Skateboarding is the works so let's keep it going

Matt Gardner

 

With a place as big as Leeds, it's no wonder that a lot of the city's major hubs of activity go unnoticed. Sadly, one of these hidden gems - the holder of a national record, no less - may no longer be around in 12 months time.

The Works skate park, which sits just outside the town centre hidden away in a former railway engine factory on an industrial estate, is England's largest indoor centre of its kind, treating kids and adults alike to more than 25,000 square feet of ramps, rails, bowls and epic drop-ins whether their discipline is skateboarding, rollerblading or BMXing.

Housed in a 120 years old building, The Works takes its name from the former railway engineering workshop that was once inside. It has a charm which many of Leeds' many landmarks seem to lack: atmosphere. Alongside the history behind the warehouse, it's unique, with a complex upstairs café area complementing the vast array of snaking structures designed for riders.

With a park of this magnitude, people from around the area travel far to get in on the action, sometimes driving up to 80 or 90 miles to practice in the boarding sanctuary it provides. As a result, a strong community element has been created between regular attendees and rookies alike.

Despite this, the park doesn't have the support it needs. Although it has proactive bonds with the National Health Service, initiatives such as Change 4 Life alongside plenty of liaising with schools in the area to teach kids how to ride safely, local authorities, charities and lottery funds still overlook what is crucial to the park's longevity: financial support.

But the show must go on. On Saturday September 19, The Works hosted a Nando's-led three-part nationwide skating event known as the Xperi-mental Skate Jam, the brainchild of Marcel Khan, a Nando's chicken restaurant chain managing director and affable skateboarding enthusiast who understands the importance of corporate social responsibility. Marcel shared the goal of The Works: creating a community gathering.

Elliott Turnbull, the park's manager, shows nothing but commitment to the cause of community spirit within Leeds. After diligently working with the event's organisers and skateboarders alike alongside his equally invested staff, much like he does on a day-to-day basis, he spared time to talk about the strong points of the park and, crucially, what Leeds could miss out on if vital funding does not reach the facility. Should this not happen, it could be closed for good within 12 months.

"It's grungy but it has genuine charm. If you build a new facility, it'd take away this element," Elliott explained. "People fall in love with the facility but it's just too expensive for them. People love what we're doing, they love what we're doing for the kids as well, it just needs subsidising from somewhere to drive prices down and make it more accessible to skaters."

Rodney Clarke, a professional skateboarder touring with Nando's, is the perfect ambassador for the sport and its community element. Speaking on the same level with fellow skateboarders nearly half his age and making many friends along the way, he belies the attitude which has been known to surround his peers at a similar level in other sports.

A highly-awarded and eloquent skater, Rodney is a remarkably young-looking 37, which he attributes to the healthiness that skating promotes. He highlighted the necessity for The Works to continue its efforts in sustaining the community.

"You can go to any skate park in the world and after five minutes you've got ten new friends that you've never seen before," he explained. "It's the same for any skateboarder anywhere in the country and that's why skate parks like The Works are so important. Culture, colour, background, creed, race, that's all gone. There's no racism or bullying in this sport."

However, one of Rodney's primary concerns is that regarding the image of skateboarding as an anti-social menace to society. This, he feels, is probably the last thing it ought to be branded.

One woman who knows a lot about the societal perceptions of skateboarding is Deborah Lea, whose son Matthew has found much joy in skating - one of the few things he has gained acceptance through after being bullied. Matthew was born with a bilateral cleft palate - something which, 18 operations later, is now behind him.

Travelling through from St Helens, where she is also petitioning for an indoor skate park after her son was threatened with an Asbo for his suburban skating, this was the first event she had attended and she was immediately taken in by it.

"Everybody takes care of each other," Mrs Lea emphasised. "They're so friendly and relaxed in an easy-going atmosphere. It can't cost a fortune to keep a place like this going for the good it does for the community.

"My son has never been so confident. Skating to him is his freedom. He feels normal, he's one of the gang, one of the crowd and nobody gives him grief. There's nothing for him and people like him if places like this shut down, especially away from the summer weather."

Fellow skaters Jonny Hanson and Ryan Paul Swain are firmly in agreement. Chased from town centres for their sport, the amiable pair were quick to defend The Works. "Indoor skate parks like this? In the long run the money's always worth it," Jonny said.

Ryan also highlighted the negative side of outdoor areas, asserting: "Indoor parks close the door to the people who visit outdoor areas in gangs to cause trouble, leaving the skating to people who want to invest time in their own abilities."

One thing is for sure: in one event alone, The Works showed that it is the perfect base for faultless community spirit. Without it, a major culture within Leeds could disappear, along with the hard work and tireless dedication of staff to schools, learners and other initiatives pioneered or supported by the institution.

What's more, a major group of people in Yorkshire - one which has grown irksome, seemingly unfairly, to local authorities and citizens alike - no longer has a home, thus bringing back the unfairly-perceived problem to other areas and completely undoing hard work from both sides of the argument.

Yet while Elliott and his co-workers are concerned about the future and the current economic climate's effect on custom, they continue to soldier on. The manager wants to prove society wrong and defy trends, eventually creating the biggest park in Europe with classrooms, training facilities, gyms and, of course, more ramps, rails and funboxes.

"It's an uphill slog," he said. "I like a challenge, though!"

Rodney concluded: "See how indoor parks work. You'll see all the good points and you'll want to get involved in the place. The council and the government would probably want to throw money at it, if they visited and truly realise their importance."

The Works

Phone: 0113 2446015

www.theworksskatepark.com

 

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1 Response to "Skateboarding is the works so let's keep it going"

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