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Manchester mops up

2011 August 10
by Paul Vallely

True to the stereotype it rained in Manchester yesterday, all day. But the rain did not deter the thousand or so volunteers who poured into the city centre at 9.30am to begin the big clean-up after Tuesday night’s riots.

Wearing cagoules and plastic bags the volunteers arrived from all across Greater Manchester, many carrying their own domestic brushes and dustpans. Many of them had “I love Manchester” daubed in red and white make up on their cheeks.

Some had come in response to a @RiotCleanUpManc campaign launched the night before on Twitter at the height of the violence which produced 1,000 police incidents, 150 fires, 12 hospitalised injuries and saw 113 people arrested, the youngest of them aged just 15.

Others had been given time off by their workplace. Staff from Deloitte and Manchester Metropolitan University had given the whole day off to lend a hand. Other business donated in kind, with brooms and clothing from Wilkinson and Primark. Greggs the bakers donated doughnuts for the workers.

There was a self-consciousness about the event. Those who turned up wanted to offer themselves as a counter-example to the Mancunian rioters. “It’s our way of saying enough is enough,” one student said.

There was not that much to do. Piccadilly Gardens, where a thousand youths had confronted the police the night before, and where the volunteers now gathered, had been completely cleaned overnight by municipal staff who volunteered their time starting in the small hours as police regained control of the streets.

“This place is cleaner than it is most ordinary mornings, “ said one woman on her way to work at the Bank of New York.

Yesterday Greater Manchester Police, who admitted that they had been overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of the rioters, were delighted at the turn-out of the volunteers. “We need crowds of people to say: ‘Not in our city’,” Assistant Chief Constable Garry Shewan told the broom-wielders.

The damage done in Salford and Manchester by the violence and looting is said to run into millions of pounds. About 100 business premises were damaged, including the Pretty Green fashion boutique recently opened by that apotheosis of Mancunian yobbery, Liam Gallagher. Everywhere the wooden boarding of the Manchester Glass Ltd was in evidence.

All day it rained, but the volunteers were undeterred,  sweeping even through parks with their soft household brushes and flimsy plastic bin liners.  They were rewarded by a visit from the Labour leader Ed Miliband, who drew a large crowd, and was much cheered with his hardly original comments about “the real spirit of Manchester”.

It was what people wanted to hear. A group called I Love My Generation appeared with hot drinks for the volunteers in what one of them described as “carrying out random acts of kindness as opposed to random acts of senseless violence and destruction.”

And still it rained, but the weather drew only smiles from the volunteers. “It’s hard to riot in the wet,” one said.

Mancunians praying for rain. Now there’s something I have never encountered before.

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