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On Mapping and Authenticity, guest blog by David Steele

Approaching my mid forties, with nothing trendier in my wardrobe than a Fat Face jumper, I’m an unlikely candidate to become interested in the campaign to save the Undercroft.

Map by David Steele
Map by David Steele

I don’t skate, but I do appreciate the skill of the skaters. You don’t have to be a fish to enjoy the aquarium. I watch those skaters doing their thing and I’m instantly transported. To stop and watch an accomplished skater is to witness mastery. Each ride is its own meditation, with instinctive movements long dedicated to muscle memory, testimony to the hidden hours of repetition and practice that led to their flawless execution. To me, it’s no different from watching a tennis pro win at Wimbledon. Mastery is mastery. Just to witness it is, in some small way, to share in that moment.

I’ve been back to London many times in the last few years. I’ll take any excuse I can get for a trip back there. It’s my spiritual home, and of all the places in Britain that are important to me, the span of the South Bank between Westminster Bridge and HMS Belfast is about my favourite (with Bamburgh beach in close competition).

The Undercroft is valuable to me because it feels genuine. Just like that band you like – the one that only you know about because they haven’t sold out yet.  In the same way that a crowded market has more of a buzz than a Tesco Extra, there’s an authenticity that comes from its rough-hewn nature. This is the tree house rather than the village hall. It’s the never-ending game of soldiers in the back yard rather than corporate team building at the paint-ball centre. It’s make do and mend, complete with hard edges, dirty walls and nobody to complain to when things don’t go your way.

But this is precisely what’s under threat. The new plans from the South Bank Centre are to develop the Undercroft area with shops, small businesses, etc, which will help fund a number of community ventures, such as art programmes for young people. On its own, that’s something I’d support at the drop of a hat. Especially since it’s so difficult for small businesses to get a foot hold in this land of corporate giants.

But part of the plan involves taking the skaters away from the Undercroft and providing them with a custom-built skate area to call their own. And this is the part that makes me want to do something. It’s the mentality of the Indian Reservation. The very act of “giving” this space to the skaters that will be enough to make it fail. It becomes an act of charity and takes away the very essence of the place. In the words of Kate Bush – “What made it special made it dangerous”.

It’s little surprise to me that the skaters want to keep their park. It’s part of their identity. It’s pride. It means something to them.

You can’t manufacture that. You can’t distribute authenticity.

Anyway, for what it’s worth, I’ve mapped out the original Undercroft site. It’s my way of showing support to the cause. It’ll either serve as a reminder of what we have – or of what we lost.

I do hope it’s the former, for many years to come.

See the original post with downloadable PDF of the map at David’s website.