This week Emily Beber looks at the fierce debate around plans to move the Southbank skaters from the Undercroft and calls for a greater respect for both the skaters and the sport as whole. As ever you can add your thoughts using the thread below…
It was Billy Bragg’s concluding statement in his Guardian article back in July that really made me squirm; of the Southbank skaters he asked: “Are they part of the community on the South Bank, or do they believe no compromise is possible?”
Bragg was talking about the Southbank Centre’s (SBC) Festival Wing development, a £120 million, three-year long refurbishment which while promising to bring some great new opportunities will also transform the notorious skating hotspot that is the Southbank Centre’s Undercroft into retail units for young entrepreneurs. In the ambition for a larger cultural community, the skating community will be uprooted and so we must question whether there was a compromise here to begin with.
In the 1970s skaters, BMX cyclists and rollerbladers moved in to what was once an empty walkway of brutalist architecture. Today, the Undercroft is a space recognised world-wide. In the face of its destruction, skating stars from all over the world have stood up to defend the area as a heritage site. As skateboarder and spokesman for the Long-Live Southbank campaign Henry Edwards-Woods stated: “It was all about the folklore and the history and you got told stories about so-and-so doing this trick here in 1991.” The Undercroft created a community that resonated way beyond its concrete limits.
“It was all about the folklore and the history and you got told stories about so-and-so doing this trick here in 1991.”
The proposed solution offered to the Undercroft skating community was a new space, 100m away beneath the Hungerford Bridge. Still on the South Bank, 10 per cent bigger, potentially permanent and designed by 42 architects, it sounds ok on the surface. Parts of the Undercroft may even be built into the new design. But the skaters remain unhappy and I’m not surprised because despite having a new shiny space to use, it is not nor ever will be the Undercroft.
As SBC artistic director Jude Kelly has said that “Everyone needs to make room." The Festival Wing will only add to the wonderful work done at that the Southbank Centre, but while the organisation might be fighting for a greater community feel, the community that already existed is being relegated; a space that was crafted by those within it destroyed and its the folklore dispersed. Skating is a sport defined by its place on the street, its improvisation within spaces like the Undercroft.
Perhaps a wiser compromise might be a greater respect for the degree of the impact the destruction will have upon a community that preceded the development.