We Brought Love to a Hopeless Place….
Though it’s possible that not all skateboarders in the UK share Quartersnacks’ abiding love for RiRi, those that don’t can find something different, more optimistically modernist in our pop-culture referencing sub-title. In his use of the term ‘capitalism realism’, British writer Mark Fisher highlighted our collective inability to imagine any alternative to the current way of doing things. It is not that we live within the best, or even particularly bearable, system of organising economic, social and cultural life: there is simply no realistic alternative available to the public mind. We live in a time of perennially lowered expectations for politics, economics, culture and the built environment.
Photos: Simon Bernacki.
Tommy May Kickflips. Photo: Simon Bernacki.
For as long as I’ve lived in Nottingham (20 plus years, cuz), the reality we’ve simply accepted is that we can have a city with a £9 billion economy, yet one of the first things that assails your senses as you step off the Skylink bus from East Midlands airport - perhaps the very first thing you see as a short haul visitor from Europe - is a large, dimly lit undercroft space, sheltered from the elements by the adjacent carpark, smelling strongly of wee and usually sprinkled with broken glass and the occasional needle. This forgotten space immediately adjacent to city centre hubs of wealth creation, leisure and consumption could be in almost any city in the developed world – but Nottingham’s compact geography makes the contrast particularly stark. In less than five minutes’ walk you’re at the foot of Nottingham castle sipping a beer in one of the oldest pubs in England, ten minutes’ walk and you’re nestled within the campus of The Guardian’s University of the Year, three minutes’ walk and you’re viewing international artworks in the award-winning Nottingham Contemporary. But walk straight down those steps and there will almost certainly be multiple pools of vomit as the fourth richest large-to-medium sized city in the UK suddenly shrinks beyond the most long-sighted punter’s line-of-squint.
Adam Gaucher 5-0. Photo: Jarrad Thomas.
We’re privileged as skaters to live slightly outside this collective fugue state where such juxtaposition is always-forever OK. We see the possibilities of unloved urban spaces for play and for community, we accept failure as an important (and repeated) step along the road to achieving something that resists commodification (at least when it happens outside Olympic stadiums), and our favourite skaters and role models are not distant celebrities or Instagram influencers, but our friends and hometown heroes. Iain Borden and others, including the Long Live Southbank fam, have for years illustrated the power of skateboarding to step in and make such spaces, failed by the planning system, into lively, nurturing community assets. LLSB’s Stu Maclure, as we corresponded enthusiastically about how we could put their practice into action in Nottingham, said: “Skateboarding is a perfect tool to turn under-utilised spaces into vibrant, well-loved parts of our towns and cities, allowing communities to form organically and offer new opportunities for pan-generational user groups.”
This space has been skated, sporadically, for up to thirty years - often when the North Midlands weather, sweeping down from the Peak District or inland from the North Sea, saturates the city in angry low cloud. But never officially. Rapid, almost always polite ejection is fairly certain for anyone braving the smell in order to keep rolling through the rain. Anyone on skateboards that is, with near permanent evidence of its use by far more vulnerable occupants – demonstrating the risk that, if we are able to secure longer-term access, we must take care not to become, in Ocean Howell’s words, “the broom” that sweeps out people with profound issues who have nowhere else to shelter from the elements.
This possibility of sanctioned access, and it is still only a possibility, therefore depends heavily on how skateboarders behave and how we make the most of opportunities presented to us. This arose quite quickly, following a workshop Skate Nottingham delivered in February with LLSB’s Hold Tight Henry, where we encouraged young skaters to imagine how they might re-design ‘unloved’ spaces with skateable objects and other low-cost, modular interventions. Part of Nottingham’s Festival of Science and Curiosity, this was hugely successful, getting more than forty skaters scribbling away in a small room on a sunny early-spring weekend, catching the attention of the city’s Creative Quarter Company who, among other things, look after Sneinton Market - Nottingham’s street skating hotspot (Chewy has a line there in Adidas’ ‘Away Days’, it’s all over several Get Lesta videos, but is best appreciated in local filmer Neil Turner’s amazing ‘Olde Trip’ scene video available from Forty Two Shop). The CQ’s Stephen Barker was instrumental in starting a discussion with the owners of the site and helped advocate skaters as potential ‘good partners’, in line with Malmö mastermind Gustav Edén’s playbook. Similar recent progress has been achieved in Southampton, with Steve Béga and the Skate Southampton crew (give them a follow on Insta and be super impressed) finding enthusiastic support amongst their city’s creative quarter and Business Improvement District – showing us all in the UK that if friendly faces can’t always be found in city hall, there are other public, third-sector or commercial actors that can help make things happen.
Kevin Harris Front Rocks. Photo: Jarrad Thomas.
To demonstrate that we could be ‘good partners’, we were given time-limited permission to use the space on Sunday 26th May (which we found out on Thursday the 23rd!), so swung into fairly hasty action with the help of the CQ, Forty Two Shop, Ryan and boys from the Ramp Supply Co, and some resources from a National Lottery grant. Having spent my teens in various hardcore bands, and my 20s in increasingly miserable, introspective post-rock outfits, where you can either play to a packed room or to no-one, with no reliable set of predictors as to which outcome will occur on any given night, it never ceases to amaze and delight me that skateboarders, young, old, male and female, can always be relied upon to show up in force. So, on a rainy Sunday afternoon, at a time when people could otherwise be enjoying the Nottingham leg of the Dot-to-Dot festival, we easily filled that unlovely space with more than fifty skaters, plus many more spectators, friends and family members.
Bambi Crooks. Photo: Jarrad Thomas.
Run-downs of what occurred during such events are rarely the most interesting things, but the semiotics of the following is worth your time: Chris ‘Bambi’ Price, well into his 30s and with photos in magazines for the best part of 20 years (including a backside nosegrind, shot by Horsley, down the hellishly high handrail into that same space, that appeared in Sidewalk in the mid-2000s) won best trick, ending a line with a kicker to k-grind on a rib-high rail that most skaters a decade his junior wouldn’t touch; new resident, all the way from Brazil, Eduardo Martins Dias, won the best line (actually lines, plural), racing down the long wheelchair ramp with a perfect backtail, then a front feeble, then a hardflip over Ryan’s wallie-pole contraption; Skate Nottingham coach and nicest guy Kev Harris won the All-Terrain prize for chucking himself down the steps with his Joel Curtis-like beautiful ollies, caveman-boardsliding the high handrail, dropping in the wall-to-quarter, front-rocking the quarter-to-wall, and ledge dancing to a standard of ambidexterity that justifies his sharing of Gustav Tønnesen’s penchant for man-buns; young Sid and Gus both refusing to give up wall-riding the quarter-to-quarter gap, despite Gus scoring a nasty ankle biter; Nottingham’s female mini-ripper Miriam consistently tore up everything, brightening our grim Anglophone futures; whilst Nottingham’s legendary legend Craig Smedley showed that sore knees and 30+ years of skateboarding (and actual grand-parent status) do not prevent someone from backside flipping road cones and performing frontside ollie to switch crooks with a level of finesse that’s forever Girl-Choc in their pomp at Lockwood.
Craig Smedley, Backside Flip. Photo: Joe Walchester.
A good time was had in a place where normally the worst times happen, which itself sets a responsibility for future action - including with Nottingham’s incredible homeless support services Framework and Emmanuel House – and, as I hope you can see from the photos, we demonstrated the potential of skateboarders as an activist community: volunteers in their teens to their 40s quite literally picking the broken glass from between flagstones, sweeping up unmentionable materials, and creating a temporary space where everyone felt welcome.
With the National Lottery and the CQ’s support, we’re looking to build on this between the 26th of July and the 3rd August, where we’re inviting anyone who can to join us in Nottingham for ‘Skateboarding in the City’. There’ll be photo exhibitions, a big jam and comp at Flo Indoor Skatepark in support of mental health services on the weekend of the 27-28th July, then the ‘Radical Spaces’ workshop on Monday the 29th with Professor Borden and many others, then film screenings, including local scene vids, Finnish skate documentaries from our friends from Tampere, and Minding the Gap, all topped off with a skate filming competition based around obstacles in different parts of the city, with edits screened on Saturday the 3rd August and winners being funded by us to take part in Skate Malmö Street 2019 later in August.
Craig Smedley, Smith. Photo: Jarrad Thomas.
Hopefully y’all can see some kind of grand strategy in all this, which is obviously - piece-by-piece - about trying to construct something akin to the inclusive and forward-looking skate utopias that brothers and sisters in Malmö and Tampere have managed to pull off. This may or may not be possible in the less-than-social-democratic environment of 2019’s Great Britain, but hopefully, also, there’s something heartening about the trying.
LLSB’s Stu Maclure again, singing us out with something more up-beat than Rhianna’s hauntological high-watermark: "It is amazing to see new community groups springing up across the UK and further afield to help celebrate and protect public spaces for generations to come. The benefits of skating for both physical and mental wellbeing are undeniable and new relationships between grassroots campaigners and local authorities are enabling an increased understanding of the value of skateable destinations. Long Live Southbank has given a platform for young people to influence the build environment and it is inspiring to see groups like Skate Nottingham apply the model to other cities."
Words: Chris Lawton.