On riots, response and resilience: The London riots from the small business perspective (Best Paper Business Support, Policy and Practice Track)

Doern, Rachel. 2013. 'On riots, response and resilience: The London riots from the small business perspective (Best Paper Business Support, Policy and Practice Track)'. In: Institute for Small Business and Entrepreneurship. Cardiff. [Conference or Workshop Item]

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Abstract or Description


On Saturday the 6th of August 2011, a civil disorder swept through the city of London (UK), lasting for four days. Approximately 2,278 commercial premises were affected, 61% of which were retail premises, and of these 213 were independent retailers (9%). While much attention following the riots has been devoted to understanding why the public got involved and the police response, this study draws on the experiences of some of the victims, particularly those small businesses affected.

Prior Work

A civil disorder or riot may be regarded as a special type of crisis (Moot, 1968). The term crisis broadly incorporates “disasters, business interruptions, catastrophes, emergency or contingency” (Herbane, 2010: 46). A crisis is low probability event that has high consequences, and generates ambiguity and decision-making time pressures for businesses (Pearson and Clair, 1998). The impact of a crisis on small businesses may be especially great as they often lack preparedness, because of the personal impact on the owner-manager, and because small businesses with limited resources are more vulnerable to a crisis than their larger counterparts (Runyan, 2006). Yet, entrepreneurship/small business journals do not tend to cover issues relating to crises, including crisis management or disaster recovery (Herbane, 2010). Moreover, few studies within the crisis/disaster literature regard businesses as victims and have examined the effects of a crisis on small businesses (Runyan, 2006).


To understand the experiences of small businesses during the London riots, we adopted an interpretive-phenomenological approach. Qualitative interviews were held with 15 small businesses directly affected by the riots, vandalism and looting. The interviews served to capture the entrepreneur’s story of the riots and produce rich accounts in which to ground theoretical discussions.


Loss was a recurring theme across participant accounts. Small business owners spoke about physical losses to the business (e.g. loss of sales), lost opportunities for business development (e.g. scaling back), and psychological or personal losses (e.g. loss of feeling safe). Emotional reactions to losses were intense, mostly negative, and directed at the police, the rioters, and the council or insurers. Small business owners took a number of actions to minimise losses and re-build (e.g. raising their profile).


The study suggests that the vulnerability of small businesses in such crisis situations may be mitigated by not only the extent of damage to the business, but in terms of how they respond, and the level of support they receive.


This study answers calls to provide a clearer understanding of the profundity of losses incurred from a crisis, particularly for small businesses (Herbane, 2010). It may help service providers, government agencies, and policy makers generally, improve their commitment to increasing small business resilience to such crises (ibid).

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Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)



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Date Deposited:

06 Nov 2015 22:52

Last Modified:

27 Jun 2017 11:48



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