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Hankering and Hypocrisy – The Hungerford Bridge Story

Iain Borden was recently interviewed in FakieHillBomb, where he made several comments regarding Southbank skate spot and we the community, so we thought we’d clear a few things up.


Objection to destruction delivery day 2014 – Image by Sophia Bennett


Firstly, we want to clarify that Professor Iain Borden was never part of the Long Live Southbank campaign and is not a current user of Southbank Undercroft and therefore anything he says about either subject is from an unqualified position and at best, sketchy. Sure he did a film interview with us, and one of the many meetings we organised was at his office back in early June 2013, but by the end of that same month he was already in dialogue with the Southbank Centre about a ‘design brief’ for the intended ‘replacement'(“relocation”) site for ‘urban‘ activities at Hungerford Bridge. However we at LLSB were 100{582bf3c5bb9d7fdb26ecbafe693d43b10c2d56b4e3c12eb2eaf5c4edefa01811} fully focused on building a campaign that would save Southbank skate spot from short-sighted, commercially-driven, careerist decision making.


Secondly, Iain does not engage in discussion with the community of the current Undercroft, and while he is still pushing a covert negative portrayal of the space, we as a community are just getting on with things and enjoying our home with the positivity it – and we – deserve after 5 decades of defending it. Especially with the amazing positive vibe since we signed the agreement to protect the space for future generations and the new faces and crews who come down and jam at Southbank.


So let‘s unpack what‘s going on in this interview…


The interview featured comments on the proposed Hungerford Bridge space as well as presumptions and assumptions about Southbank skate spot and the Community and how we think. But hey, everyone‘s entitled to an opinion. It just needs a little careful watching when it‘s a perceived ‘expert’ opinion.


Let‘s remember that Iain was commissioned by the SBC to produce an “urban” performing arts area (cunningly labelled a ‘skateable space’ to sell it to the public) and during his employment in developing the Hungerford Bridge site he revealed just how out of touch he really was, and still is.


Let’s also remember that the Southbank Undercroft community is an independent community first established in the 1970s – a full decade before Southbank Centre Ltd took over management from the Greater London Council and the public space became a private estate. Our significance and independence is recognised by Lambeth Council in the listing of us as an Asset of Community Value and their statement that “the skateboarding park could be considered, in the officer’s opinion, as a separate entity, as it is not wholly dependent on the Southbank Centre.”



The ‘alternative’ site


Prof Borden says; “I worked with the Southbank Centre to look at the alternative site underneath Hungerford Bridge, but we always wanted that to be a viable alternative if the Undercroft did indeed get closed down“.


Ermmm yeh, about that…


You take an ‘alternative’ route if the road you normally go down is closed and you need to find another way to your destination. The route isn’t important, the destination is. But you do not hang up an ‘alternative’ painting because the Mona Lisa has been destroyed. We put it across many a time that there was no ‘alternative’ or ‘replacement’ for Southbank – it was in fact the shutting down and destroying of something uniquely organic and firmly established, and the starting of something completely new which is controlled and contrived, and ultimately the 2 are unconnected. Arrogantly self-proclaiming the proposed Hungerford Bridge theoretical design ‘world class’ in a press release before even a brick had been laid fooled no one.



bird-shit        mellow-banks

Illustrations of Bird Shit Banks before Southbank Centre destroyed them to rid the area of skaters before ironically designating the area for ‘skating’ in order to create ‘prime retail space’.  Illustrations by James Jarvis and Andy Smoke   


So it wasn’t and never will be a “viable alternative space”; it was a new space, a risky experiment that ignored all the warning signs. One that could be hired out, would feature events with commercial retail and be programmed with all kinds of activities unrelated to the 40 year old Southbank Undercroft culture and traditions. This was a camouflaged slow erosion of skateboarding at Southbank under the guise of it’s “bigger and better” – neither of which was true. The Southbank Centre planning application for Hungerford Bridge stated it was to;


“create a space for skateboarding, BMX riding, Parkour, street writing and other arts and cultural events.“ and “the design for the Hungerford Bridge site should allow for the possibility of hosting events-based programming, such as skateboard competitions and dance performances.”


Great, then go ahead and do that. Just don’t go pretending it’s the “new undercroft”. Yep they went so far as to promote it as the ‘Hungerford Bridge Undercroft’. A lil’ education lesson for them;


Undercroft (noun): the crypt of a church. (Architecture) an underground chamber, such as a church crypt, often with a vaulted ceiling


Hungerford Bridge was/is a… well you already guessed eh – a bridge no less.


If things would had have gone the Borden/Southbank Centre way skateboarding would have been fully co-opted and absorbed into the constraints of institutional governance and bland formulaic visions that stifle creativity. Again no one was fooled – no matter how many times Artistic Director Jude Kelly said “our skateboarders”. We never were hers and never will be. We are a creative community of human beings – not a commodity or collateral for careerism or anything else – and we cannot be owned and we cannot be bought – as we clearly showed.


In press releases Southbank Centre and Iain Borden stated that the skateboard community was divided about the Undercroft and the Hungerford Bridge. This was pure propaganda and completely false as we clearly showed through our campaign where the international, UK and London skate scene were completely behind the united call for the preservation of the Undercroft. SBC and Iain Borden were so confused during this period that they didn’t even know if they had 1, 2 or 3 ‘professional skateboarders’ on their tiny ‘design panel‘. Turns out there probably wasn’t even 1 as they incorrectly called one person a pro skater who actually wasn’t, and the others wished to remain ‘anonymous’. None of us were buying it.


Of course he is entitled to his view, as are the 150,000 of us that supported Southbank preservation and the 40,000 individual planning objections. But to try to force an idea on people who have clearly stated issues, concerns and objections with the design, the layout, the governance is, in its most basic form, wholly undemocratic. Besides, no one would want to skate a design that contained anti-skating features. Hungerford Bridge was a very confused knee-jerk reaction to the popularity of preservation of the Undercroft. The public designs of Hungerford Bridge were only theoretical and not truly representative of the actual size and design possibilities. A fundamental flaw was the noise factor of the high volume of trains. Anyone who knows anything about skateboarding would know how important being able to hear other skateboarders around you is.


As for “if the Undercroft did indeed get closed down”; we told Iain that was not an option for us. At its very core, skateboarding is about committing and Iain seems to have bailed before even the first try of the trick.


He continues that “skateboarding is generally being welcomed and appreciated as an urban phenomenon, and is not being sidelined, sidetracked or marginalised”. Well, while Iain has been sleeping, the crew of LLSB have been working really hard to stop the destruction of skateparks, skatespots and the introduction of public spaces protection orders (PSPO’s) all across the UK and indeed the globe. Iain may be hanging up his skate shoes but we in the skate scene have a long way to go before skateboarding is not considered a crime.


And where was Prof Borden’s voice in response to the continued ‘white-male-middle class’ rhetoric that came out of the mouths of his SBC colleagues in regard to the Undercroft? Or maybe out-of-touch Iain agreed with them and would rather bypass the reality and evidence of the social, gender, heritage and generational equality at Southbank. Maybe they all at SBC think mainstream society has sorted itself out and is fully equal for women and people other than white. Just look at the diverse SBC board of governors… oh wait. Our bad, they are all socially comfortable white people (and some tick-box boughie schmoozer-to-the-arts-‘elite’ ex-radio 1Xtra DJ joker called Nihal). Okay let’s take a lead by example from SBC senior management then – oh wait… same old same old. Ne’er mind, let’s crack open a bottle of the finest hypocrisy and pour a glass while we wait for SBC to catch up with colourful pallet of the population rather the closed cupboard of arts chumocracy .


But he goes on….



The old ‘them and us’ tactic


Iain regrets that “it turned into such an opposition into the Undercroft vs Hungerford Bridge, where these two spots were being completely contrasted to each other.”


Opposition always came from the Southbank Centre, it was them that pitched the skateboarders against youth jazz musicians and others creative practitioners at SBC and also mislead the public of what the Hungerford Bridge really was and demonised and vilified the skateboard community at every opportunity as part of their campaign. They even crudely paraded young people they had misinformed at a public discussion chaired by local MP’s. It was cringe worthy to watch, and pretty disturbing and very concerning. But yet again, no one was fooled. The divide and conquer methodology is not the way you engage in engaging and communicating with people.


Incredibly divisive and patronising ‘Battle for the Southbank: Skater kids v jazz warriors‘ loaded article by Jude Kelly’s mates over at the Evening Standard



He continues; “it would have been good to have a somewhat more open debate about this.”


In terms of “the open debate” the Southbank Centre stated categorically on practically every occasion that we were not allowed to discuss the preservation of the Undercroft. The subject was censored. You can hear it clearly in our The Bigger Picture campaign film. It was always a one sided conversation with a closed door in terms of talking about preserving the Undercroft. That did not begin with us.



The ‘zoo’


It was the Southbank Centre that put up the Barriers and it is the SBC who benefit from the huge volume of people who specifically come to watch skateboarding at Southbank. If the Original Space was never removed or restricted under the promise of its return, this would not have been an issue. The spectator effect is a direct result of Southbank Centre’s reduction of the original design and floor space.


“I think the Hungerford Bridge site would be even more open to the public, and also integrated with them – Søren’s designs were all about bringing the public into the skate site, making it seem more like a real public space that is good to skate, rather than the pseudo-skate plaza which the Undercroft can sometimes seem like, with a bounding fence and them-and-us separation of skaters and non-skaters.”


Ahhhh Iain, lest you forget ‘Southbank Centre’ is a private estate. It is us that are truly trying to reclaim the space for and by the people – not your Hungerford Bridge fiasco.


Even though the Undercroft is a barriered space, the public still have full access to it and no one ever restricts them to it. We saved it for everybody but we should all also respect traditions and indigenous culture. Does Iain really think that with a riverside walk that stretches for miles, the general public really needs another space to eat a sandwich in the name of ‘integration’?



Southbank and the future


Iain said he ‘sometimes worries’ about the history and atmosphere about Southbank. Well we can help there; no need to worry we’re chillin’ and having a great time and hyped about what the future of Southbank will be as we see the youngers and next generations shred SB with ever-increasing style and vigor.


The Undercroft is not a “skate plaza”, no matter what happens it is still a found space and a street spot. People from all over the world state how tough it is to skate it and that it prepares skateboarders for the streets.



The Terraces before they were lost to yet more commercial unites that continue to engulf the Southbank Centre. Lucien Clarke ~ image by Henry Kingsford


In terms of other skateable spaces around Southbank anyone in the skateboard community knows there are skate spots all over the Southbank Centre site as can be seen in many photographs of people like Rory Milanes, Lucien Clarke, Ben Jobe, Neil Smith, Winston Whitter. If the SBC wants to be truly progressive why don’t they open up the site to be fully skateable and not to send security? With so much space on the Southbank for the public to eat, drink, stand, sit, walk, and such limited space for ungoverned creative expression, it’s unbalanced and ridiculous to say that new spaces should be “even more open to the public, and also integrated with them”.


By Ian Borden’s own analyses and analogy of “them and us” separation, should we then suggest that the Royal Festival Hall audience get up and out of their seats and sit amongst the Orchestra on the stage, in the name of Unity?


If we’re to focus our energy on the future of Southbank for the next generations then we the community will be investing that into something useful like the reclamation and restoration the entire Undercroft space as it was in the beginning… not forcing all “urban” art forms and practices into a tiny pigeon hole formally known as Bird Shit Banks – and never destined to be ‘Hungerford Undercroft’.


To read the original interview with Iain Borden click here;

An Interview with Professor Iain Borden on Southbank and Skatepark Design from the 1970s to the Present