Just over 12 months ago cities across England were plunged into chaos as looters and rioters hit the streets. What started as unrest over the police shooting of Londoner Mark Duggan spiralled into a full-blown riot when people used the situation as an excuse to cause damage, steal and set businesses alight.

No distinction was made between multi-million pound high street chains and independent family businesses. When the dust finally settled a week later, it was estimated that £500m-worth of damage had been inflicted, not to mention more than £300m in lost sales.

Ajay Bhatia of Machan Express store and café in Birmingham was one of those targeted. “It took us six hours to clear up, and I had to open the next day because I couldn’t afford to lose one day’s business,” he says. “More than £20,000- worth of damage was done to the store and £15,000-worth of stock stolen.”

Ajay’s businesses took several months to get back on track, and at one point he thought he would have to close for good. “I tried to restock, but cash flow was gone because trade was down by 30% after the riots,” says Ajay.

With the help of local suppliers and the support of his customers, he was able to carry on trading. “People were great, the community really came together to support us,” he says.

Although Ajay still fears for his safety, he has made changes to his store to better protect it and reached out for assistance . “I can’t sit on my own in the store for long, because there is always the worry that it could happen again,” he says. “But since then I’ve improved my CCTV security systems and work more with the local police force. We share information a lot more now and they come and visit the store more. Since we reached out to them, our relationship with the police has improved.”

Ajay believes that the high profile of the riots has led to a change in attitude towards retail crime, especially among the police. “They caught lots of people involved in the riots and I’m glad to hear they are still trying to catch the rest,” he says. “They’ve done a good job.”

Ajay isn’t the only retailer to have built up a relationship with his force in the wake of the riots. According to a recent Association of Convenience Stores Voice of Local Shops survey, 50% of retailers have engaged with the local police more over the past 12 months, with 66% engaging with their community support officers. The survey also revealed that 42% of retailers feel that their community is more united than before.

Newham retailer Dee Patel of KD News has built a better relationship with fellow retailers and the community in the aftermath of the riots. Dee was lucky to escape with minimal damage to his store, but trade noticeably dropped for several weeks afterwards. “They tried hard to get in here, but they didn’t succeed,” he says. “However, it took weeks for everything to return to normal. Deliveries were delayed, trade was down and there was just a horrible atmosphere in the area. All of our years of hard work building up our business were undone in a matter of days.”

To counteract this setback, Dee took the initiative and started building up relationships with others in the community. “I talk to other retailers a lot more now,” he says. “Before the riots we would all just look out for ourselves, but now we talk quite often, which has made each of us feel safer in our stores. It’s a shame that it’s taken something like this to get us to do it.”

Dee also talks to community groups more often now and gets involved by supporting local schools and sports teams whenever he can. “Retailers are busy people, but if they can make the time to reach out into the community, it’s worth the effort.”

Dee adds that the police have been making their presence felt with more foot patrols, but that the public are also more vigilant. “We look out for each other more now than we did before.” •

Counting the cost:

Paul Stone, who runs three Spar stores in Manchester, believes that the riots were the “worst night of his business life”. All three of his stores were badly damaged during the violence, and the City Tower branch was stripped of £25,000-worth of stock. “In one store there were 20 or 30 people stealing or breaking everything,” he says. “They were like feral animals.”

None of Paul’s stores were closed for long after the riots, but the events did result in him improving security measures in his stores to protect them better including adding more CCTV cameras.

Minesh Patel of Quick Stop Express on George Street, Croydon, saw trade dwindle following the riots. “Footfall was down massively for months after as people stayed off the streets as much as possible,” he says. “It’s got better now, but it took a long time for everyone to get over the damage done.” Minesh says that now retailers in the area work together more. “If something happens on the street we tell each other and share information as much as possible,” he adds. “We can’t necessarily protect ourselves from another riot, but we can help stop other crimes being committed. I also speak to the police more often and have built up a better relationship.”

Siva Kandiah had more than £10,000-worth of stock stolen from his Clarence Convenience Store in Hackney, London, when the rioters struck. His business was devastated, with looters going as far as to steal the light fittings. It took two months and a lot of help from the local community to get Siva’s store up and running again. A website, www.helpsiva.org, was set up and raised more than £30,000 to help him replenish the stolen stock and repair the damage done to his store. Siva believes that without the support of the community, he wouldn’t have reopened. “I have a huge appreciation for what they’ve done,” he says. “So many riot-damaged businesses did not reopen.”