The first time I experienced skateboarding was at Southbank. Some 20 odd years ago, my parents took me down there with my little plastic Variflex board because that was where the skateboarders were. A whole hoard of kids and adults whizzing back and forth across the undercroft and attacking the numerous banks slanting here and there. It was organised chaos with a strong sense of community. It didn’t matter how good you were or if you had the best gear. All that mattered was that you were skating and sharing the adrenalin and love that warmed the otherwise dark and forgotten urban space.
Dark and forgotten aren’t far off the mark when I watched and experienced the Southbank growing up. The only people skateboarders shared the space with were the homeless souls who inhabited cardboard city at the back. These unlucky people were soon washed away and their shelter barricaded off, so the space fell under our sole responsibility. It wasn’t long before our presence was no longer appreciated despite the fact that we just a bunch of people from every type of social, religious, ethnic and political background looking to have fun for free. The lights went out, the gravel was strewn across the floor, the paving slabs were drilled into, the bars went up, the banks were removed, the open space was sealed off…
How many business men on their way home from work saw us skating and thought they’d get a board for their kid instead of a computer console? How many kids saw their first ollies at Southbank and begged their parents for a board to try and achieve the same magical feat? How many art students and photographers received applause from their peers when they displayed their photos os the skateboarders in their galleries? How many tourists saved a few more pounds by watching the free entertainment of Southbank? Despite the rapid reduction in the size of Southbank, we persisted in making the most of what we had. Today the Southbank is only a fraction of what it was but the scene is still as strong.
Skateboarder, spokesperson and coordinator for the Long Live South Bank movement, Henry Edwards-Wood, pleads the case yet again to save the oldest skateboard spot in the world from redevelopment and commercial endeavours. This is The Bigger Picture.