Tottenham lost Carpetright, and Croydon lost House of Reeves. In Woolwich, it’s the blackened shell of The Great Harry that’s the symbol of Monday night’s destruction of parts of the town centre. There’s now little left of what was a regularly packed pub. Now, thanks to the looters captured on video here, a whole heap of staff are facing an uncertain future, and Woolwich’s already-limited options for a decent night out have shrunk even further.
The attack on Woolwich was the equivalent of kicking a drunk man when he’s just staggering back to his feet again. With improvements to the town centre slowly emerging, and the Olympics coming to Woolwich Common next year, there’s the distant glimmer of light at the end of what’s been the end of a very, very long tunnel. That journey back to respectability might now be even longer.
While Woolwich still smouldered, the eyes of London’s media were elsewhere. Even the Metropolitan Police’s own briefing neglects the destruction in SE18. The citizens of Battersea turned out for the cameras to clean up Clapham Junction – but similar offers from Woolwich residents went without public acknowledgement from Greenwich Council until late tonight. Pride doesn’t come easily here, and you have to be well over 30 to remember Woolwich in better days.
That doesn’t mean people have given up hope, though. Perhaps this horror is making people rediscover their affection for Woolwich. The challenge now is channelling this into something constructive, which brings local people together and builds the real sense of community that’s been lacking for many years.
The smell of Woolwich this morning was of smoke, the sounds were of alarms going off and starlings rooting through abandoned bins. Smoke was still pouring out of the Blue Inc shop on a sealed-off Powis Street, already partly collapsed. As well as The Great Harry, the Wilkinsons store on Woolwich New Road was also severely damaged. Further down, a police car sat burned out. And everywhere, people taking pictures. “It’s like we’re full of tourists!,” shouted one young woman.
I talked to a woman who’d seen white kids robbing a jewellers, only for black kids to then mug them for their loot. As the morning wore on, more youths started to appear on the streets and people started to get jumpy. The few open shops began to close.
Through Charlton, and down to Greenwich. No riots here, although Comet on the Millennium Retail Park had been looted and a window had been kicked in at The Co-Operative Food on Trafalgar Road. But police were advising some shops to close, and others were preparing to pull down the shutters. Rumours were swirling around of youths massing in Greenwich Park. But chatting about events elsewhere inside the Italian deli, one customer said: “It feels safe here, doesn’t it?”
Inside the town centre, the market traders were packing up and shops were being boarded up. Hordes of tourists milled around bemused. I heard of someone being turfed out of the Greenwich Union pub before they could serve him his lunch. All the talk was of what was going in inside the park. Traffic was grinding to a halt as people left work early.
But nothing was happening inside the park. The only gathering of youth I saw was some kids playing football. The police weren’t taking any chances though – a line of police outside the park, and the National Maritime Museum closed. And The Greenwich Union had reopened again. Alarm over, but the rumours kept on spreading throughout the day.
As for tonight? All seems fairly quiet as of 11.15pm (reports of trouble at Eltham’s Yorkshire Grey roundabout notwithstanding). Hopefully Greenwich can take down the boards, and get back to normal.
But most importantly, hopefully Woolwich can start to rebuild. It’s been a long day, but it could be a long way back for one of London’s most troubled, and most ignored, town centres.
(I reported for greenwich.co.uk on Greenwich and Woolwich, and also looked at the Charlton retail parks for the Charlton Champion. Brockley Central has been following events across south-east London. The Greenwich Phantom has more on the local lockdown, while the Deptford Dame looks at damage there.)