Some words about saving Southbank when the threat of this important spot’s demise rolled around again in 2013…
As a skateboarder, the Southbank has always been a divider. It has a Marmite effect about it. People feel at home there and champion it as the best spot ever, often to people who once felt the same way and fell out of love with it. Over the last seventeen or eighteen years, it has been a place I would often go. It has hosted New Year celebrations in my past, happy Summer days, hazy evenings, early mornings and more than a few moments I’d rather forget. Toby Shuall said it best “I’ve met some of the best and the worst human beings in my life at that place!”
All of this being said, after avoiding the place for a few years I have recently rekindled my fascination with what remains of our Southbank. This is partly due to teaching my friend’s son Dexter down there on a Sunday, it’s given me a chance to see it secondhand with the childlike sense of wonder that lurked behind my eyes the first time I rolled on that floor. There have been some fun Sunday evenings ever since.
Before the little banks were culled. Photo: Richie Hopson
As a teenager I remember there being rumours of developments that would threaten the space we frequented. Many times these were thrown around and nothing happened. Years later Side effects of Urethane happened. Initially this was a gallery event showcasing the artwork of various skateboarders with a skateable installation inside the show. As interest in this movement snowballed the collective gained momentum and managed to work with the powers that be enough so that user-friendly blocks appeared there overnight. These were enjoyed for a short time and then one day it finally happened, the boards went up and Southbank as we knew it was chopped in half.
Winstan Whitter’s film Rolling Through The Decades most notably celebrates the history of this iconic spot before this happened. Architectural historian and urban commentator Iain Borden’s book Skateboarding Space and the City gave us a voice, a place in the framework but it had not been loud enough. Now the Southbank ogled at daily by tourists is not the free open space it once was, skateboarders are hemmed in by scaffold bars and have learned, on the most part, to ignore being some kind of wildlife exhibit. Talent still flourishes down there regardless of being contained and observed…
Tom Penny – Genius in motion. Photo: Leo Sharp
These Sunday sessions over the last few months have helped me come to terms with this new environment and to enjoy what little space there is left there. Two mornings ago the call went round as always and it seems that even the future of the small space left hangs in the balance.
The Hayward Gallery, Queen Elizabeth Hall and the Purcell Room are going to be refurbished and repaired and plans have been drawn up for new spaces between and around these buildings. This new zone is to be called the Festival Wing. Already the Southbank is no longer just a maze of elevated Brutalist walkways, it is far more attractive and eye catching. Architects are keen to further enhance this whole front with a new design which will tie it all together and create a new skyline. Plans were revealed the other day by the Southbank Centre of a new landmark which will join the three buildings (QEH, Purcell Rooms, Hayward Gallery) which were completed in 1968. What is now a concrete walkway between the entrance to the Hayward Gallery and the back of the Purcell Rooms is to be crowned by a huge glass box…
Artists impression of the proposed development
This is to tie the venues together with a reception space for all three buildings. Unfortunately the plan for the area beneath the Queen Elizabeth Hall is not for new skateboarding terrain but rather it is set aside for a restaurant! This will be the end of an era but there is among these plans hope for the start of a new one.
The Southbank Centre are now collating feedback about the Festival Wing project to see where they move from there, all comments will be taken on board and run past the architects. The project is expected to take between two and three years to complete. Skateboarding is synonymous with the whole area and it seems that the plan they have is to create a new area not too far away from what has always been it’s spiritual home in London. Any of you who skated Southbank a little more than a few years back will remember Bird Shit Banks beneath the Hungerford bridge…
Bird Shit banks immortalised by James Jarvis
This is the proposed site for skateboarding’s relocation. This area has a deep history in our culture too. Olly Todd has an inventive line there in Portraits, Gonz has a half cab fifty fifty in Video Days, Ben Jobe switch backside flipped over the wall into the bank, and Scott Palmer 360 flipped the stairs that used to be there at the end of his part in WFTW.
Thanks to everyone involved in the Long Live Southbank campaign. Their tireless work stopped any of this ever becoming a reality and preserved skateboarding’s spritual home.
Words – Jacob Sawyer