My nan used to live in Waterloo and lots of our weekends as children were spent visiting her and staying over; the Southbank was our ‘park’ and both of my brothers would bring their skateboards along; they would watch the skilled skaters for hours and then they would try and learn new tricks. It was a continual source of inspiration for them.
In fact the Undercroft is known as the birthplace of British Skateboarding and celebrates 40 years. It is the home of skateboarders, BMX riders and graffiti artists making it one of the oldest recognised and still existing skateboarding spaces in the world.
This weekend, I walked along with my daughter Megan as we made our way to the Royal Festival Hall for a jug of Pimms, I told her how her uncles spent hours and hours there trying to be as good as the others and we watched the amazing skateboarders perform in front of us, expertly using the ramps, jumps and curves (is that the technical word for the curved walls?)
I love the Undercroft as it brings back so many happy memories of childhood. I love the art on the walls, the skills of the skateboarders who I could watch for hours and I love the buzz, the alive feeling I get when I am there. It’s special, you have to see it to understand.
At dinner I reminisced with my brother about those times and was disappointed to hear the Southbank Centre had plans to move the Undercroft and replace it with retail units as described in the Feilden Clegg Bradley’s controversial plans for a much more ambitious redevelopment.
Of course it goes without saying that stretch along the Thames is a hugely popular area and would most likely rake in thousands no, millions but at what cost?
It’s true the 1960’s brutalist buildings are in desperate need of refurbishment but moving the Undercroft to a specially designed skatepark under Hungerford Bridge which is just a bit further along the way is not the solution, take a look at this video by Long Live Southbank and you’ll see why.
Even London’s mayor Boris Johnson stepped in saying he supports much of Southbank’s redevelopment plans, but not moving the skaters from the Undercroft.
You see the Undercroft wasn’t “designed” to be a skate park but the space was adapted by skaters – you can’t rebuild that. There were plenty of attempts during the 90’s to stop kids skating, gravel thrown down on the surfaces, parts of their area taken away but still they continued to do what they loved most.
The beauty of the Undercroft is that all levels of skaters use it and it has a “cool” factor among skaters. I like the fact that the Undercroft is a space that has grown, it has been nurtured for decades by people passionate about skateboarding, this fight comes from the heart and that is why I am adding my name to their battle so future skateboarders can discover the thrill of street skating in a safe place alongside top skateboarders.
Megan told me our Gracey has a skateboard on her birthday wishlist this year, I took a look at the Z-Flex Skateboard – you never know, we may be looking at a future pro here.
Fortunately the Southbank Centre has recently won a £16 million grant towards the conservation and the refurbishment of the brutalist buildings, the Feilden Clegg Bradley is back to the drawing board to see what they can come up with and expects to make recommendations towards the end of the year and one last word is
You must visit the Festival of Love at the Royal Festival Hall this summer if you are in town, I had a quick look and it looks amazing, I’m definitely bringing the girls up to explore more this summer.