. This data has helped many people in disaster situations. And not everyone has to have access to the internet, mobile phones are just as important.  

I think where #wewillgather was built around the premise that social media can be used to gather people, the future will see mobile phones and the internet being used in harmony more and more. Allowing data to be pulled from the multitudes of technological devices we have, however rudimentary, and put in one place.

Volunteering, online and off

Just imagine, a future where we use Google Hangouts to mentor young people.  

CSV has a series of mentoring schemes at present. These include ementoring, but could do with a push. I know there are quite a few of us working online that could volunteer blog, website and social media tuition for a start.

There is a quote in the report which also pointed out that, ‘the riots highlighted how far behind many public services are around widely used methods of modern communication, such as social media.’ There are a whole load of young people they could be employing to sort that out.

When I took that team of people to Hackney, I learned a lot about employers providing days off that employees can use to volunteer. True, the team weren’t exactly supposed to be guerilla volunteering with me, they were supposed to be spending money volunteering with some big charity as per the rules. But why?

To all UK Businesses – Quite simply – Germany runs highly successful apprenticeship schemes. Why don’t you?

In conclusion…

David Cameron wanted to shut down Twitter during the riots because he thought social media was being used by rioters. #Riotcleanup was one of the things Twitter were able to cite to defend social media. It proved social media can be used to connect people with a collectively good aim.

Also kudos to Twitter, who have been involved in helping the police force to use the service. The police were able to use social media to engage with communities and reassure people during the riots.

So, there is a long, long way to go but I believe that everyone has a skill.

We need to revolutionise education to celebrate creativity. (I say this from experience).

We need to re-design public services and get them on the same page.

We need to encourage people to volunteer in ways that suit them, even if that is volunteering from their desk.

We need to make young people feel like they are enough. We should all feel we are enough.

Each of us has a skill to contribute toward creating a better future for all of us.

To end, here is an inspiring speech that @heardinlondon gave recently.

Sophie Collard on Google+

#riotcleanup goes to Hackney

So this has been a really long time coming, and for that I apologise. Post riots the non-organisation #riotcleanup, which had been started by everyone (yes you too) was at a crossroads: what next? You can read a bit about that on Abigail King’s blog. But this is about the first in a series of clean-up-related adventures. I was contacted by a bloke called Chris whose team had a day off to do some volunteering. They quite fancied helping the clean-up effort. Chris asked if there might be something they could do. So I contacted Ian Rathbone, the councillor for Hackney, and asked if there were any spaces that needed transforming. He thought for a bit then suggested an allotment on an estate. So we exchanged details and not long after there we all were, spreading a pile of steaming stuff all over Dot and John’s lovely allotment. See how it went for yourself:

#riotcleanup Clapham Junction

Watching the 8th August news was upsetting. It seemed everything was falling apart, an urban version of Lord of the Flies with Curry’s and various mobile phone outlets at its epicentre. A journalist and I briefly mulled over the idea of mobilisation. I said I thought #riotcleanup would be a good hashtag to use on Twitter, and tweeted as much. Then I left the conversation. The following morning I logged in to Twitter around 11am. And this guy had actually gone and done it. I initially thought he’d set up the Twitter account @riotcleanup and a website (where a message detailing the above is written), but learned later that a young musician and activist had set up the account on Twitter, and a then sixteen year-old @patricksocha had set up the website. Stephen Fry and Simon Pegg had written tweets with the hashtag in them. It was trending worldwide above everything else. It was all overwhelmingly lovely. I took the train to Clapham Junction, got a broom and went to join a crowd of around 300 people who had turned up to clean up. They were calling themselves #riotwombles. It was brilliant. A teenager with a cool hairdo stood in an I Love London T-shirt with a broom, having her picture taken. At the same time, a cute little girl with a dustpan and brush swept a small area of the pavement. The assembled crowd stood in front of police tape waving their brooms in the air. Boris Johnson turned up. ‘Where’s your broom Boris?!’ the crowd chanted before someone offered him a spare one for his photo opp.
The council already had street cleaners and police out and they’d done a magnificent job. The firemen had finished hosing down the worst affected building next to the Party shop.  The tape was lifted. The wombles walked along St. John’s Road sweeping. I walked into the T-Mobile shop with some of them. There was glass all over the floor and parts for mobile phones scattered around. The card machines were dangling from the counters and the till monitors had been broken. The back room door was ajar and the office chairs had been pushed over. Papers were scattered everywhere.

There was no one in. It was like something out of 28 Days Later. We closed the office door, swept the paper and glass from the floor and put mobile parts in drawers by the till. And then we were told to move to the streets. Staff were turning up to clear up the shops individually. Residents stopped to congratulate wombles on their efforts or to debate the overall rioting, sharing stories of watching people the night before, running through the streets with televisions, loading them into cars and running back to get more. Some didn’t seem too shocked about the whole thing. There was an orderly debate on one street corner, a sort of impromptu village hall meeting. It was clear there was a desire for a community meeting. ‘What can be done?’ the prevailing question. But before anyone could begin to answer that question, the more immediate one was, ‘what can we do now?’ In the end, it wasn’t as much about the efficacy of the clean up as demonstrating a refusal to give in to the actions of a few. I hope that the continued effort of the majority, will lift the affected communities and rebuild their spirit.

If you’d like to go and help clean up please visit to find out where your nearest #riotcleanup is happening. Thank you.