Olympic torch tours area hit in 2011 U.K. riots

The Olympic torch is carried through the North London neighbourhood of Tottenham, more than a year after the area was wracked by violence.

Residents laud appearance of Olympic symbol, but say more rebuilding needed

Prince Charles met with a number of Olympic torchbearers including Jay Kamiraz(left) in Tottenham, which erupted into violence last year after a police shooting. (Paul Hackett/Reuters)

A year ago, people in Tottenham, an impoverished neighbourhood in North London, saw their community in flames.

Rioting and looting erupted in the streets after a police shooting. It quickly spread throughout London and beyond, escalating into one of the worst cases of mob violence in the U.K. in years.

Today, a flame of a different sort came to Tottenham. The Olympic torch was carried through the borough, down the main street where some buildings and businesses remain burned out and boarded up.

"This is a good day," said Derek Lewis, whose hardware store was ransacked by looters during the riots.

'That’s not going to change the life of Tottenham tomorrow. It needs improvement.'—Tottenham resident Niche Mpala Mufwankolo

"This will put us on the map. Show people that the high street’s still here. What we want now is people to come down to the shops down here. Not think that it’s still a war-torn road."

Thousands lined the streets of Tottenham today to watch the Olympic torch go by. There were even some royal visitors. Prince Charles and his wife Camilla were on hand to meet torchbearers and wave to the crowds.

It’s not their first visit to the neighbourhood. The royal couple were here in February to show their support for victims of last year’s violence.

Pub owner Niche Mpala Mufwankolo has a photo of Charles and Camilla hanging over his bar, The Pride of Tottenham. They dropped by during their February visit and spoke to him about how his business was recovering.

Rioters raided his pub, trashing it and chasing him into an upstairs office. He escaped through a window and had to climb down a drain pipe to safety.

A number of buildings were set ablaze during the riots in London last year. (Lewis Whyld/Associated Press)

While he appreciates the support of the royals and knows people here are proud to see the Olympic torch carried through their streets, he says it will take much more to heal this community.

"We cannot take this as an excuse to say that because the torch has passed in Tottenham, Tottenham is going to be bright," he says. 

"That’s not going to change the life of Tottenham tomorrow. It needs improvement. It needs the local council and the government to say we are going to do something for Tottenham. Then Tottenham will improve."

Reconstruction is underway in the neighbourhood. Some offices damaged in the rioting have re-opened, and there are plans to repair and rebuild other structures damaged or destroyed by arsonists. The local professional soccer team, the Tottenham Hotspur, are proposing a modern new stadium in the borough.

But local people say it will still be years before the area fully recovers.