Don’t ask me how, but I’ve been running this stupid blog for 20 years. I don’t just write dumb blog posts though. For years I’ve made skateboarding videos, ran competitions and events of some description, and on some occasions campaigned for better skateparks. That last one is how I became involved with the campaign to provide a concrete skatepark in Leamington’s Victoria Park. This is my really hazy story of how that happened.
Before we even get to the skatepark that stands today, there’s a bit of a history lesson. Leamington Spa, a lovely little town in Warwickshire about 15 minutes from Coventry, has a long, long history with skateboarding. Most of this was a complete surprise to me prior to learning it, but Leamington used to have an incredibly desirable collection of wooden mini ramps at their boy’s club. This thing saw many legends visit over the years: Tom Penny was a frequent visitor to the ramp, blasting his signature frontside flips above coping. The ramp was featured in skateboarding magazines of the time as well. It was a hot-spot of Midlands skateboarding.
And then, as skateboarding died in popularity, the ramp was dismantled. This left a rather sizeable hole for the local community, but did not stop the scene from growing. Over the years you had skaters like Morbid keeping the Leamington scene alive in the 90s, and gradually this shifted to skaters like Kayleigh Cullen and Alex Walker, as the 2000’s came along and a fresh crop of skateparks arrived.
The fresh crop of skateparks in Leamington were a poor substitute for the legendary mini ramps that had existed before. Newbold Comyn received a shockingly bad metal skatepark that is still standing for reasons I am not entirely sure of. Victoria Park, taking a cue from the old Boy’s Club, got a new 4 ft mini ramp – again, made of metal. This mini ramp, combined with the plaza style layout of the nearby paddling pool (which had LA Courthouse vibes all over it – ledges, benches and manny pads in abundance) made this the centre of the Leamington scene.
By the time I ventured out to Leamington to skate in the mid-2000s the scene was thriving again, and the mini ramp was always packed with locals like Cullen, Walker, Kurt Chambers, Biggles, Dan Douglas, Daryl Nobbs and skateboarding photography legend and former marine Alex Burrell. When the Cov and Leamington skaters got together, the mini ramp sessions were incredibly rad: packed decks full of good mates chatting and getting stuck in on the skate.
There wasn’t much at Vicki Park, but it was something. And the scene was so great that visits to the ramp were commonplace for us at that time. The locals were feeling the frustration of being provided with so little for how large the scene was though. Cullen began to open communications with the council about improving the skatepark, with potential to add more to the mini ramp.
This was, annoyingly, complicated by a new mini ramp cropping up in Whitnash, which was a village that was joined onto Leamington (it’s also where I live now). Leamington is a bit of a weird growing blob that joins up with and takes over all of the old villages and towns surrounding it: Whitnash, Radford Semele, Warwick, Myton, Cubbington and other areas were all previously unconnected, but now you can travel between each of these areas seamlessly like they all exist in one giant town. Most people refer to all of them as Leamington (I know I do). The complication of this is that a lot of these old villages still have their own bespoke councils who make poor decisions when it comes to things like building skateparks.
From what I can tell the council contact for Leamington was in talks with skateboarders on improving skateparks, when someone at Whitnash council thought it would be a wise idea to build another 4ft metal mini ramp (but somehow worse than the Vicki Park one) less than 2 miles away. I remember Cullen gave the council a lot of stick over this, because effectively the local council who were speaking with skaters on new facilities didn’t have their eye on what other less experienced councils within the borough were doing. It was a wasted opportunity to do something good.
Photo / Leam legend Biggles with a signature dogpiss on the old mini ramp / Photo by Alex Burrell
And then, the final blow occurred. The mini ramp at Victoria Park, built by horrendous metal ramp contractors GBH, had gotten rotten underneath, making it completely not safe or fit for purpose. It was a sad day, because it was probably the best thing GBH had ever built. With the removal of the mini ramp, Leamington was left without anything half decent. The scene moved mostly down to Newbold, and frustrations grew. In this time Cullen moved away from the area, and in the early 2010’s Alex Walker decided he had had enough of seeing good skateparks crop up elsewhere whilst Leamington got nothing.
Building Vicki Park
Somewhere around this point is where I got involved. I had been in a similar position to Walker for years, so he thought it might be good to pool our efforts and make more noise about local skateparks. I also worked in Leamington, so I was usually around to attend meetings after work.
Alex Walker has an extensive background in youth service outreach, he has an acute knowledge of how council’s use funding, how funding bids work, and how councils perceive skateboarding. He was always knowledgeable of how to bend their ear and make skateboarding sound palatable to councils. His plan was to establish a charity called “Save Our Skatepark”, designed to not only replace the Victoria Park mini ramp, but to save other delipidated skateparks that were in danger of being scrapped. All of the skateparks in the local area needed replacement, and this was the vehicle with which to do it.
Photo / Hey look, it's Alex Walker doing a noseslide at Newbold Comyn / Photo by Unknown
I joined SOS as Secretary: Which meant I was meant to take notes and be the organised one, but really I landed in this role by default because there weren’t many of us when the charity was established. In those early days the meetings were mostly about which local companies we could approach to guilt them into giving us money for the park. We had some plans for what we wanted to build, including a replica of the Vicki Park mini (but made of concrete).
Following this, I took a break from skatepark campaign action, and this blog. I was burnt out on the constant onslaught of council meetings, the appeasement of people who know nothing about skateboarding, and having to navigate the constant complaints from local skaters who aren’t involved with the campaign, but want the perfect skatepark that we could never deliver. I moved out of Coventry, to Bidford On Avon, and lived in the countryside for 2 years and skated small, but fun concrete parks the whole time. I didn’t think about skatepark campaigns or even filming skateboarding for that whole time.
When I moved to Leamington in 2015, the campaign was still going to replace Vicki Park. I had been skating with Walker a lot in the time since I moved away, and when I returned he encouraged me to re-join SOS. The first meeting back there was a huge influx of local skaters to the group. Morbid had recently moved back to the area and opened a physical brick and mortar shop for Ripride in the middle of town, so as owner of the local skater owned shop he took interest in the project – bringing his own experience from being involved with the build of Long Lawford skatepark.
Photo / Morbid grinds off the end on the best spine in the Midlands area (aka the Vicki Park curb spine) / Photo by SJG
We also had a veteran member of the local game development community join the group, with Alex Darby (co-founder of Freestyle Games, a studio that would eventually become Ubisoft Leamington). Alex Darby was a lifelong skateboarder who had more of an affinity for ledges and manual pads, and had designed and built a nearby secret indoor skatepark called “Skate Box“.
It’s no secret that Walker, Morbid and Darby all had very strong opinions on the skatepark and all 3 had a hard time agreeing on everything from obstacles to building contractors. What was clear was that all 3 of them wanted the best possible park they could get, though. A lot of people focus on the drama over the disagreements, but these disagreements came from the best possible place: that everyone involved was passionate about the park, and wanted something everyone could be stoked on.
Canvas were chosen as the builder. They were fairly fresh on the scene at the time, and had some great landmark parks in their portfolio. The classic issue that comes up with any skatepark project is that the local user group get all excited and when the ideas start flowing, people get dug in on the one thing they want in the skatepark. The role of the skatepark builder is to take these ideas and streamline them into something that skates well – but quite often these parks end up having everything thrown in, and as a group (local skatepark users AND the park designers) you end up making something you would find fun as an individual, without thinking about “How does this park work when there are 30 kids trying to ride at the same time?”.
I’m not saying that to wash my hands of the flaws with Vicki Park, it’s just realistic. Skatepark builders want to make the most interesting facilities that build their reputation and keep them in business, and they have to please the client – who, in this case, was us. Sometimes it’s difficult to align on something that has wider appeal past a specific group of core users who all have the spare time and effort to attend boring meetings in council office buildings. I love the park we ended up with, but I can see how some people would not enjoy it, and that’s just the reality of building a skatepark – not everyone will like what you build.
That’s the crux of this story. I am accutely aware that a loud subset of local users who were not involved with the build did not like what was built, and wanted someone to blame. The people who worked for the skatepark to be built put in the hours, and they put in the time. They might not have agreed 100% of the time, but their contribution is clear and they got shit made. What happened with the design of this skatepark was definitely a learning experience for everyone involved, including Canvas. It’s fine if you don’t like what was built, no one is saying you have to love it, but I have often heard people who weren’t involved with the build say they would have done a much better job and honestly: I don’t buy it.
I’ve been part of enough campaigns like this that never see completion to realise how difficult it is to get anything built. I still don’t quite understand the work required to get something like this built, despite being able to physically ride something that I had a hand in bringing to life. There aren’t many people who have the drive to actually succeed with these skatepark campaigns. That’s not a dig at anyone (because I have come to the conclusion I don’t think I alone have what it takes either), these things are fucking tiring and exhausting. It can be a slog, and I don’t blame anyone for packing it in. I think Leamington was damn lucky to have people like Walker, Morbid, Darby and the rest of SOS, who all had the tenacity to see it through.
Photo / Lucas Healey takes a fancy dress assisted Bluntslide down the Vicki Park hubba / Photo by Daniel Stapleton
The skatepark cost £110,000 – a combination of funding grants and match funding from Warwick District Council. That level of cash does not happen overnight, and it certainly isn’t easy to come by. The amount of work required to will a skatepark into existence is not easy, and for all of the blame that gets passed around, the exact group of people who were involved are the exact kind of people you want if you want any chance of getting something built at all.
I know this because I have known many, many other people who have tried to get skateparks built (myself included) and failed mostly through no fault of their own – something about the very specific group of people present in SOS at the time got Vicki Park built. And once that group splintered, any chance of getting another park like it built again reduced dramatically (trust me, exhaustive efforts went into other skatepark projects following Vicki Park, and unfortunately didn’t pan out).
The skatepark opened in November 2016, and the park has consistently been busy, well used, and people enjoy it. The park really shines when you see very experienced riders take to it, and seeing beginners visit the park and gradually become phenomenal skateboarders in their own right was proof that what we had built was great. The progression and skill of the locals at the skatepark has been awesome to see, and whilst the skatepark appeals to a certain type of skater, it definitely challenges people when they skate it.
I think the layout of the skatepark has some great, fun, obstacles littered around it. There are things that seem utterly impossible to hit at first, but as you peel back the layers and skate it more, you get these lovely light bulb moments where certain tricks now seem possible. That’s the sort of feeling I love about some skateparks – the gradual revelation of what is possible, piecing together lines and finding speed in little pockets of concrete.
My personal contribution to the design is the brick bank (because I love brick banks) inspired by The China Banks in San Francisco, but with some obvious adjustments to make it easier to skate. The giant flatbank at the end of the park is also really fun, it’s steep but mellow enough to be approachable, and any trick done on it looks great. My favourite thing in the park is the spine though – it’s most certainly a very divisive element, but it’s one of the most interesting things I have ever skated in a park, and any trick on it, no matter how basic, feels amazing. Putting a curb stone on top of a spine might seem like a mad idea, but it’s the wildest quarter pipe obstacle in the Coventry & Warwickshire area, bar Walsgrave Fountain.
My final word on the skatepark is this: I have skated some awful skateparks in my time, and the best thing you can expect from a skatepark is to be challenged. People often think a skatepark should be easy to skate, it should be accessible to all, and it should be a one size fits all affair. The truth is that the puzzle of figuring out how to skate something is why we skate new spots. A new skatepark should offer variety to your local scene. It should give you something you didn’t have before. It should offer something complimentary to the street spots and local skateparks that already exist in your town – and I genuinely believe with Vicki Park, SOS accomplished that.
Whilst there is a comfort in having something chilled out and approachable at your local, there is also value in having something awkward, weird, quirky and challenging. There is benefit and room for both camps of skatepark, and my opinion is that for years the local area has been filled with very basic, approachable skateparks. Vicki Park offers something unique, and considering how good the locals are I think it offers something far greater than anything the local area had before, and I’m proud to have been involved with it’s creation.