I recently put together a blog post for the War Memorial Ramp Renovation campaign, where I explained my history with Covpark and what improvement to the skatepark would mean for Coventry. Off the back of that, I thought it would make sense to post a revised history of the skatepark which (for anyone who cares) gives more context into how it came to be, and how it got to the point where we have a huge campaign to renovate the skatepark.
Note: A lot of this information is anecdotal, shared throughout the scene over the past 20 years. This is pieced together from those involved with the build as well as anyone involved in the campaign to improve the skatepark.
Part 1: The Build
The War Memorial Park skatepark was built in 2001 by Bendcrete. As far as I can tell, the design for the skatepark is a cookie cutter pre-fab design that came from a catalogue – Bendcrete specialised primarily in pre-fabricated ramps throughout the 2000’s and other examples of their ramps can be found in Wyken and Holbrooks. They built ramps like this to keep costs down and undercut prices from better park builders of the time like Wheelscape and Gravity. The downside of building ramps this way is they can easily become uneven, causing lips between ramp joints, and the pre-fab parts don’t leave much room for interesting, quirky obstacles (which in general usually attract skaters from miles around).
Upon its initial build, the skatepark was well utilised on account of it being the only skatepark in the city, and because skateboarders were desperate for places to skate. The concrete park was a replacement for a temporary set of wooden ramps which were in the tennis court next to the skatepark’s eventual location – the wooden ramps were poor quality, which ended up getting trashed because they couldn’t withstand the weight of people doing tricks on them.
During the build, the council had planned for the park to be a long strip of tarmac with a metal bank at the end. This was the result of an expensive consultation period where they went to nearby primary schools and quizzed kids who didn’t skate on what they wanted to ride. This design was scrapped when Jim The Skin got involved and convinced the council that what they had planned sounded terrible, and a concrete skatepark was the only option.
Steve Spain, another Coventry OG Skater, came up with new designs for the concrete park which would provide something affordable but interesting. He still has the physical model of these designs! Eventually the council went with Bendcrete’s pre-fab design and build (stealing some minor ideas from Steve’s design, but executing them poorly – e.g the moulded tacos that join the 4ft quarter pipes to the flatbanks).
In executing what was meant to be a cookie cutter design Bendcrete made some bizarre mistakes with spacing and dimensions. Funboxes were not aligned correctly with nearby quarters, meaning you had to carve to skate in a straight line. Quarters and flatbanks ended up being half their intended width in some cases. The mini ramp walls ended up being slightly too close together, creating a tight mini ramp which could be a bit of a chore to skate.
The council shelled out cash for an overpriced fence which would delaminate speeding boards. I had more boards wrecked by that fence than I can remember. Rumours suggest the fence cost half the budget of the whole build.
The changes made by Bendcrete/Coventry City Council caused a lot of frustration in the skate scene to the point that locals spray painted Mickey Mouse stencils all over the skatepark upon its opening as a statement for how the build had been mismanaged and the wrong people had been given a say on the final design.
Part 2: The Scene
Despite the build problems, the park encouraged kids in the area to start skating. A lot of locals in the younger generation of the time spent every waking hour at the park learning to skate. The scene eventually grew and a large crew of skaters local to the park spilled out into the city centre. This blog started at Covpark as a way to document what was going on down there and the skatepark was the start of a larger connection between all of the skaters in the city.
It quickly became obvious that Covpark wasn’t the best skatepark in the world, but the scene was very active down there. For a long time it was the centre of Coventry’s skate scene before the skatepark eventually began to degrade and build issues made it harder to skate.
In 2006 the Karma team visited for a demo, and Vans held a skate competition there. Pro skaters invited to both events were not impressed with the skatepark at all. Coventry City Council held a competition at Covpark as part of the Godiva festival one year, and the whole vibe was just lame and disingenuous – the announcer tried to act like he was one of the locals and knew who everyone was but it quickly became obvious that, just like the skatepark, people outside of the scene had been brought in to do something with skateboarding.
This prompted me to organise my own competition called Covpark Combat, with the first one happening a month after the council one. The vibe was way more fun and chilled out, and we did some silly stuff like a skateboard demo derby that became a staple of the competition for years after.
We ran 5 of these before the council got wind of it and demanded we go through them and run it as a proper event with health and safety and other bullshit that just wasn’t in keeping with the spirit of the event. On some occasions we had pro skateboarders turn up to compete like (Team GB Olympic Skater) Alex Decunha, and we got sponsorship from Ride, Vans, Two Seasons and Decimal Skateshop. The competition even got advertised by Sidewalk on their website and forum one year.
On the BMX side, the popularity of BMX brought the Backyard Jam to Coventry in the late 2000’s, where BMX legend Ruben Alcantara turned up to Covpark and performed some mind-blowing tricks – he managed to hit up stalls on the back rail of the mini ramp, which was a definite NBD, and completely insane to see. BMX riders were invited to later iterations of Covpark Combat, which was symbolic of the close scene down the skatepark at the time.
Part 3: The Campaign
In 2010, after almost 10 years of the skatepark being installed, the local scene was getting frustrated. We had seen a decade of growth, with skateboarding growing in popularity, and skateparks increasing in quality. The 2000’s saw a wealth of new skateparks being built as the UK scene grew and skateboarding became cemented as part of UK youth culture. Skateparks like Stoke Plaza appeared showing huge, near endless opportunities for tricks and lines. Varieties of obstacles in these parks made Covpark’s design flaws obvious, and Coventry skateboarders were annoyed that they had to travel to get to amazing skateparks.
I started a campaign to improve Covpark – fuelled by the build flaws mentioned earlier. Ramps at the park were sinking, causing unsafe lips, joints were becoming exposed, the ground was rough as the aggregate started to wear and the stones in the concrete mix became exposed.
I met with council employees who looked at these flaws and admitted they had no idea this was a problem for skateboards. Bendcrete reps came down and suggested fixes for the build quality, some expensive, some cheap – the council took the cheap options. At my request Gravity were brought in to provide designs for a possible full extension/rebuild – with little funds available this fell apart, and Gravity instead came in to do the repairs Bendcrete had quoted us for.
In the years that followed it quickly became apparent that a Covpark extension or rebuild was unlikely to happen without a serious rethink in strategy. With little help from the council, and a lack of guidance to help us raise the funds for an outdoor park, a few of us regrouped and changed course. We ignored Covpark to concentrate on an indoor park idea – an idea that Lucas Healey would pick up years later and would eventually evolve into The Coventry Skatepark Project.
With the campaign for improvement dwindling, Covpark was abandoned by the skate scene with only a few locals like Joxa and Nich Horishny skating the place regularly. The scene evolved and The Herbert Art Gallery became the heart of the scene for most people – most street skaters pretty much got everything they needed from the city centre, and if you preferred transition, the sessions usually ended up at Holbrooks, or further afield. The lack of a good skatepark fractured the scene as it grew and as I got older I started to recognise less and less of the local skaters. The scene was still thriving, but with no central location for all disciplines of skater it was splintered.
Part 4: The Next Generation
In 2018, after 15 years of operation, The Terrible Company celebrated its 15th birthday at Covpark with a big session reminiscent of the skatepark’s early days. Despite the high turnout, the park’s flaws remained glaringly obvious to everyone who attended.
Last year the War Memorial Ramp Renovation Campaign started – ran by local kids who skated the park along with their parents (some of whom were already involved with the Cov Skatepark Project). Almost 10 years after the campaign for improvement started, and almost 20 years after the park was first built, the campaign aims to completely rebuild the skatepark from scratch to provide the kind of facility that should have existed there from the start.