I came into Manchester early today. Not like some sick vulture to pick at the carcasses of those suffering after last night’s devastation but in order to try to understand. To understand what had happened, why it had happened and to try to understand how Manchester could put itself back together again.
I started from Victoria Station and decided to tour the City Centre. I wasn’t going to stand around taking photos of riot damage, there are enough of those at websites you may have heard of such as bbc.co.uk and twitter.com, and as I said at the start, I wanted to find some hope amongst the carnage rather than gloating over the remnants of people’s livelihoods.
At first, it looked like a typical Wednesday morning. Walking up Thomas Street, the bars were all shut but nothing seemed out of place. Even in Manchester people don’t tend to be drinking this early. The first sign I saw of any damage was Alfred E Mutter’s pawn shop which had been attacked by rioters, the shutter bent like a T-Rex had spent a couple of minutes headbutting its way out. Then across the road, Cathedral Jewellers with presumably a shopkeeper outside filming the carnage. The shop had been largely destroyed during the riot.
The old Thomas Street Post Office also had some window damage, but generally speaking, the premises in the Northern Quarter seemed to have done a good job of closing up early and escaping major destruction in the riots.
Turning onto Oldham Street, where footage was shown of looting on the news last night, it was soon apparent that things were getting a little worse. Forbidden Planet had a couple of smashed windows, and Cash Generator had been attacked, along with BetFred. Onto Piccadilly Gardens and Kro seemed worse hit, staff and workmen cleaning up from a shattered glass door. Burger King also seemed to have suffered slightly, a sign that even looting opportunists get hungry.
Onto Market Street, and past a couple of policemen keeping watch, a fair few stores appeared to have been hit during the riots. TK Maxx, American Apparel, Tesco, Vodafone, Thomson, Thomas Cook and the Arndale itself all with that tell-tale chipboard mounted over what used to be a shop front. And of course, possibly the worst hit, Miss Selfridge, alarm still ringing and windows black with soot from the inexcusable arson that was started there last night.
In the main though, it appears that shop shutters largely worked to keep the immoral hordes at bay. Even those stores that had smashed windows, in the majority, had not been breached, presumably due to the strong construction of modern day shop front glass.
Walking around the other side of the Arndale, Size? on the bottom part of Market Street and Foot Asylum opposite the big wheel had been badly attacked, showing the looters’ penchant for getting a few pairs of cut-price trainers and presumably a new hoody or two.
Looping around to New Cathedral Street, Harvey Nichols showed signs of a smashed window, as did the Louis Vuitton entrance to Selfridges, whilst Ugg had been completely ransacked and all stock that was once upon the shelves seemed to have gone. On St Ann’s Square, FCUK had been struck, Swarovski was completely boarded up, the only satisfaction about that one being that a looter had been pictured being arrested by plain clothes officers last night on the news. Links, T-Mobile and Starbucks had also been attacked.
But where am I now? In Starbucks on St Ann’s Square. Have they closed for the day to mourn the damage and the destruction caused by an ignorant minority? No. A member of staff who wasn’t even working today had come in early to help clean up and to ensure that normality could resume as much as possible. That is how much people care about this city and about their fellow man.
And this is one of the things we can take from last night. The vast majority of people are appalled by the senseless acts. Even during the looting last night, plans were being put in place on Twitter to clean up the city, and in all honesty I don’t think they’re needed because of the efforts already made.
Don’t get me wrong, I was still shocked by what I saw last night and it was distressing to see the state of things today. But I was also amazed. I was in Manchester the morning after the city was destroyed by feral Rangers fans before, during and after the UEFA Cup Final in 2007. It was truly a scene from a zombie apocalypse movie with the streets swimming in broken glass, excrement and all manner of trash. From watching the news last night I was expecting to be swimming in rubbish and picking glass out of my shoes for the rest of the day.
But Manchester this morning is a whole different picture. Okay, so I didn’t tour all the way down King Street and Cross Street where I know other stores such as Diesel were ransacked, but largely, Manchester is relatively clean and tidy and getting on with business as usual.
What we can take from this is that people do a hell of a job against adversity in this city. Street cleaning teams are buzzing around the Centre and it looks like they have been for some time, sweeping up every last bit of damage to prepare the city for life simply going on. Police are on a few street corners and commuters and other passers-by are exchanging pleasantries with them. The Craft Market in St Ann’s Square is even going up as planned.
Last night I was ashamed of my country and what it had become. This morning, I feel only pride for those who have been undaunted by yet another attack on freedom, and who show that the good old fashioned English never-say-die attitude will always triumph over adversity.
My adopted home city has had Nazis, the IRA, Rangers ‘fans’ and now the ‘disillusioned’ underclasses trying to disrupt things for normal, decent folk. None have prevailed thus far, and I don’t think they’re going to in the future if what I have seen this morning is anything to go by.
It may not be over, but the fightback has already begun.