The usual August calm was shattered by the disturbances across England two weeks ago. Whilst the debris is now cleared from the streets, the boarded-up shop windows and fire-blackened facades remain, reminding us of the harder process of rebuilding both physically and socially that needs to follow.
We have seen a plethora of opinions searching for meaning as to why this has happened aired across newsprint, blogs, TV channels and the streets ranging from “wanton criminality”, to “parenting”, to “cuts”. Responses from the political parties have been equally wide-ranging. Amongst the current raft of proposed actions are the removal of benefits and housing from those convicted of looting to introducing National Citizen Service to 16+ year olds.
The need to create a narrative and to act quickly in the face of shock is a normal social reaction; a quest for certainties that can explain events and diminish the insecurity of the unknowing. But these narratives quickly become the “truth” and a rush towards responding could cut off the opportunity to truly understand.
This is also the time to reflect, to listen and to learn. In September and October International Alert’s UK Peacebuilding programme, together with think tank ResPublica, will hold fringe events at the Conservative and Labour party conferences. These events will explore the "Civil unrest: lessons for the Big Society from international peacebuilding”.
The discussions will bring political leaders and ResPublica ogether with experienced UK and international peacebuilders from Alert and one of our partners in the UK, Community Resolve. They will provide the opportunity to look at community tension through an international peacebuilding angle, offering a new perspective from which to address problems in the UK.
The conversations will draw on Alert’s experience of working internationally with communities, institutions and governments undergoing social change. Insights into international peacebuilding practice and approaches will provide an alternative lens through which to analyse the UK context and strengthen responses.