Siva Kandiah is officially back in business, as of 11 o’clock yesterday morning (Friday 19 August). This comes after the ravages of looting forced the Clarence Convenience Store in Clarence Road E5 to close its doors, 12 days ago. A combination of sheer determination and the £20,000 raised via the Help Siva appeal has meant that the Clapton shopkeeper has met his own ambitious target of reopening, less than a fortnight after he thought he had lost everything.
The sun shone and a small crowd of well-wishers turned out wearing ‘I Love Hackney’ badges, defiant in the face of the recent violence that has once again tarnished the borough. As customer Giselle Vitry put it, “The neighbourhood is alive again. It is a happy day for them and for us.”
This was not an occasion to offer answers, analysis or accusations regarding the root causes of the crimes that took place in neighbourhoods up and down the country, but a time for simple celebration, building on Monday’s first tentative steps.
As Meg Hillier MP (for Hackney South and Shoreditch) cut the purple ribbon, she called it “the triumph of hope over adversity, a community overcoming a terrible night.”
She chose not to dwell on last week’s events or their repercussions, only to say that: “I’ve seen the CCTV pictures and those who were here will know that people were just diving in and helping themselves.”
She reminded the crowd that “supporting our own” did not stop here, urging locals and journalists alike to return and to shop, to keep the business afloat in the weeks and months ahead.
Siva thanked everyone, accompanied by his wife and two young daughters – the family behind a business that for many has become symbolic of what was at stake when the unrest was at its height.
Councillor Ian Rathbone, Chair of the Friends of Siva group noted the humanity that had been preserved in salvaging the shop from last week’s wreckage: “This is about human beings responding to other human beings in need of love and care. It’s clear that this is more than just a shop. It is a bridge between communities.”
His speech was interspersed with mention of acts of kindness large and small, from a cheque for a thousand pounds from an anonymous donor to the return of two bottles of Bacardi Breezer, recovered from some bushes by a woman on the Pembury Estate.
Even mid-flow he was interrupted by generosity as a £20 donation was passed to him from a well-wisher. A contrast to the sight of the chicken and chips box abandoned on a bare shelf, an act that seemed intended to trivialise the enormity of the vandalism.
Goodwill was expressed in different ways: neighbour Yvonne Walker, bore a plate of onion bhajis straight from her kitchen. “Well, it’s my local paper shop isn’t it?” she said. “I’m just across the road and I thought they’d need a snack.
“I was overlooking the riots, it was scary – there were petrol bombs landing just at my end of the street.”
And yet she believes that perceptions need to change: “When you go on holiday and people ask you where you’re from and you say London and then you say Hackney and people say ‘oh.’ But it is good, I’ve lived here for 36 years and loads of people raise their kids here and do very well here.”
A young boy appeared asking if the shop had really re-opened. A steady stream of customers came through the door. For Siva Kandiah, being back in business was heartening. Asked if this was the biggest challenge he’d faced, he said: “On Tuesday morning I thought ‘I’m not going to come back again.’ I don’t know what else I would have done, this is all I’ve done for 11 years, you do what you know, don’t you? Normally I never cry and last week we (his family) all cried but today we are so happy.”
“You can’t do it only yourself without other people’s support,” he said. “A lot of people all over the world who don’t know us but they’ve helped us. To everyone has supported us I say thank you very much.”
Cllr Rathbone spoke of the importance of starting a traders’ association similar to that established in Chatsworth Road, to provide support to independent local shops.
Meanwhile, the shelves were still not full, the ceiling not entirely repaired, the charity posters not to be removed from windows and shutters.
If initial estimates are correct and £50,000 worth of damage and lost stock were incurred during the riots, then Siva, his shop and the community are still only halfway there.
Donate to help rebuild Clarence Convenience Store (external site).