Salford meeting calls for gentler policing, youth opportunities and more thoughtful coverage by the media
PUBLISHED March 8, 2012
Every chair was taken at St Sebastian's community centre on Douglas Green; and there were just as many ideas
Salford's community conversation seemed set for a wobbly start when it heard that the Reading the Riots investigation had data from just seven people involved in the city's troubles last August.
The panel, which included council leader John Merry and Greater Manchester Police's divisional head Chief Supt Kevin Mulligan, was naturally sceptical about drawing too many conclusions from such a small sample.
But their caution was good-natured and polite and, as in Manchester, the chairing style of Coun Amina Lone built on the very large audience's enthusiasm for a practical debate which would further the process of sorting out problems, causes and grievances.
The data size also became marginal once it was clear that it reflected issues raised from much wider sampling over a long time, notably by panel members Graham Cooper from the Broughton Trust and Gerry Stone from the Seedley and Langworthy Trust. Their findings also chimed with neighbouring Manchester's; indeed some of the RtR research was common to both; an interviewee's description of the police as 'the biggest gang of all' was presented to Manchester's conversation on Tuesday, as well as last night's.
Relations with the police figured largely; Cooper said that previous good relations between local officers and young people had 'deteriorated', then corrected himself and said 'disappeared'. A pensioner in the 200-plus audience gave an example of alleged heavy-handedness: a cousin borrowed his disabled pass and police came round and told him that if it happened again, they would be 'through his door' ? with the implication that it might get battered down.
Alienation from a corrupt elite ? better called a 'feral elite' suggested another audience member - was widely cited. It wasn't always coherent or thought-out, said Stone, but it was definitely a gut feeling, prompted by headlines about MPs' expenses, bankers' bonuses and the like. Ditto the sense of buzz; told by one young troublemaker that it was 'the best day of my life', Cooper described the common task as 'making all his other days as good' in constructive ways.
The third main issue raised at Manchester, of a lack of a platform for young people's views, was part of the Salford mixture as well. It brought in a particular local complaint, which united everyone from Merry to the Socialist Worker sellers: that the national media, which could provide such a platform (and through Reading the Riots is trying to), persisted in demonising sections of society - hoodies, those on benefits et al - and also presenting them in the clich?d context of grim-up-north. There was an admission, too, of a local tradition of talking Salford down.
Little acknowledgment was made of the arrival of the BBC, which figured at the meeting only in terms of jobs provision rather than the chance of a lifetime for anyone seeking a platform, or a better and more accurate picture of Salford and the wider north. A BBC crew from MediaCityUK was at the meeting.
Merry and Mulligan gave data about post-troubles convictions which, as in Manchester, involved a large majority of white people, aged over 18 and with criminal records. Both blamed an element of organised crime for taking advantage of the trouble and making it worse ? a charge not levelled in Manchester ? and suggested that improved detection rates and a steady fall in crime in the last four years in Salford may have fuelled professional criminals' desire to hit back.
These different and opposing emphases ? on poor police relations, or criminal involvement ? were accepted by the meeting as part of a complex pattern, rather than causes for division. Conservative councillor Robin Garrido, whose wife Karen is Tory candidate for Salford's elected mayor, got a ripple of applause when he called for attention to be paid not just to young people but to their parents, and to the consequences of unemployment stretching to a second generation in households, or even a third.
The head of Salford College was also there, and a lawyer who had acted for people accused of involvement in August, who said that court procedures had been stiffened beyond any previous experience he had had, almost certainly on instructions from higher up.
At the end, the Guardian's Symeon Brown underlined the particular value of community conversations in an area where initial research had been limited. Dozens of people responded to his request to add their views on feedback forms; and the research exercise will now continue apace under the aegis of the local Social Action and Research Foundation, led by Amina Lone and Northerner contributor Dan Silver.