Alex Jordan FRSA, reflects on his experience pitching The Skateparks Project, at RSA Engage: Making Change Happen Locally in London earlier this year and calls on the Fellowship to help further his cause.
I was delighted to speak at the RSA’s Engage event in May, showcasing The Skateparks Project. Demand for skateparks has grown significantly over the last decade, with increasing interest apparent since skateboarding was announced to become an Olympic sport from 2020. But councils often commission poor quality skateparks, treating them as children’s playgrounds rather than bespoke sporting facilities designed around the requirements of their local communities. Consequently, it is not uncommon for public money to be wasted as park users are left disappointed that their promised facilities are not fit for purpose.
The Skateparks Project was launched in 2014. Our purpose is to provide free impartial advice to councils and communities across the UK to help them build great skatepark facilities, whilst our online skatepark directory helps over 250,000 skaters per year find new skateparks to visit. Many councils report to us that skateparks are their most requested leisure facility amongst young people, but there has also been a resurgence of so called ‘middle aged shredders’ getting back into skateboarding or trying it out for the first time. Unlike many other sports, ability does not hinder involvement because those partaking are competing against themselves; you skate to challenge and enjoy yourself, encouraged by a tight-knit community of hundreds of thousands of people across the country.
The reputation of skateparks and their users is somewhat tarnished. Despite considerable case study evidence suggesting that skateparks can reduce antisocial behaviour, they are often perceived to the contrary and therefore much of our work involves building a dialogue between skaters and their communities. It is quite often the case that antisocial behaviour at skateparks is a consequence of pre-existing social issues amongst the wider population, and not the skatepark users themselves. When projects are handled correctly, skateparks can bring communities together, encourage activity, friendship and help build confidence. Furthermore, skateparks provide a safe environment for skaters who would otherwise be skating on the street, on private land or at other inappropriate places that are unsafe or can cause a nuisance.
Choosing the design and construction methods for a new skatepark is critical. The cheaper skateparks tend to be metal or timber structures on a tarmac base. Whilst the appropriateness of the design and materials adopted is situation-specific, councils often overlook the fact that concrete skateparks, the preferred material of most skatepark users, offer a considerably longer lifespan, with minimal maintenance and reduced probability of vandalism. They are also much safer and quieter to ride than metal and timber, alleviating common objections to new skatepark proposals. By offering advice to councils and communities in the early stages of skatepark planning, they are able to make better informed decisions that promote improved public benefit.
Our involvement with municipal skatepark projects can vary from basic email advice and suggestions, to council meeting presentations, facilitating consultations and helping with funding. We’ll essentially do whatever is required to help councils and communities help themselves. It is very important to us that skatepark projects are driven by their users, so we remain impartial to ensure that local communities retain control of the process, but we seek to guide them so that they may benefit from the experience of previous projects.
How can you help?
I pitched The Skateparks Project at the RSA’s Engage London event for two key reasons. First, there are over 100 London skateparks, but many are in a state of disrepair. We are keen to help the London borough councils and local communities who want to see their facilities improved. I’m therefore looking for appropriate introductions to councils and help spreading awareness since many councils have contacted us when it’s too late to offer effective support. Second, we are currently working to formalise The Skateparks Project as a charity. We are looking for help and advice, potential trustees, mentorship and introductions.
I’d very much welcome your input if you are willing to help guide us through this process, particularly if you’ve formed a CIO and can share your experiences.
Contact Alex Jordan via MyRSA here.
For more information about The Skateparks Project please visit www.skateparks.co.uk.