Today we have an essay on the history of Needleside plus zine scans from one of the guys behind it, Leo.
Needleside is dead. It had a good run I suppose. 7 years isn’t too bad.
I’m pretty sure the name came from Avid and Bruce joking about the grim reality that when we first turned up it was awash with the left over syringes and hypodermic needles of local junkies. Matched with the fact the place was long, thin and deadly, this seemed apt and was soon adopted by all. Of course we adopted the ‘…side’ tag, in honour of the mother of all DIY spots, Burnside.
Rough, lumpy, narrow, puddly, slippery from spray paint, our little haven was far from your top notch cement job and made by a core crew of about 6 of us who pretty much didn’t have a clue… A labour of love created after long days at work, weeks of drizzle and the seizing opportunities after sighting material. A little oasis of gnar, tucked away from oversaturated prefab parks or the same old street spots.
Pretty much all of the bricks, rubble, foundations, rebar and hardcore were salvaged, stolen or donated. Bolt cutting an unused tennis court fence in the middle of the night, sneaking into demolition sites or abandoned gardens, utilising free-cycle kindness, rummaging through skips, we gathered everything and anything we thought might be useful, often hastily ‘fly tipping’ our hoard by the main entrance, before coming back to shift it out of view as not to raise suspicion. Laurie and I even donned high-vis vests and matching blue jumpers a few times so passers by would think we were legit workers. Our lack of safety shoes would have given us away.
What little money we had was spent on cement, gravel, sand or tools. We all dug deep into our own pockets, Laurie made a couple of benefit DVDs, Rozi and Parfitt did t-shirts, stickers and other bits and pieces to raise dosh. Serious Sam did benefit gigs. Vince from Sore Skateboards threw in more than he ever should have and even Bruce said we could take some paving slabs out of his mum’s garden which made for a great platform on the funbox. I have to admit I’m guilty of guilt tripping visiting skate teams to ‘chip in or fuck off’, whereas some didn’t even need asking. This type of extortion often led to free product being handed out which the technologically incompetent among us got Dave Tyson to try flog on ebay. You need to realise, Needleside predates the corporate sports brands and energy drink companies’ interests in DIY builds, and that set a precedent with us declining any offers in the future. We did get sent a box from Deluxe with a load of ‘known associates’ stuff in it though. That was pretty cool.
We shared what little tools we had or could lay our hands on, often smoothing the cement barehanded before we realised the dire consequences. We got brick laying tips by some 10 year old kid who happened to pass by one day, who’s dad happened to be a builder. Tom Wade and his dad gave us a wheelbarrow and some old shovels after the one Laurie took out of his folk’s garage fell apart mid build. I even heard the unverified but very believable tale that Dougy skated all the way from Bradford with a decent broom for us to help with sweeping.
Our little community spirit was alive and well. Sure we all argued about layout, transitions, building methods, money, sticker designs and who’s turn it was to fetch the water but each time each of the finished pieces were skateable they always brought on more challenge and stoke that we forgot what the fuck we were bitching about. I remember turning up one day to find Doug and Avid had initiated the complete deforestation of the trees behind the 1st quarter, thus doubling the size of the place instantly. Some guys even came up from Derby to lend a hand whilst most of us were away and left behind some great additions to the site. This lovely surprise was a great bit of much needed reinvigoration. Thank you. You know who you are, even if I don’t. Little by little the place evolved to what it was, and we never felt it was ever finished. Inspired by other DIY spots all across the globe and even those just down the road in Liverpool, made Needleside’s organic unplanned growth pretty unique, like so many DIY builds today. The only one thing we all shook our heads at was some badly built BMX lump bank bullshit that appeared one day, but that didn’t last very long.
Any visitor will tell you the walk up from the road to the spot along the narrow path was sketchy enough on its own, so try imagine what lugging armfuls of heavy bricks, bags of sand, tubs of water or clumps of landfill was like. It was no picnic, but luckily we often had muscle man Mack on board, heaving junk back and forth and keeping everyone entertained with his presence. Even pushing the wobbly wheelbarrow was a nightmare, especially in the dark. Add to that the danger of stepping in human shit and you’ll think we were all mad.
We persevered though and got stuff done. It wasn’t long before new blood started showing up, helping maintain the place and shred it harder than we ever thought possible. Here’s where I name drop Martyn Hill and Blinky, who told me it was the main reason he moved to Leeds, which I’m glad about cos I love that guy. Needleside was also was the first place I met Jordan Kaye, Joe Howard and Paul Graham, a rad bunch of Yorkshire fellas who I’ve been on a fair few missions with since. Anyone who respected the place was welcomed, especially if they left hyped. There were plenty of people with that sad sense of self entitlement who showed up but that’s nothing new in skateboarding. I don’t want to say Needleside was a proving ground for anyone, but there were certainly folks who went there once and never returned. Needleside was fucking hard to skate, that’s why people liked it.
Over time the original crew got full time jobs, moved hundreds of miles away, badly broke their wrist, scrapped their van, had kids, got married and all manner of other responsibilities. You could say life got in the way, but whenever we each reconvened or returned on our own to the place we all helped build, we reminded ourselves how rad the autonomous free flow build of Needleside proved to be a part of who we are.
It’s a shame most of the photos you see only show tiny glimpses of the times when someone was bothered enough to turn up with a camera, usually to snap their friends or the show-ponys gagging for media coverage. Any photo you see needs proper analysis of ‘how the fuck did they get the speed or line for that?’ So much raddness went down there over the years unrecorded and only witnessed by those who could be bothered skating its harsh curves. To have been told by the likes of Thrasher photographer Joe Hammeke, Pro’s Al Partenen, Darren Naverrette and Stu Graham, who turned up and spent all afternoon loving the place, that you and your crew had built something amazing, with what little material and space available was pretty life assuring too. We all cheered when Needleside showed up for 4 seconds in their next Creature video.
It’s no secret Needleside’s entrance had been blocked off a while back now, making it increasingly more difficult to get into, especially if you wanted to lug down any building materials. How the graffiti folks manage (and needleside was their spot before us by the way) with all their tins and paint rollers I do not know. The sense of neglect was being readdressed as both Rozi and I were hoping to rejuvenate the place with a resurfacing and a couple new things to skate. So far no one knows for definite why the place has been demolished, and I’m, as I’m sure many others are, sad to see it go. With conflicting theories emerging all the time, from the landowners in the field next door about to redevelop the area, the council sick of the spray painter’s mess, scooter kids getting hurt, or other local DIY spot rivalry (just kidding!!), one thing is for sure is that Needleside put Leeds on the DIY skatespot map, inspired others to build their own, and created a fantastic sense of comrade among those who built, skated, slammed, hungout and realised their dreams there. Needleside is dead. Long Live Needleside.
During the Needleside build, not too much was documented other than this short few pages I did for my now defunct skate zine Curbsnot. You can imagine much of the sentiment still applies to other builds to this day. Here’s the pages for you to enjoy.