“I was home with my wife watching the news when I got word from a friend in the Junction that they’d broken in to the shop and there were people running around with our masks on.”
Duncan Mundell, owner of the Party Superstores shop in Clapham Junction recalls the events of 8 August 2011 like they were yesterday.
“When I found out the place was on fire, I was numb. Utterly numb. My wife turned to me and said that this would change our whole lives. And it did.”
During the riots in Clapham, looters broke in to Duncan’s Party Superstore, stealing masks which some people used to conceal their identity as they went on to rob further shops. One looter was captured on CCTV inexplicably setting fire to a costume hanging up – an act that would lead to the whole shop and flats above catching light, gutting the whole building. Scenes of the shop on fire became one of the lasting memories of the worst civil disorder for a generation.
“There is footage of the person setting fire to the shop, but it’s not particularly clear. A man was arrested for setting fire to the shop, but it turned out to be the wrong person. To date, no-one has been apprehended for the crime.” It clearly frustrates Duncan that the person who almost ended his business, not to mention lives of the tenants in the flat above, is still free to walk the streets. But he is adamant that he does not want to get involved in that side of things, preferring to leave this to the authorities and concentrate on his livelihood and charity work.
“It was nine months before any building work commenced. We did consider moving but decided that it wasn’t logical. The location is important to us, everyone knows us here and we love the area, so we wanted to stay here. We took on the shop next door on a temporary basis and also took space in Debenhams whilst we were waiting for our premises to come back in to our hands.”
The story behind the shop moving temporarily in to Debenhams is another example of the community pulling together. The store manager contacted one of the Directors to enquire whether he could let out the space. It transpired that this Director lived locally and the deciding factor was an impassioned plea from his daughter to who was distraught that her ‘favourite shop in Clapham’ had been destroyed. “He said… oh, go on, let them in – make my daughter happy. That phone call from his daughter sealed it!”
Duncan’s shop is also a hub for the charity he founded, The HEAL Kids foundation – which helps impoverished and disabled children in South East Asia. Duncan takes profits out of the business, ploughing them in to the charity he founded after meeting street kids during a visit to Burma. Following the fire, he was worried on what the effect on the charity might be now after the business was razed to the ground.
“We were worried about how the charity might fare after the fire as the charity was struggling to attract donations. The local community were brilliant though, in fact – the level of money the public gave to the HEAL Kids Foundation actually went up the more and more people heard about it. Despite our worries, the fire actually had a positive effect on the charity.”
Now the store is open again in the same premises, Duncan is optimistic about the future.
“I’m sure most of the customers we had before in the shop will come back again now we’re back in the same shop. In fact, they’ve been supporting us whilst we’ve been trading in the other shop and in Debenhams.
“Also, Debenhams were so pleased in how we operated out of the Clapham store; they’ve now offered us the rest of their stores around the UK. We’ve opened four trial stores in the last year in Croydon, Guilford, Woking and Harrow and we’re now looking for investors to help us finance rolling out in Debenhams stores all over the country.”
Party Superstores re-opens its doors for the first time today Clapham Junction.