London streets see the last of punks and skinheads

Non-conformist punks were a common sight in London from the 1970s.
Non-conformist punks were a common sight in London from the 1970s. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES

Fewer urban tribes spotted as young people spend more time at home and online

LONDON • Once the crucible of youthful rebellion, London's streets have been emptied of punks, skinheads and rude boys by the rise of the Internet, a lack of public spaces and protective parents.

Punk was born in fashion designer Vivienne Westwood's clothes shop, Sex, 40 years ago, bringing anarchy to the posh Chelsea neighbourhood.

"The police used to have to wait at Sloane Square and round up all the punks as they got off the Tube," recalled Westwood in her memoirs. "Once they had about 200 of them, they would escort them in a procession down the King's Road to the shop.

That was in 1976, when Britain had only three TV channels, families were large and parents wanted teens out of their hair and house.

But urban tribes are today a rare breed on the capital's streets, a trend echoed across Britain.

"People still go out and want to be seen, they have that urge to be looked at. The only change is that people have access to a lot more media," photographer Derek Ridgers, author of 78-87: London's Youth, told The Daily Telegraph.

According to an Ipsos Mori survey published in December, 68 per cent of British 15-year-olds spend 10 hours a day on weekends engaged in non-physical pastimes such as watching television, playing video games, surfing the Internet or reading. At the same time, crime and alcohol consumption have decreased significantly, although a link has not been proven.

In 2013/2014, nearly 22,400 young English people were convicted or reprimanded for the first time, a 75 per cent drop over 10 years. "Young people still can be found on the streets and in other public outdoor spaces at certain times and places, but it is probably true to say their overall presence has been reduced," said Dr Paul Hodkinson, a sociology professor at the University of Surrey.

"Societies and authorities have become increasingly intolerant of young people hanging out in public spaces", while parents are more preoccupied with the safety of their children, he added.

Ivy, 15, from London neighbourhood Queen's Park, said she would "prefer to hang out with my friends on the street" than spend time on the Web, but admitted she would "panic" without the Internet.

However, her mother Liz Cor- coran bemoaned the incessant interruption of the virtual world, complaining "there are constant messages and pings".

But for Dr Hodkinson, the popularity of social networks is "more a symptom of the lack of possibilities to congregate in physical space" rather than a cause of the exodus off Britain's streets.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 27, 2016, with the headline 'London streets see the last of punks and skinheads'. Print Edition | Subscribe