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LLSB: Southbank Undercroft ~ Proposal for Restoration of Original Design and Vision

LLSB: Southbank Undercroft ~ Proposal for Restoration of Original Design and Vision

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SOUTHBANK UNDERCROFT ~ Proposal for Restoration of Original Design and Vision

Last September, when we signed the agreement with the Southbank Centre protecting our skate spot in the long term, we were quite rightly pretty chuffed with ourselves and our patch of Waterloo paving stones that are beloved to so many. But the space that we had gained long term protection for was just one third of the size of the space discovered, and marvelled at by the skaters of 1973.

Eric Dressen - FS Grind on Wall

When first discovered, no doubt with wide eyes and incredulous smiles, the Undercroft stretched all the way back to Belvedere Road and featured all manner of features ripe for skating: the bank to wall, the little banks, the road gap. But over the course of time elements of the Undercroft were constricted, no doubt as part of the plan to remove skaters from the site – even though it was only the skaters and homeless using it. The scene, whilst remaining strong, lost skaters heartbroken by the restriction of access to their favourite parts. In 2005, when a huge chunk of the Southbank Undercroft was boarded off, the Southbank Centre promised that the hoardings were temporary, and the space would be returned after the refurbishment of the Royal Festival Hall. The illusion of a mere temporary closure took the wind out of any potential ‘Save Southbank’ campaign. The hoardings went up and are yet to come down. The Southbank Centre are yet to fulfil their promise. We would like to help them.

Today we release our Original Space Proposal. This 50 page report is not the climax of our campaign, it is a synopsis introduction. A more comprehensive document will be released in August. However it presents the case for the complete restoration of the Undercroft. Of course there is the moral argument. Promises have been made. Promises should be kept. But there are many more convincing arguments.

We are not asking for some integral part of the Southbank Centre to be returned to us. The areas of the Undercroft claimed by the Southbank Centre are currently used as a poorly frequented pop up bar, seasonally used exhibition space with similarly few humans, and storage space. On the other side of the temporary hoardings is a space which does capture the public’s imagination. The skate spot is highly frequented by skaters of all backgrounds. Here is a community of people captivated by activities such as skateboarding and un-commissioned street art and graffiti. We skate the painted walls. Hordes of people stand to watch us. Surely it makes sense to take down the hoardings and relieve the bar of its sombre empty existence.

Andrew Brophy by Dom Marley
Andrew Brophy by Dom Marley

Whilst the Southbank Centre has its role, it must accept its limitations. It straddles two inner city boroughs, yet singularly fails to engage with a wide range of people who one could label disadvantaged. For many youngers who have been getting in trouble, or recent immigrants, or people who aren’t white or people who can’t afford a drink in a Southbank Centre bar: these people find the skate spot to be their home. It is exceptionally rare for a space to bring such a broad range of people together as friends. Of my closest friends at the skate spot, at least 6 came to Britain knowing almost nobody, and found the Undercroft to be the place which welcomed them. And they could not have been welcomed by a better place. The free, easy going creativity of the community, the inspiring architecture and the presence of hugely talented professional skateboarders, photographers and filmmakers open up countless doors. It is no coincidence that so many highly successful creatives are locals, or former locals at Southbank.

There is also an intergenerational conversation at the Undercroft which seldom occurs within formal arts institutions. With ‘authority’ and formality often comes condescension and ageism. The longevity of the skate spot (it is the longest continually skated in the world) means that the community spans generations. However, unlike in many formal arts institutions, the diversity, and following lack of cliques makes it quite natural for a 16 year old to become good mates with a 36 year old. Many organisations, including the Southbank Centre (whether they choose to admit it or not), try to artificially replicate what happens perfectly naturally at Southbank, bandying about buzzwords such as ‘mentoring’ and phrases like ‘a guiding hand’. But artificially constructed relationships are not the same.

At Southbank, over 40 years a creative community has developed organically, amongst brutalist architecture perfect for skateboarding and besides a river perfect for allowing a community to grow. Since the late 80s, the community has been slowly constricted. An ever decreasing space, with ever less features to skate would never hold a community as large as it did in the late 70s, when hundreds of skaters frequented the Undercroft on weekends.

We know that the Undercroft can fulfil a communal function that no institution can replicate. Here, young people, marginalised people are engaged day after day by hugely creative, healthy activities. We would like to work with the Southbank Centre, take down the temporary hoardings, repair any damage that has been done to the original design and let Southbank flourish. Just imagine the potential.

Nothing is impossible, as over 150,000 of us showed. Together we can let the Undercroft breathe again – we can bring it back to life.

Anyone interested in helping out can drop us a line at info@llsb.com


You Can’t Move History ~ But You Can Build A Future!