Last night, I went for a cycle ride around the inner suburbs of Sheffield. On the way, I started tweeting about the everyday scenes I was seeing, and the fact that there were no riots, using the #noRiotsHere hashtag (I plucked the hashtag out of thin air: it turns out one of two people had used it earlier in the day, although not in Sheffield). You can see a collection of my evening’s cycling/noRiotHere tweets on Storify. Soon, other people started joining in, and by the time I got home #noRiotHere was trending in Sheffield.
A few people accused me of “trolling for riots” – most did it humorously, one or two seemed genuinely confused about what I was doing. So I’ll try to account for myself here…
First and foremost, I was going for a bike ride. It’s something I’ve done a lot recently (especially since getting my new bike), generally heading West from our house into the Peak District, the hills and moors around Strines and Bradfield. I’d already been considering taking a more urban ride, exploring some of the parts of Sheffield I hardly know, and I was running out of country lanes within easy cycling distance.
But I think what really galvanised me was the steady stream of rumours I’d been reading about incipient riots in Sheffield. As I follow a lot of people on Twitter and Facebook, and a majority of them are in Sheffield, I’d seen endless rumour and counter-rumour – in particular about civil disorder starting up on London Road. The excellent South Yorkshire Police twitter feed had been quashing these rumours all day, but I felt that some people would feel more reassured if they heard that someone they know had been there and reported back that all was peaceful.
And so I set off in the direction of London Road. My initial plan had just been to go there, check out the area, and then return home, but as I got closer my head started whirling with memories of other “riot-prone” areas people had been tweeting earlier, and as I felt like I could handle a much longer cycle ride, I decided to roam further afield. The idea for “#noRiotHere” literally came to me as I was cycling along (as is true of so many good ideas). I didn’t just want to give people the bare fact of “no riot here”, I wanted to emphasise the fact that normal things were going on, that people could and ought to make an evening of it, walk in the evening sunshine, go to the pub, treat it as a normal evening and not hide behind closed curtains. And so I started to tweet one mundane but beautiful thing that I saw in each suburb I passed through (admittedly I eventually started to tire of the mundane but beautiful, and resorted to the slightly comical instead).
I realised, of course, that to anyone outside Sheffield reading my updates, I could come across as insufferably smug; I thought (with apologies to all in London, Manchester, Birmingham, Nottingham, Leicester and elsewhere) that this was a price worth paying. Civic pride breeds more civic pride, and I thought it better to try instilling some of this before riots started. Last night’s #steelcitynotstealcity/#steelnotsteal hashtags did the same thing. To be honest, I thought there was already enough pride in this wonderful city to prevent people from smashing it up (particularly while the city’s youth are still basking in the memory of the incredible and inclusive Tramlines festival). But how to know what other people think? This week I’ve heard, via Twitter and Radio 5 Live, many cries of confusion and disbelief from residents of the riot-hit cities; how are we to know until something kicks off whether our civic pride that “Sheffield is different” is justified or just hubris?
And finally, I wasn’t trolling for riots, and was 95% certain I wouldn’t find any, but I was prepared – at least inasmuch as I had a fast bike, a mobile phone, and my wits about me. If I had stumbled on some disorder, I would have informed the police if necessary, informed Twitter whether necessary or not (it’d be stupid to deny that I’d feel the slightest bit smug for sharing the news before anyone else, massively outweighed of course by sadness at unrest in my home city), and a small part of me hopes that I might have been able to mobilise a public tut-mob early enough to shame potential rioters into going home. A stupidly vain fantasy, of course, but I think we should all be defined by our stupidly vein fantasies.
As it turned out, I had a lovely cycle ride, got to see parts of this beautiful city which are normally hidden to me (including the most amazing view from Gleadless), had a bit of fun along the way, and spawned an idea which was proudly reported on Radio Sheffield this morning. Sorry to be smug (and fingers crossed that this isn’t hubris), but it was a good night for Sheffield.