After years of campaigning against the threat of closure, the skateboarding landmark on the edge of the Thames has reopened, representing a win for culture in our capital. With the backdrop of disappearing pubs and clubs, the heart of Southbank beats on!
In 2013, the brutalist landmark The Southbank Undercroft was under a real threat of closure after years of battles to remove it. A skateboarding mecca, it was a case in the tale of London’s disappearing culture hubs, from the clubs to the pubs, everywhere seemed to be slowly edged out.
So to keep the famous skate spot alive, boarders and Londoners alike formed the Long Live Southbank organisation, in which they spread the word that they were being turfed out their home, to be replaced with shops and flats.
Built in 1967, it coincided with the emerging ‘skate era’ of the 70s, and the tight knit skating community transformed the concrete cavern into their own playground. However, the building above it, the Southbank Centre, were not enthused by their presence.
Rather seeing them as a nuisance, anti-skating measurements were brought in, like drilling obstacles into the floor. However, the skateboarders saw these as new ramps, and continued their use of the site. But as more and more funding was being cut on the arts, the Southbank Centre was trying to turf them out for good to gain some extra income with shops and flats.
The disappearance of creative spaces for young people in cities is a problem that’s been gaining speed within the capital over the last two decades, and the closure threat of the Southbank skatepark was a prime example of such.
Known globally in the skating community, skateboarders would literally travel across the world to visit and skate in the iconic location, a place that possessed a true creative representation of London as a place.
Welcoming, diverse and colourful; or at least most of the time.
The Long Live Southbank organisation worked tirelessly against the higher authorities, setting up a crowdfunding page, and their campaign really hit home. It most likely would not have been because of the skateboarding as such, but a another space for young people being closed was a trend that many had born the brunt of, and were tired of.
Managing to raise every last penny of the £1.37m restoration project through crowdfunding, combined with 17 months of campaigning, the boarders managed to save Southbank, finding an unlikely ally in Boris Johnson.
Beginning work with London architecture studio Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios (FCBStudios), they created a new space, larger than the original and sturdier to stand the test of time. Keeping parts of the original graffiti that made it so famous, and leaving parts blank, not for very long we are sure.
“The whole idea of [the] enclosure of public space was a real big issue [in 2013] and this struck a chord with so many people,” explains FCBStudios associate Chris Allen, “They may not have personally related to skateboarding, or in some cases perhaps saw skating as a nuisance. But they saw … a space being closed to young people to do creative things as an issue they could get behind.”
Stuart Maclure, a member of Long Live Southbank saw that it was a battle to keep a space for young people to spend time safely and freely. “Amidst a huge cut in spending for young people, youth centers being destroyed, and a massive increase in violent crime, we are strong believers in the fact that there’s a massive reduction in space for young people in cities,” he says. “[Even if] no one could come down to the opening, as long as we know there are 40 years of potential friendships, passions, and other things we can’t predict ahead—that’s the important thing.”
The retention and restoration of Southbank London is not just a triumph for architecture, but a triumph of culture over money and an important statement for the city.