There are times when I really love my city. This morning, strolling along Lichfield Street, still wiping the sleep out of my eyes, was one of them. Last night was not. Then I was sitting helpless in front of my screen, watching gangs of people rampage through Wolverhampton, hurling rocks, smashing glass, attempting to destroy all they could in my familiar streets.
That window put through in Queen's Square? A 100 years ago, when it was still called High Green, my family had a home and habberdashery business there. Down in Dudley Street, the Marks and Spencer's frontage crashes onto the pavement. On that very spot, in 1817, my family took over the Red Cow pub and raised my great-great grandfather in the rooms above. When the riots were down in London, they were shocking. Now that they are in Wolverhampton, it's personal.
So when the call to arms came, via @riotcleanupWolv, I set my alarm. The remit was clear: at 9am, Wulfrunians were meet at the Mon on th' 'Oss. (Translation: Man on the Horse; never referred to as the statue of Prince Albert, raised by public subscription in 1866. It was the display of public kindness that finally got Queen Victoria out of isolation. She agreed to come to Wolverhampton to unveil it, thus ending months of private mourning for her husband.) We were to bring our brooms. We were to clean up the streets, in a show of solidarity with those directly affected. We were to take our city back.
This morning, I marched down Lichfield Street, with my broom over my shoulder, like some kind of domestic cleaning pikeswoman. I wondered how many would come. Birmingham apparently had thirty yesterday morning, in the same campaign; while Clapham attracted 100s. Then I saw them. Loads of them. Across the road, heading into the square, on their own, as couples or in small groups, but they all had their brooms in their hands. The Yam-Yams were out in force!
The RiotCleanUp Broom Army crossing the road at Prince's Square. Ever wondered why the traffic lights here have black and white stripes on them? It's because they were the first in the world. Their trial, right here, was so successful, in controlling traffic, that they spread throughout the country and then into the rest of the world. Wolverhampton did that. Last night, this junction was the scene of much of the rioting. Today, it was full of people with brooms. By the time I reached Queen's Square, there were easily 100-150 Wulfrunians amassed.
Audrey and Liam Jones. Aud is one of the local Pagans, who turned up to add a little protection into the sweeping, hence deciding to 'ride' her broom here.
Rev Arun Arora, one of the many people who stood up on a bench to address the crowd. He is a local Church of England vicar, from Wolverhampton Pioneer Ministries, based at St Peter's House. (Thank you to Rev Richard Moy for the information.)
Emma Reynolds, MP for Wolverhampton North-East, was another who gave a speech. My apologies for not grabbing the name of the gentleman with her.
I had set out this morning expecting to be cleaning streets and businesses. What I hadn't reckoned upon was that the press would also be out there. If I had, I might have put some mascara on and chosen a better Wolves top (I have several...). I needn't have worried about vanity. The only ones to interview me were from the radio. Beacon Radio caught me in Victoria Street, while KicFM found me in Dudley Street. Back up in Queen's Square, I photographed Wolf FM conducting interviews.
Once we'd finished listening to speeches and letting the press photograph and record us, it was time to get down to business. The wonderful Wolverhampton Council cleaners had already been out, since 6am this morning, so the streets were actually extremely clean. But we could help with those premises where the owners had had to wait for forensics and/or insurers to finish their inspections. They'd missed the first sweep of tidying, so they got us!
We basically went through the centre, stopping at every property that looked to have been attacked. We took our brooms, gloves, bin-bags and dustpan and brushes; and we offered our assistance. There were so many of us, following such a great clean-up job already, that only a handful were able to actually do anything. You can't get 100 people in your ransacked shop, especially if you have any hope of clearing the place up! Therefore we split up.
These are some members of Wolverhampton's broom army turning up at Le Monde, one of the more badly damaged businesses, down in Victoria Street:
And a lone individual standing in Prince's Square looking to see where he can go next:
Finally, here are a trio of delightful (and determined) young men, who I bumped into over the road from Beatties. They are (l-r) Ben Rubery, Gurjinder Dhaliwal and Craig Jones. How's this for dedication? Today is Ben's birthday and he chose to celebrate it by coming to fix his city. Happy birthday, Ben!
I took 210 photographs today. If you want to know if I have any of yourself, please comment with what you were wearing and I'll look through for you. As for images of the damage to the city itself, I'm going to add them to a separate blog.
Thank you everyone who answered the call from @riotcleanupWolv. You made me feel very proud to be a Wulfrunian this morning. One very last thing. Some people, having done their rounds and found themselves with nothing left to clean, decided to have an impromptu dance in the middle of Queen's Square. Love you.