The LLSB Guide To Saving A Skate Spot: The Interviews

Photo by Katya Ochagavia

The Long Live Southbank Guide To Saving A Skate Spot

Following on from the Kingpin Magazine article where LLSB give an insight into how to save your skate spot and run a successful campaign, here we publish our conversations with other campaigning groups we have worked with: Black Blocks in Atlanta, Drug Store in Norwich, Chopper in Kettering and Friends of Stockwell Skatepark in London.

Since the success of saving Southbank for future generations, LLSB has given advice, support and resources to numerous campaigns and scenes across the globe, whether they are fighting legal bans on skateboarding or the demolition of their skateparks.

Long Live Southbank (Est 2013, success 2014).

 

Interviewees:

Andrew Murrell and Jordan Smith – Save Black Blocks, Atlanta, Georgia (Est. 2016, success 2016).

Amanda Healy – Chopper Skate Store (now closed), Kettering (Est 2015, Council didn’t listen and this matter is ongoing).

Sam Avery – Drug Store, Norwich (Campaign Est. 2014, success 2014).

Matt Gold – Friends of Stockwell Skatepark London (Est. 2014, successfully preserved but looking for funds to maintain the park).

 

Why do you think some councils and authorities have such a negative view of skaters?

LLSB: Initially we were really surprised with the false image that was given of us as the ‘angry and aggressive delinquents’ and that it felt we couldn’t even express frustration that our 40 years of history and culture was going to be destroyed, without getting misrepresented.

Andrew: I supposed it’s based in preconceived notions of skateboarders as young teenagers, thugs, and troublemakers, rather than mature members of their respective communities. Although skateboarding has grown and matured quite a bit over the past several decades, the general public still views it as (something) like hula hooping or jump rope, for the most part. That, and street skateboarding is inherently destructive – there’s no denying that.

Amanda: It is just a matter of prejudice. The majority of councillors just base their opinion of skaters on their preconceived view without actually getting to know the skate community. Even when they do engage it is with a patronizing attitude. We did notice that in general the younger the councillors, the less prejudiced.

Sam: I think mostly they just don’t understand it. Skateboarding doesn’t fit into any easy category so they don’t know how to contain it or deal with it. Unfortunately that leads to fear and aggression rather than a desire to learn or understand.

Matt: Councils have little or no understanding of who skaters actually are so they fall back on stereotypes of disillusioned teenage troublemakers.

 

Savannah Keenan, Feeble Grind, Southbank 2016. Photo by Jenna Selby

 

Is their view justified with evidence or biased and without evidence?

LLSB: We soon realised that councils, developers and authorities use propaganda as a tactic to move their propositions forward. So we wanted to find ways of getting people to see us as we really are so we set up a table and made a bunch of films. The we started to take part in useful panel discussions – we started entering whole different worlds.

Andrew: Eh, yes and no. Like I mentioned, there’s no denying that young skateboarders have a particular reputation and the activity itself is destructive, but I feel that if authorities and lawmakers were to do some real research to determine who actually utilizes public spaces such as Black Blocks for skateboarding, their findings would be drastically different than their assumptions.

Amanda: Definitely biased without evidence, based around damage, safety and complaints. None of these were justified, there was no evidence of damage no accidents reported and only a handful of complaints in 3 years.

Sam: I think mostly it’s based on untrue perceptions of skateboarders as trouble making kids, which is obviously not true.

Matt: Biased and not based on any evidence in my opinion.

 

Protesting at the council offices in Norwich (UK). Photos by John Mattocks

 

What did you do once you heard the threat to skateboarding at your spot?

Andrew: We started the ‘Save Black Blocks’ petition the very night we learned of the plans to renovate Folk Art Park, the entire art display encapsulating Black Blocks. Word got out quick, and the campaign snowballed from there into what it is today.

Amanda: We alerted the community using social media, we contacted the council so they knew we thought it was unacceptable and we had received overwhelming support from all areas of society, got help from the save Southbank group, told the press and started a petition.

Sam: We rallied the scene together and aired our grievances to the council, the local media and through social media.

Matt: We formed an organisation (FoSS) so that the council had a recognisable body to deal with and gathered as much information/history as possible.

 

Friends of Stockwell Skatepark raising funds and awareness to protect the future of Brixton Beach

 

What did you do to gather the skate scene and get the campaign rolling?

Andrew: Atlanta has a small skate scene and luckily for us, everyone was on board and mostly on the same page from the get-go. Sharing the petition on Instagram pushed awareness from Atlanta skateboarders to southeastern skateboarders to skateboarders across the United States and, eventually, the world. We had contacts at Thrasher and the local news, and those were both invaluable in making skateboarders and the local authorities aware of the spots’ demise and the support we garnered, respectively. From there, we kicked off the fundraiser, which was a fantastic way to spread word of the spots’ demise while covering any and all overhead costs.

With the basic social media network set up, we were able to corral followers into letting their disappointment be known on the proper officials’ emails and public Facebook pages via short, respectful messages. As we were planning our television appearances and preparing to show up at meetings, we caught wind of an upcoming conference call regarding our petition between the Office of Cultural Affairs, the Georgia Department of Transportation, and Central Atlanta Progress — the three offices involved in the plans to renovate Folk Art Park. An executive from the Office of Cultural Affairs contacted me the next afternoon to offer a compromise, allowing skateboarders access to the spot while preserving the artwork, which we accepted.

Amanda: All we really had to do was communicate the message, skaters have such a great community we all got together and the rest just flowed.

Sam: Mostly Facebook to be honest. It’s a very useful tool for this kind of thing. I did speak to local newspapers and radio as well, which I think got us some support from people outside the scene. A lot more people than you might expect are opposed to public space being restricted.

Matt: We setup a membership list/social media accounts and spoke to everyone we know in the skateboarding community.

 

L: Andrew Murrell, Front Bluntside. C: Black Blocks under threat 2016. R: Black Blocks as it should be. Photos by David Morico

 

Do you think its important aspect to be seen to resist council or development plans?

Andrew: Absolutely. Although our efforts paid off before we started attending meetings, we were gearing up to start showing our faces at council meetings and start making a public fuss as soon as possible.

Amanda: There was genuine outrage and astonishment to the council’s plans, and given the reaction it was extremely important to resist their plans.

Sam: If the plans are negative and based on un-truths then yes, absolutely.

Matt: If people in general oppose council plans then it is essential to offer some opposition or resistance or the plans go ahead unopposed. It is your right as a resident to have input into these decisions.

 

 

What was wrong with the public consultation and do you think it was a genuine consultation?

Andrew: I’m willing to bet that whoever drafted and finalized the plans to knob Folk Art Park hadn’t spent more than a cumulative hour at Black Blocks so no, I’m not inclined to say it was a genuine consultation.

Amanda: We know of no community group that is in involved skateboarding that was contacted by the council during the public consultation, we only chanced upon it and alerted the wider community, so as far as consulting the actual people affected there was zero communication. It was only when we got support that the council wanted to be seen to engage with us.

Sam: No I think it was pretty narrow and one-sided. I’m not sure if that’s intentional or just a result of the lack of understanding I mentioned earlier.

Matt: As we did not ever hear about this consultation I would suggest that the process was very flawed and of little value. If active people like ourselves did not know about it then who did? Who was it aimed at?

 

Delivering objections to the local council and the LLSB Heritage Report to the Mayor of London. Photos by Dawn and John (LLSB)

 

Did you feel you had access to the decision makers?

Andrew: To an extent. We heard back from about half of the officials we emailed, but most of it was a roundabout sort of acknowledgement and a pass of the buck without offering any sort of resolution. Truthfully, the only way we heard about the meeting regarding our petition was by accident. The newscaster who was planning a story on the spot told us that the network was going to wait to air it until after the three aforementioned offices met, when they would provide a statement. We weren’t involved in the planning of that meeting whatsoever.

Amanda: Yes we did.

Sam: Yeah, I think it was fairly easy to get to the people who held the power. Changing their minds is a little harder though (laughs).

Matt: In this instance no as we didn’t know about it, in the past we have had to continually chase the council “decision makers” to make our voice heard and keep an eye on what they are doing “in our name”. Without this pressure who knows what they would have done.

 

 

How important is social media in a campaign?

LLSB: Tapping in to the creative community of Southbank was crucial. From the very early days of the campaign, the films by Henry Edwards-Wood and the illustrations by Rob Mathieson were super important at getting the visual messages and information to a wide audience of supporters who in turn helped spread the word. Skate media were also key in getting the word out.

Andrew: Social media is arguably the most important tool at your disposal. Thanks to Instagram and Facebook, you can push most anything from a local issue into an international issue with almost no effort, and skateboarders worldwide look out for each other. We were bombarded with overwhelming positivity and support almost immediately. I can’t count the number of people who reached out to us and I’d like to use this as an opportunity to publicly thank everyone for your tips, tools, time, and advice.

Jordan: Use social media as your amplifier and to your advantage, be respectful, leverage the entire skateboarding community, make your voice loud enough that the people behind closed doors can’t ignore you.

Amanda: Social media was extremely important, it is an easy way of reaching a large number of people, however it is also important to back it up we real life meetings etc.

Sam: Essential! I’m not a fan of Facebook at all but it’s very useful for these kinds of situations.

Matt: It is useful to spread the word and keep followers up to date with news and also to raise more support. However it is not very useful in terms of getting things done. It is very easy to passively support a campaign online without actually contributing anything concrete.

 

 

How important was it to reach out the the wider national and international skate scene?

Andrew: Very important. Convincing officials that Black Blocks was a cultural landmark renowned the world over may have been the deciding factor in allowing us to skate there, hassle-free. I don’t think anyone wants to end up looking like Philadelphia again.

Jordan: Super grateful for everyone that showed their support for our cause. It means the world to us because each person that shared our posts or signed our petition played such an integral role in the outcome.

Amanda: It is vital to reach out to the wider skate scene, that way they can be alerted to the fact this is what might be coming to them and maybe they can learn from our campaign and hopefully improve on it.

Sam: It helped us get a LOT more signatures on our petition (3000+) and I think it shows we are part of an international community that is actually a force to be reckoned with.

Matt: This was important up to a point, more support makes it harder to ignore a pressure group but in real terms it is only a very small group of people who are actively running our campaign and really making things happen.

 

L: Josh Kalis, noseblunt slide, Love Park (RIP) 2002. Photo by Mike Blabac. R: Theo from SkatePal reps LLSB at Love Park

 

What were the major issues or hurdles?

Andrew: Time and money, mostly. Everyone involved works full-time, so jumping aboard the campaign to save Black Blocks was essentially taking on a second job. As such, we only had three or four people really giving their all to the campaign, which is understandable.

Amanda: Not understanding the council’s rules and regulations at meetings gave them a big advantage and not being used to public speaking meant they made us look a bit foolish, which was a real shame. They had years of practice and for all the will in the world it is quite overwhelming when you have to stand in front of them and you haven’t done it before.

Sam: Mostly the time commitment for me. It’s a lot of work and that can be difficult to make time for it when you have a business to run and a family you know?

Matt: Still our major issue is funding, along the way problems have focused on motivating our volunteers (all of us are volunteers) and finding the time to run this campaign around our existing commitments , getting initial recognition from the council was very hard indeed and getting them to take responsibility is still proving problematic.

 

Tommy TG, Front feeble on Chris Oliver’s rail at the Southbank Forever campaign success jam. Photo by Ben Stewart

 

Any other tips for campaigns?

Andrew: Be proactive. Take control of the situation immediately and build your own destiny, rather than waiting for the city to provide you with an opportunity to voice your concerns. That may never happen.

Be positive and respectful. It may sound strange, but one of the biggest factors working against us was that we’re skateboarders — that is, we’re generally passionate and written off, to an extent. We had to tell everyone involved in the emailing process that, rather than attacking the decision-makers, we should remind them that we’re taxpaying citizens who are upset with their decision and hope that they could reconsider for the good of both the local Atlanta community and the skateboarding community worldwide.

Skateboarding is not a negative thing, and more people need to accept that.

Finally, just remember: closed mouths don’t get fed. If you don’t make your voice heard, you may never know what the final outcome could have been.

Amanda: Try and find someone on the council who is on your side who can fully alert you to the mechanics of a local council, if this is impossible be prepared and  ask what the rules for talking a meeting are and prepare and practice in front of each other beforehand so you can be a clear strong confident voice and they know they can’t run rings around you. Get as much support and help as you can.

Sam: Just don’t give up. These people are here to serve you, not the other way around.

Matt: Try to involve as many people as possible as it makes the workload much more tolerable, clear roles and task allocation are essential.

Don’t expect the council to look out for your best interests, they don’t know what these are unless you tell them.

Don’t give up, anything to do with local government moves at a snail’s pace so you have to play the long game. Try to remain polite even when you are faced with bullshit – this is very hard indeed as there is an insane amount of bullshit to deal with and often a complete lack of understanding of the real issues.

 

Domas and Tomek on the final day of the campaign table. Photo by Ben Stewart.

Campaigns you can support:

Petition to stop skateboarding being pushed out from Hotel de Ville

Petition to stop skateboarding being banned from Coventry City Centre:

Shaz Jaffer, Switch Flip, Kettering. Photo by Matt Clarke