As shocking and appalling as Wednesdays brutal murder was, Woolwich (wool-ich) is a not so surprising location for such an attack. As someone pretty local to Woolwich, I thought I might give a little profile of the area, if anyone is interested.
Woolwich is traditionally a military area, with the old Arsenal at its centre and the new barracks one of London’s important military bases. As such, this is not the first time it has been targeted by enemies. A very immediate comparison can be drawn with the bombing of the Kings Arms Hotel by the IRA in 1974, which killed two people, including one serviceman. As with this weeks attack, the military personnel of Woolwich Barracks were the target. The pub is some five minutes from where Wednesdays attack took place.
During the summer of 2012, the Woolwich Barracks became the venue for the Olympic shooting events. As such, the area was the focus large scale redevelopment projects: a new town centre, new housing and new transport infrastructure. It is a fairly incredible change from five years ago, but beneath this glossy new veneer remains an impoverished and troubled area. Take a left from where the attack took place and you will end up on F street, a brutal and daunting council estate, notorious for gang violence and drugs. It is in places like this that many of Woolwich’s large immigrant population live. Carry on down the road and you find the local Jobcentre (dole que), always a busy place, catering to much of east Greenwich’s unemployed. Also in Woolwich is Her Majesty’s Prison Belmarsh, notorious for its large network of Islamic extremist inmates and links to radical cleric Abu Hamza.
Woolwich experienced some of the worst of the 2011 London riots. Visiting the town centre the day after was honestly one of the most striking experiences of my life. The destruction was total; every shop that you could possibly conceive to loot had been so. We just walked around with dozens of shell shocked locals and police, eventually ending up outside the gutted and burnt down Wetherspoons pub (pic below). The appalling violence visited on Woolwich was unfathomable, and as a community it is very hard to come to terms with the idea of young local people descending and destroying their own homes and communities. Unfortunately, this is a process that Woolwich now has to repeat.
The pub in the top right of the video is below, and at the bottom of the street where the attack took place.
Woolwich is a stark and gritty place, and will further gain an unpleasant and violent reputation. This is how it may appear on the face of it, but in reality, Woolwich is a vibrant and real community that understands the reality of violence, and is strong enough to overcome it.