“You can’t move history” – that was the slogan the Long Live Southbank campaign used in order to save the world’s oldest, permanently-skated spot. In 2013, the Southbank Centre, where it is located, had announced a reconstruction of the place, which would’ve been the end of the spot. But with their work and energy, the LLSB activists found numerous supporters (including some famous ones like David Beckham, for example) and achieved their goals that neither they lose the spot nor does it get substituted by a newly-built one nearby. This July, they even succeeded in opening up a part of the area to the public again that was closed down in 2004. If you talk about initiatives to save a skate spot, LLSB is the prime example. It’s also not just any spot. For more than 40 years, skateboard life has been pulsating there in the heart of London. We talked to Stuart Maclure and Louis Woodhead, two representatives of the numerous LLSB staff, about the whole project.
Stuart: You never know what to expect when you go down there – could be visiting pros, could be a group of kids just starting out, or could be a bunch of dancers or the local alcoholics. The sound and echoes are unmatched, and being able to skate outside of the spot to get a breath of fresh air by the river is really nice.
Louis: Proper, proper teamwork and about 40% more confidence in ourselves than maybe was reasonable.
S: That if you have a dedicated team and the drive to put yourself outside of your comfort zone, then you can do much more than you think you can. Another is the importance of having the public buy in and support the skateboarding community – staying true to our roots whilst also moving in some very different circles always kept us focused. Also, another big lesson was to give yourself and the rest of your team breaks – burnout is a massive problem with small non-profits and projects like ours. So yeah, look out for number one sometimes.
L: Because that would have been shit, and bowing 40 years of skateboarding heritage to an arts organization’s commercial view on taking control of the space with the most potential for retail. Also, Southbank is so sick on a level… you can’t design that shit.
S: It’s where skaters first congregated in the early 1970s and it’s so important to retain that heritage. Part of the magic is knowing that some person skated that exact line as you and sat by the river to chill 40 years ago. So much has changed, but a lot has stayed the same and we wanted to protect that.
L: It was super different. The first campaign had a real urgency and it galvanized such a huge group of people. The spirit around the campaign table in December 2013 and into January was absolutely incredible. I just remember conversation after conversation with people who really wanted us to save the space – sometimes, there was a queue of people waiting to sign the planning objection forms hour after hour. The campaign to reopen the small banks was way more laptop-based, for me at least. It took some time to bed it all down and get to a stage where we could really operate as a team, but once we got to that stage, it was so good. Matt [Nelmes], Stu, and George [Toland]are the best team mates one could ever wish for. We had so much jokes, but in reality, we got so much done. Bless them days!
L: London benefits a lot from the presence of Southbank. Any city needs a space that is a little ungovernable, completely free for people to do as they like, close to the centre. Without that, your city very quickly becomes nothing but international banking offices and chain coffee shops. London’s bad, but it does still have heart, and it’s thanks to places like Southbank that it keeps a little of its human charisma.
L: I hope that it can inspire people to be proactive. Engaging with political and establishment systems as we did may not be a good vibe in every context, but being proactive to make the spaces around you more pleasant, or to open new spaces with creative potentials is always a good thing, I think – and London definitely needs more of this vibe.
S: That young people, and young skaters in particular, can actually have a major effect on our cities. Cities should not be seen as places that just make money, and campaigning to protect skating is an important part of rejecting that idea. Strong communities are a very powerful thing.
L: London is changing very rapidly, and in many senses, this seems quite uncontrollable. It’s getting more and more expensive and more and more controlled: privatizations of public space, ever-increasing use of CCTV and private security guards, increasingly homogeneous architecture, stricter licensing laws, lack of affordable rentals, etc. etc. All of this makes it a lot harder for cool things to occur. Southbank shows that you can stand up to this tide – and even if it’s just one success, it certainly means something.
S: The restoration campaign has shown that we cannot only protect existing creative spaces, but we can also create more spaces like Southbank. The campaign represents the value of these spaces and has been influential in the way that decision makers look at the public realm. It’s helped the skateboard community be better recognized as a legitimate and supported part of society and the identity of our city.