Throughout 2023 The Terrible Company is celebrating 20 years of Coventry & Warwickshire skateboarding stuff. Over the past 20 years there’s been a lot of videos and blog posts, but there has also been a lot of skateboarding events. In 2012, the London Olympics offered up an opportunity for The Terrible Company to bring a huge skateboarding event to Coventry City Centre. This is the story of that event.
The story behind The Summer Jam began sometimes in 2011 – I had campaigned to get Covpark renovated, and through my incessant nagging of the council, I was put in touch with Roland Harrison from Coventry City Council. He was in charge of sports facilities and the like, and he had an influx of money to put on some events for the Olympics in 2012. He envisioned a skateboarding competition, where we could rent out a skatepark and open it up to the public. In his eyes this would solve a few issues he had been battling:
- Getting skateboarders away from the Herbert Art Gallery (if only for a short period of time)
- Providing somewhere for skateboarders and young people to go during the Olympics (giving the illusion of providing adequate skatepark facilities)
- Drawing attention to the large group of skatepark users in the city
Roland claimed to be a former BMX rider, having previously built ramps in his heyday of riding in the 80’s and 90’s, and our plight to improve local skatepark was something close to his heart. Supporting us with a temporary facility was his way of trying to get more eyes on the need for something more permanent.
The wheels had just began turning on an indoor skatepark idea that Emily (my wife) was heading up with a local rollerblader called Adam Woodward. For us the event was a chance for us to trial some of the ideas we had for running our indoor park: specific sessions for younger kids, banning scooters from normal sessions (giving them a bespoke session to reduce conflict with other skatepark users), and a mix of traditional skatepark obstacles with more interesting plaza elements.
We were partnered with Youth Services for the event, who had plenty of expertise running similar events for young people. Some of the people involved were former skateboarders who knew the scene well, and had great ideas to make the event the best it could be. In particular, this was where I met Davey Walmsley – a free runner and urban explorer who used to skate, and felt so strongly about our plan to get a new skatepark built that he partnered with Lucas Healey to form the Coventry Skatepark Project shortly after my efforts to build a skatepark stagnated.
Originally Roland Harrison wanted to hire ramps from Team Extreme – who had somewhat of a poor reputation for events in Coventry. The ramps they offered were uninspired jumpbox setups that would only appeal to 12 year old BMX riders, and nobody else. I suggested we hire ramps from King Ramps, who offered a pack of awesome street obstacles, including a set of Adidas funboxes and wallie blocks covered in artwork by Mark Gonzales. The King Ramps stuff was cheaper and better than the Team Extreme stuff, so the council were more than happy to take our recommendation.
I don’t think I’m meant to say roughly how much this all cost, but screw it, this was more than 10 years ago. Coventry City Council shelled out £15,000 for this event. My annoyance over this was that we needed a similar amount of start up cash for our own indoor skatepark. That amount of money could have given us a nice foundation to then attract further funds from various grants. Funding grants are easier to get if you already have some cash in the pot, and to spend £15,000 on something temporary seemed like a bit of a waste to me. Considering the council recently spaffed money on a temporary mini golf course in the Memorial Park instead of long term investment in the skatepark, can you really be surprised though?
This cost was also a little confusing when the people who actually ran the event (me, Emily, Adam and Youth Services) were not paid for our time. I did a whole heap of graphic design work to advertise the event unpaid. Our considerable experience with local skateboarding was not compensated – the experience that had gotten us the best possible ramps for hire, event timing and delivery which matched what local skaters wanted, skateboarding lessons for young kids from actual skateboarders. All free for the council.
This is not the first time I have been commissioned to do work for a local council who had no intention of paying me, so by now I am used to this – but even still, we brought knowledge to this event that the council needed, and did not have, so that definitely deserved to be recognised.
Regardless of these complaints, the event went extremely well. We had a petition on site to prove there was a need for a permanent facility just like this one, and the number of signatures far outweighed expectations. We had the skatepark open for 6 days in total, and at the end of that 6 days we ran a competition which was absolutely amazing. Visitors from all over the county came by to skate the park, and passers by would stop to watch and encourage people to land tricks.
At the opening ceremony for the event, we were roped into a photo shoot with two councillors – for the council to show off how supportive they had been of young people and skateboarding. One of these councillors was Jim O’Boyle, a self-described youth champion at the time who had led the charge of initiatives for young people. He stood up and gave a big speech about how great it was to see young people doing something positive in the city centre. On paper he sounds great, but he absolutely sucks. He was a hypocrite and a career politician who changed his stance dependent on who he’s trying to impress. He branded us a nuisance less than a year after making this grand speech about how positive and amazing skateboarding was.
I feel like I’ve spent a lot of this blog post complaining about how annoying Coventry City Council are, but honestly they provided us with the funds and means to throw a giant 6 day party celebrating our local scene. I appreciated the opportunity to be involved with this sort of event, and I’m thankful that they actually listened to us (for once), hired the ramps we wanted, let us own the event, and that nothing bad happened that would sour their opinion of us. It’s just too bad that this one instance of scratching their backs didn’t give us anything long term.
The Summer Jam was a one off kinda thing. I don’t think I will ever run something like it ever again. For starters: this thing is the reason Covpark Combat (a real home grown skatepark comp originated and ran by Coventry’s skate scene) came to an end. And then you have the headaches of dealing with the council, the stress of having to fill an empty space with something you can skate, navigating the murky waters of council politics, having to solve the problem of “how do we ban scooters but not ban scooters?”. With all that in mind, I wouldn’t want to do it again. But we did it. And that’s still good.
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