Stories of a night of rioting not something to dine out on

8/8 One Year On: As we approach the anniversary of the London riots, we are publishing readers’ and contributors’ memories of that darkest of nights, their views and hopes for the future.

Here, JONNY ROSE tells of the mixed emotions as news filtered through to the first meeting of the Purley Dinner Club

August 8 will be a day of mixed emotions for me.

Shutters down: it was early closing for many shops in Purley on August 8 last year

Last year, it should have been a day of small town celebration, as that Monday evening was to be the night of the inaugural Purley Dinner Club.

The Purley Dinner Club was a novel off-shoot of the monthly Purley Breakfast Club – an evening for those who couldn’t make the weekend mornings, and a chance for locals to enjoy adult conversation with other locals in a friendly, non-networking environment. I was excited to see who would turn up at Big Mike’s restaurant, and to what effect.

Throughout the day, news began to filter through of trouble (and rumours of trouble) brewing in various pockets of London. By 6pm, as I made my way home, there was talk on Twitter of police mobilising in Croydon town centre – anticipating clashes later that evening.

By the time I got back to Purley, it had become a ghost-town. Tesco had closed and security guards were moving along loiterers. I was prevented from taking a photo of the guards standing protectively by the glass double-doors. All the shops on Purley High Street and Purley Cross were closed, and there were very few people on the streets.

Caffe Milano, after the 8/8 riots. Security at some shops prevented Jonny Rose from taking pictures of the way they were guarding other, more fortunate premises

For most of the evening, we were making friends and making merry, oblivious to what was happening only a few miles up the road.

It was only at around 11pm that Big Mike (the genial, full-bodied proprietor) turned on the news and we saw the full horror of Croydon in flames.

Unsurprisingly, the mood of the restaurant turned from laughter to an air of concern and worried dialling. Several attendees lived (or had family and friends) on roads where the rioters were marauding and flames were spreading.

The evening ended with taxis and long walks home in the smoky night. I will never forget the sight of a man leisurely cycling through Purley High Street delicately balancing a widescreen television on the handlebars.

I’m under no illusions that monthly social groups will completely assuage the various economic and social issues that brought everything to a head last August, but sometimes – if the bigger picture is too big, you have to take smaller steps first. As one community burned down, another was being built up.

My hope is that the successes, the renewed community spirit and the increasing connections we’ve seen in Purley will one day extend to every other area of Croydon as well.

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