Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Social enterprise on the frontline of UK riots

The riots have hit social enterprises but Social Enterprise London chief executive Allison Ogden-Newton says they may hold the key to a better future
Riots in Croydon
A shop is set on fire as rioters gather in Croydon, south London - but do social enterprises hold the key to stopping this happening again in future? Photograph: Sang Tan/AP
Where there is no hope of work there is no social contract. We can blame the recent riots on criminal gangs, social media, the media coverage or the police, but the timing is inescapable, without jobs or the prospect of work, young men take to the streets. Reversing the catastrophic effect to all in society of hopeless; careless youth is a job for social enterprise and one we simply cannot afford not to do.
On the BBC news this morning Diane Abbott, MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, said, "cuts don't make criminals". Clearly outraged at the wilful destruction she was not making excuses for anyone, and neither am I. As the day has worn on Social Enterprise London members are reporting terrible losses, with charities such as CDG, the jobs and training specialists, losing their Brixton office when the shop below was set ablaze. As CDG's CEO Roy O'Shaughnessy said, "The disturbances we have seen over the last few days in London have affected many communities with high levels of unemployment, the very communities in which we work".
CDG is an organisation that works at community level, on the frontlines, doing the seemingly impossible every day – getting kids into work. So where is the sense in torching their premises? What is the point of burning and looting the offices of Centrepoint, another agency providing those with chemical dependency and criminal records routes to work, and Age UK in Croydon, or Oxfam in Ealing? I don't think anyone feels much like hugging a hoodie right now.
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.
Last week I used social media to tweet my wholehearted praise for Polly Toynbee's piece in the Guardian. It was a manifesto that called for any potential second round of quantitative easing to be tied to the development of regional industrial investment banks that supported the creation of jobs for the young. As Toynbee said, and I share her sense of urgency: "No one is counting the social deficit, the costly damage done to this generation of young people, though the evidence shows that a workless youth does life-long harm, some never finding their feet again, becoming the workless parents of the next generation."
If we don't act we will all be counting the social cost soon, a process begun by those who have recently lost their homes and their businesses, have been sent home or laid off and even those who have volunteered as one of the wonderful #riotwombles to clean up our streets after the chaos, not to mention the young men themselves, many of whom will have lost any chance of a real life once that knock on the door comes.
So as well as calling for more police on London's streets tonight I suggest that tomorrow we urgently look for and link organisations working with communities, particularly those engaged in helping people find work or promoting local enterprise that in turn create jobs, and as a society we invest heavily in the ones that work.
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?
Allison Ogden-Newton is chief executive of Social Enterprise London.


  1. I am so relieved to find a practical approach to understanding such an incomprehensible series of events. This gives me hope that the disengaged, forgotten children and young people of society - some of whom I work with and hold in very high regard- will someday have the same chances at life as the rest of us. I urge people to remember that no one person is born ‘bad’- we are a product of our environment, and if our environment is toxic than we become forced to act on our instincts as we fight, take flight, or (worse) freeze. Either way- that is no way to live. Employment is a major factor in this and is a crucial stage in the cycle in which these young people are swept up in. Most of these people are not even old enough to be eligible to work- they’re probably not in school. Hence the cycle- their parents are disengaged, babies are born with a sense of disconnection- often into situations which are unsuitable to say the least, babies don’t attach to parents as they should, their brains develop differently and because of these differences behaviour becomes adaptive but later turns to maladaptive, they are excluded by schools (not their first or last encounter with rejection) and they take to the streets where their brains are set permanently to ‘high alert’- then they reproduce and the cycle starts over. There are a whole host of reasons (not excuses) for this cycle to produce the type of youths that are capable of such criminality. These young people have potentially ruined their own lives before some of them have even had the chance to discover who they are or what life’s about. Personally, I would like to see more credit attached to many of the ‘interventions’ that have the potential to intercept this cycle; a more educated education system, more parenting coaching, effective youth projects that include the kids that we fear, access to vital therapies to empower these people to overcome trauma and realise their potential, and then these inspiring enterprises that are helping the un-employable seek employment, begin to take control of their own lives and become a valued member of society. We all need an incentive to tow the line- if you’ve been given nothing; you have nothing to lose and nothing to strive for. As my friend Debbie says on working with children, ‘you can’t take out what you haven’t put in’.

  2. Wow, that is probably the most comprehensive and intelligent comment I have read in response to any blog, thank you. You obviously understand a great deal about the way in which the young can experience true anomie, investing in helping them make connections and find the motivation to choose a more rewarding path has to be the only real decision for us as a society, long term.

  3. I will be consequently happy to discover a useful approach to comprehension this incomprehensive group of occasions. This offers me personally desire the disengaged, forgotten young children along with teenagers regarding culture * some of whom Regularly together with and keep within quite high regard- will someday have a similar chances with life as the everyone else. My partner and i craving website visitors to remember that no one body's created ‘bad’- we're something individuals setting, of course, if types can be toxic when compared with we turn into made to act on the predatory instincts even as we battle, take flight, as well as (a whole lot worse) deep freeze. Both way- that's no chance to reside.
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