HC 1456 Home Affairs CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by Greenwich Action for Voluntary Services Submission

Greenwich Action for Voluntary Service (Greenwich’s Councils for Voluntary Service) conducted a survey of Greenwich voluntary and community organisations around the disturbances in the London Borough of Greenwich Area between 22 August and 6 September. This survey looks at a number of issues beyond the terms of reference of your committee, but also includes police issues.

The survey responses mainly focussed on police relations with the communities where the violence took place. Key findings were that:

The disturbances significantly increased fear in the local area particularly amongst vulnerable groups. Many local charities reported that their service users are still extremely worried about venturing out of their houses. This is despite increased police presence in the affected areas. Many groups asked that the police engage more with the local community, particularly younger people and undertake reassurance work beyond just an increased police presence.

Just under a third of organisations felt that the police dealt with the recent disturbances in the borough badly. Although a minority, this is a significant minority and re-inforces the need to undertake further police reassurance work and to spend more time with the users of voluntary and community organisations in the borough. This is particularly important as policing in this country is “by consent”.

There was particular praise for the way safer neighbourhood teams and their panels engage with local communities but a strong desire for the police to spend more time with young people listening to their concerns and explaining police work. There was a significant minority of groups (just under a quarter) who felt that the police currently engage with civil society organisations in the borough not very well or poorly. Concern was also expressed around how the cuts in policing may affect community engagement work.

Of great concern for many groups in Greenwich was the reopening of racial tensions in the area because of the English Defence League (EDL) presence in Eltham during the time of the riots. The police along with their partners including civil society organisations need to consider how this anxiety is countered in a way to promote community cohesion. Many lessons can be learnt from past experience of community cohesion work to ensure that these racial tensions do not reappear.

In terms of the other areas of the Committee’s interest, very few comments were received. Interestingly there was no mention of the use of social media or specific role of organised groups promoting disorder. However a significant number of youth groups felt that their work would promote positive behaviours amongst young people thus reducing the negative effects of organised groups. In terms of police techniques a major concern of organisations was the fear that the police would not be able to contain subsequent disturbances, no matter how large their presence.


That the police:

Engage more with the local community, particularly listening to the concerns and explaining police work to younger people and engaging with other users of voluntary and community organisations in the borough.

Undertake reassurance work beyond just an increased police presence.

Are aware that there remain substantial concerns that even with a large police presence that they may be not be able to contain subsequent disturbances and reassurance work will need to focus on this area.

Ensure that any potential deterioration in community cohesion that has arisen from the disturbances is tackled quickly using past successful experiences of partnership work in this area.


Greenwich Action for Voluntary Service’s (GAVS’) is a Councils for Voluntary Service (CVS) organisation that provides a strategic leadership role in representing and building the capacity of the voluntary, community and faith sector in the London borough of Greenwich. GAVS conducted an identical telephone and on line survey of Greenwich voluntary and community organisations around the disturbances in the London Borough of Greenwich Area between 22 August and 6 September. This survey looks at a number of issues beyond the terms of reference of the committee, but also includes police issues. The information gathered is from 35 Civil Society Organisations in the borough of Greenwich.

Factual Information

Areas of Disturbances

From the information collected in a local survey 78.1% of organisations surveyed were affected by the recent disturbances in Greenwich Borough both directly or indirectly. 53.1% of those who responded were affected by the disturbances caused in Woolwich, 25% were affected by the disturbances in Charlton, 21.9% were affected by disturbances in Eltham and 6.3% were affected by Blackheath. Although 21.9% were not affected by the disturbances.

Initial and Subsequent Responses

The most common response of local organisations was one of concern; for their clients, their premises and their own safety. People were shocked, saddened and disgusted by the ferocity of those causing the disturbances. Many people were concerned about the ages of those involved and were disturbed by the number of adults who took part. Key too many groups was that their users felt extremely frightened and subsequently still feel afraid to venture out in their local areas. People were also concerned that the disturbances could lead to other problems in the area particularly the fear that the English Defence League (EDL) presence in Eltham would reopen racial tensions in the area. Another major concern of organisations was the fear that the police would not be able to contain subsequent disturbances, no matter how large their presence. There was also a lot of anger at those responsible for the damage and pain they caused businesses and organisations. Feedback indicates that people believe those who cause the disturbances were motivated by greed and an opportunistic desire to profit from the confusion. Many people believe that discussion is the key to understanding the circumstances of the participants and their motivation and hopefully how to stop it happening again.

Several weeks after the disturbances initial feelings have not changed, people are still angry about the damage done and the resulting impact of the disturbances on businesses. Even though some people feel a degree of empathy toward some of those who were caught up in the moment, they still believe that what happened was theft and vandalism and have not changed their initial feelings of anger and disappointment.

Role of Civil Society Organisations

Key Issues

Many organisations believe that there are a range of underlying issues that may have started and help influence the spread of the disturbances:

The most prominent issue stated by organisations is the social exclusion and alienation of young people. They have become disenchanted and disillusioned with the lack of employment and opportunities for advancement in life. They are disengaged from their communities and do not feel valued within society.

Another issue that was raised by organisations was the absence of parental control. Organisations believe that parents have lost control of their children as they fear the consequences of disciplining their children.

Organisations believe that there should be more policing and better police interaction with young people in the communities as a preventative measure.

There also seems to be an overwhelming focus on material possessions that was demonstrated by the theft of technological goods from stores and the organisation of the disturbances using social media networks.

Finally, on a smaller scale, organisations have noted that there has been an increase in racial tensions on several different levels. They have noted that there are divided communities between different ethnic groups that make social inclusion difficult. There was also the issue of racism with the Eltham disturbance with the presence of the EDL igniting racial issues within the community.


65.5% of organisations said they had previously been undertaking activities which they feel could have helped prevent violent incidents similar to those that had recently occurred. Activities included working with other organisations and pooling resources, workshops and youth activities afterschool and during term holidays. By engaging with and keeping young people occupied many organisations have said, with confidence, that their members were not involved in the disturbances.

Although a lot of organisations are not doing any activities in direct response to the riots, many of them are continuing their previous activities in the hope that they can prevent a repeat of the disturbances. Some have also started to advise parents on dealing with the impact of the disturbances and encouraging them to contact police for more information.

When asked what more could organisations be doing both individually and collectively, there were several responses:

The most prominent response was to promote inclusivity of young people in their communities, so they do not feel as alienated or marginalised.

They also believe thought that young people should be listened to and have forums in which to express their views in a peaceful manner. The argument was made that young people are the adults of tomorrow and they need to feel that their opinions are and will be valued in the future.

Further work

61.3% of organisations said they would be interested in doing further work, both individually and collectively, in response to the recent disturbances. A further 29.0% said they would consider it if the opportunity was presented to them.

Most organisations are interested in doing more work within the community, but unfortunately due to cuts in public services and public funding 66.6% would be impacted in the way they, as an organisation, could prevent and respond to future disturbances. Only 23.3% of organisations said they would not be be affected by cuts in public services.

The Police

Opinions of success in dealing with disturbances

Opinions about the success of the police response to the disturbances were mixed.

In the survey 25% of organisations felt the police responded “Not Very Well”, although the majority of organisations believe the police responded well with the resources they had. Only 7.1% believed that the police responded “Very Well”, with a 17.9% response that of “Well” and 21.4% of “Adequately”. Only 3.6% believe that the way in which the police dealt with the recent disturbances was done “Badly” (25% said they “Don’t Know”).

Engagement with Civil Society Organisations

The response to police engagement is mixed—although 58.6% of organisations believe the police engage positively with organisations within the borough (20.7% believe they engage “Well” and 13.8% think they engage “Very Well”) a further 13.8% responded that their engagement was “Not Very Well” with 6.9% feeling it was “Poor”. 24.1% of those surveyed felt that police engagement with civil society organisations is “Adequate” and 20.7% said they “Don’t Know”.

Improving relationships

When asked if the organisation had any ideas on how to develop and strengthen relationships between the police and Civil Society Organisations a number of suggestions were put forward:

A large majority expressed the desire to communicate and meet more with the police. They believe that a closer relationship between the police and organisations would increase communication and cohesion between them.

Organisations have stated the desire for police to attend Civil Service Organisation events, especially those catered for young people in order to improve police relationships with young people.

Another suggestion was for the police to make transparent the various issues that cause young people to go through the criminal justice system which would enable organisations to identify positive streams of work.

Also, it was recommended that police talk to and engage with young people face to face in order to hear all the different issues rather than assuming they all have the same issues.

There was a mixed view about using big screens in Woolwich market to show the pictures of people the police wished to apprehend. Some organisations felt the police should adopt a more personal approach to detection by talking to the community as well as using the big screen approach. People were also critical about the fact that they felt the police were more interested in apprehending the culprits than in working with the community to prevent further occurrences. People believe they should have divided resources so they could do both.

September 2011

Prepared 22nd December 2011