I Helped in the Fight to Save the Birthplace of British Skateboarding

By Reader Jason Caines on at

The act of skateboarding offers an opportunity for people of all ages and backgrounds to meet and enjoy a meaningful pastime in a uncontrived and organic way. Southbank is the main skate spot in London and is therefore a beacon for this ethos.

The Undercroft, where all the action happens, is known as the birthplace of British skateboarding, with a history of being a skate spot for 40 years. But in March 2013 the Southbank Centre, who owns the land, announced they intended to demolish it in favour of new retail units to fund the construction of a new wing of their festival hall.

I and like-minded others immediately opposed these plans: in April 2013 we banded together to form a campaign called Long Live Southbank, born with the aim of saving the treasured space.

"Victory" by The No Comply Network from Ekaterina Ochagavia on Vimeo.

After 17 months, on September 19th, 2014 it was announced Long Live Southbank had saved the area; the South Bank Centre had officially stated that the Undercroft would stay put and be available to skate on forever. We were all extremely stoked with the outcome.

***

Long Live Southbank was one of the most exciting experiences in recent modern British culture. However, it was initially difficult to gain the support we needed, as only a few of us were able to commit the time needed, we relied heavily on social media and our website to spread awareness of Southbank's potential destruction.

A few weeks later as things started to grow, we received a letter of support from Tony Hawk, accrued a serious amount of members and then held a big skate jam on May 4th. This event was an outright success and on that weekend over 10,000 people visited the Undercroft, signed up and became members to support the cause.

We knew we were on to something serious, not only to be supported by the skate community but seemingly everyone who loved the cultural fabric of London. They all wanted to back our campaign.

We refused to allow this organic, expressive community to fall to the hands of such unjust and ignorant destruction. Once we knew we had the support, we stared selling merchandise and the amount of people involved boomed. Parents, children, artists, musicians, poets and even the ex-culture minister Ben Bradshaw came out in support of our mission.

But this is not to forget the hard work of the skate community: some wrote press releases and articles, others filmed and made edits, we had designers making logos T-shirts, all of which captured the raw artistic talent whom inhabit the Undercroft everyday.

There were countless LLSB volunteers who took time out of their working lives to help on the campaigning table that we kept at the Undercroft every day for 17 months. Sun, rain, snow – whatever the conditions – they were there to help sign up members, sell our merchandise and keep the campaign alive.

We were a creative community believing in a certain place and a certain ethos. Our successful outcome shows that by having an unwavering dedication and positive mentality, you can achieve things that could easily be written off as impossible.

We all love skateboarding, it naturally teaches you alternative ways to connect with others through observation and action, not contemplation and theory. This campaign was a beautiful synthesis of that.

Skateboarding is a living, breathing activity, unlike most of the work exhibited in art galleries, skating is too spontaneous to ever truly be able to capture unless you're there in the process or participating. With all the videos we made, photos we took and letters we wrote, really, the true saviour of Southbank was the physical place itself.

The dynamic architecture of the place offers its community a place to skate hard, and naturally emanates positive vibes, facts that supported the mentality of Long Live Southbank. Everybody who's been down there in the last year and half has seen that life and energy.

It's a place you can go without calling anyone beforehand, there will always be someone you know down there or someone new to meet who comes rolling through. Its one of the rare, expressive environments in the city where you can visit with no plan in particular and have a fresh experience everyday. That is something that 170,000 members of Long Live Southbank recognised and, hopefully, it can become an example for other skate spots around the world and helps skaters to protect their spots too.

Long Live Southbank's success has enlivened the attitudes of young skaters in London, who have seen tangible, positive change happen before their eyes.

The present should never be about what lies in the minds of the old, but what is seen in the eyes of the young; this should be shared and enjoyed by all.

Long Live Southbank forever!

Jason Caines is a writer, film-maker and LLSB Activist based in New Cross, London. He is also the founder of new skate creative agency, The No Comply Network.

Spiels From “Them Below” is our new series of columns written by “them below”: the thousands of readers who comment tirelessly, or tirelessly read, Gizmodo UK. Have you got something to lament? Extol? Ponder? Get in touch at matt.hill[at]futurenet.com, after reading the details here. Disclaimer: content in Spiels From “Them Below” doesn’t necessarily reflect the opinions of Gizmodo UK or its editors.