This interview originally appeared in Hangup Zine Issue 16. All photos by Rob Whiston.
Early on in 2020, when muddy government guidelines left skateboarders confused as to whether official skateparks were closed or not, some skaters took matters into their own hands – creating DIY skateparks and reclaiming unloved spaces in their cities. One such project was Bournbrook DIY in Birmingham: a DIY park that has become the biggest success story for what these kinds of spaces can be. I caught up with project founder Shaun Boyle to discover just what was so special about this project, and why spaces like this are needed in skateboarding. – Ade
For anyone who doesn’t know, tell us a bit about Bournbrook DIY and how the project started?
The project really started when I discovered the space. I was thinking about it a lot and I told a couple others about the spot. I’d just moved to this part of Birmingham and very much wanted to make something to skate there. French Matt was the guy to really kickstart the project with me, hitting it together each weekend, clearing up this untouched spot with just a vision to make something.
The spot is public space and open, but was very much abandoned. A big concrete slab surrounded by bricks and very overgrown from all sides sitting inside a graffiti park. The place looks like it should have always had a skatepark there. It was a no brainer haha!
So, we got to cleaning up the spot and later on found 12 curbs, that when all put together made the perfect block to skate. From there it really snowballed because Kris from Ideal introduced us to Hem, who was our main builder and the wizard with the concrete. He built many official and DIY parks in the past. We made an Insta and rallied people up to get down to the builds and shoutout for materials.
We soon began to meet so many incredible people and lockdown meant everyone had a bit of time to contribute to this place and really make it special. It didn’t take long before we had formed a strong team and some well rooted connections amongst us, and the wider community.
Who are the crew mainly responsible for the build?
That would be myself, Hem (he was the main man on the build and the finishing), along with Tom Galway. Both of these guys are very skilled at what they do, with a lot of experience building skateparks. Criss Clark has been on it with the formwork and prep from the start. Matt – he’s back in France now but is a real grafter. Hold tight Fage in Barca, Si, Sam, Nick, Ben, Ethan, Euan, Rich and so on and on.
Note from Ade: Sadly, since the time when this interview was published in Hangup, Bournbrook crew builder Hem passed away. He’s greatly missed by the community at the park, and left a huge impression.
Big up to all the true contributors: these are the people with some strong dedication and love for the project who take real ownership, but there’s so many heads involved. There’s a lot of people who’ve really made this place really special.. it’s the connections we’ve made more than anything else really. There’s always a good turn out on build days too, with new faces popping up and lots of smiles, so yeah it’s fun for us all I think.
What were the skateparks in Birmingham like before you started the DIY park?
The parks around Birmingham aren’t all that good to be fair. There’s skateparks dotted around the city but nothing really worth travelling for… At least not till now.
How has the council been in response to the DIY park?
Initially it was as if there was no way they were going to let it happen. It was a good job we worked quickly and had already basically built a whole skatepark by the third encounter with them. That way we had a leg to stand on as it’s evidently nothing but a positive thing for the local community. Big thanks to the council for seeing this as an asset to the city and those who use it.
Do you think the project will affect the way Birmingham City Council builds skateparks in the future?
I reckon so, I think there will be more consultation and engagement with the skate community from Birmingham City Council. To be fair we are super grateful for how sound they have been, letting us get on with the project and allowing us to show that DIY can be an acceptable and an official facility.
What has been the effect of the skatepark on the surrounding area and community?
Originally it was the wider community and passers by taking notice in what we were doing. We were having a lot of people stopping, telling us it’s nice to see people doing something with the space. I think gardens have helped a lot with our public support… Oh, and the local businesses love us too, haha!
The skatepark has had some high profile appearances on BBC Midlands Today. Did you ever think the skatepark would get the attention of mainstream media?
It’s funny how that came about really, but why not, it’s a story worth telling and a cause worth supporting. It’s better we get some coverage and shout what we’re about for sure.
What did the BBC film crew think of the skatepark?
They were impressed I think, haha. It’s hard to know what an outsider’s perspective of skateboarding is, but they were impressed by the fact we had built it ourselves, I think.
It was awesome to see Kris Vile skate the park for his Skate Series 2020 clips – do you think seeing parks like Bournbrook pop up in more official skate comps will give more legitimacy to the project?
Yeah, I think if official skate comps can host their events at DIY parks like Bournbrook, it facilitates and creates the ability for DIY parks to claim a more legitimate status and be accepted by the local councils more often. Kris kills it!
What’s the sickest trick to go down at the park so far?
I’d say Kris Vile’s huge switch tre flip on the big transition last summer… We got that on film somewhere. He shut it down. I’m definitely still waiting for someone to send it over the channel gap over the bank though, haha.
You’ve had Concreate helping out with adding to the park. How has it been working with them?
Yeah, it’s been good. Since the council got involved in the park we have had to insure and prove that we can build to EU specification. Concreate has been able to guide and support us, ensuring the council are confident everything is built safely.
If it’s 100% true or not, I’m not sure, but apparently the Bournbrook DIY project is the first DIY skatepark to claim official skatepark status with a council in the UK. That’s only because we have gone down a path where we have needed a ROSPA inspection to get the park open because the council has come at us with many hurdles. We thank Concreate for helping make that happen.
How far are you going to go with extending and adding to the skatepark?
Right now we just finished the last build for the moment – that was the hip. It’s huge and ties the park together rather nicely. Now that’s been done we are just fixing up on some things ready for a ROSPA inspection and to get the park open to the public.
In terms of future builds we do intend to extend the park into the garden area, and to potentially use the already legendary brick banks that have been in that park forever, but always been un-skateable. But one step at a time, right now we’re just working to get it open and utilise the amazing space we have created.
Once this park has reached “capacity” and is sort of done, do you think you would take on any other areas of Birmingham for a DIY park?
Well our fight and focus before anything else, is that we keep this space! The council talked about other spaces for us, mainly because they didn’t like us popping up here with no permission, haha. Security of Bournbrook is the focus and that’s what’s needed before we can put much thought into anywhere else. Who knows though?
There’s a huge spike in these kinds of skateparks cropping up across the UK (Bournbrook, Hackney Bumps, Jurassic Park & RBL Spot, to name a few) where skaters are taking unwanted or sketchy areas and really breathing new life into them. What do you think the catalyst for all these projects is?
It’s really great to see. I think these kinds of spaces and projects are of course driven from the inspiration that skateboarding itself brings, and then the ability to create using what you’ve been inspired by. These DIY spaces definitely have a greater driving force than just the urge of wanting to skate. It’s all for the love of skating of course, but the catalyst for what really makes a place for this kind of thing unique and authentic is the charms that a space can bring.
It could be historical or aesthetically unique: these things make a space different, something that you wouldn’t ever see or experience at any council built park. I think it’s important to incorporate what already exists there and embrace it. For us, that was the gardens that surround the park and our continuous discovery of all the old red bricks as we keep cleaning the area and ruins.
What advice would you offer to anyone looking to replicate the success of Bournbrook in their own village, town or city?
Roll with what resources you’ve got, and keep reaching out to those who are keen to move with you. If and when you have a solid team who are in it for good reasons, you can definitely make something great.
Anyone you want to thank?
Yeah the biggest thank you goes to Berni she’s the glue to the project – A woman of voltage who’s done a lot for the skating community around here, and a huge reason, if not the reason, to why this park was never knocked down. Big love Bern, the work you’ve done is incredible. Thanks to Kris for essentially putting us together to make this happen, and to everyone who’s simply shown support and gratitude – thank you. Bournbrook x