Lewisham: young people campaigning for a skate park


A core group of six young people, supported by their mum's and various community and local government groups, fought to get a skate park in one of their local parks. They attended many local meetings, overcame strong local opposition and eventually got enough votes to proceed with the planning and development stage.

Background

A group of young people in Lewisham, South London, would regularly skateboard together in their local area. However, residents who lived in this area complained about the noise that the skateboards were making and began to get the police involved, resulting in one young person being threatened with an anti-social behaviour order (ASBO).

Consequently the young people came together to campaign for a skate park in their local area, winning support from the community, the local assembly and Mayor, the Young Mayors project and the Youth Opportunity Fund (YOF).

What they did

The bulk of the action was undertaken by a core group of six young men aged 11 to 13 when this began in August 2009. They called themselves the Skate Park Action Group or SPAG.

SPAG launched a mixed media petition which generated 300 online and 500 paper signatures from young people and the wider community.

With their parents support, the young people attended and presented their case for a skate park at many local meetings. One of the first meetings they attended was a Local Assembly meeting where they heard of a locality fund. They applied for funding and were awarded the money to carry out a consultation exercise in the community about the possibility of getting a skate park.

The consultation day was a success. Supported by their parents, the local youth service, and the local assembly coordinator, the young people hired various skateboarding ramps and asked people in the community to write down their thoughts and ideas about the skate park. This revealed an overwhelming majority of positivity from the community. There were also 250 people there, from a mixture of age groups, marking the first major showing of support for the idea and combating arguments that the skate park would only appeal to a few young people.

Of three potential sites for the skate park, only one was a viable option, the recently restored Upper Park. An opposition group called ‘Save the Upper Park' formed, and raised a number of objections. SPAG combated these arguments using local media, including local radio, and speaking at the above mentioned meetings. Alongside this SPAG continued to campaign for and apply for funding to make the skate park happen.

As a result of their campaigning SPAG received the support of the 'Save the Upper Park' group to build the skate park in the nearby Lower Park. The decision was passed by 73 per cent at a ward assembly meeting and signed off by the mayor. Subsequently they were successful in their funding application to the Youth Opportunities Fund (YOF).

Having campaigned and compromised for more than a year, they are now expecting to have their skate park designed and finished by March 2011.

Outcomes and impacts

SPAG has influenced the local authority spending through successfully applying to YOF and locality funding, and it has begun a deeper change in the local community.

The young people have had to mature and develop skills quickly, as well as learn to moderate their behaviour. The slightest fault would have had a big impact on local people's decisions about them and whether they deserve a skate park.

They have been active in local political issues, campaigning, engaging in local democratic structures and in technical work. For example:

  • speaking at ward assembly meetings
  • meeting with the mayor
  • applying for funding from various sources
  • researching sites and sound barriers
  • structural reviews
  • accommodating the views and fears of the local community.

Having a designated place for the skate park will improve relations between the young people and the community because they will have a safe place to enjoy skateboarding without the noise being a nuisance to residents.

In this instance, the successful engagement of these young people not only allowed them to gain a lot of skills and understanding of the way that local processes work, but it strengthened community relations, and breathed life into the local political activity.

Some of the feedback from SPAG members included

"My favourite thing was us all coming together and working hard non-stop and the feeling of victory when we got the skate park."

"The worst moment was, whenever we tried to get somewhere, we kept getting pushed back."

Key lessons

The young people of SPAG had great difficulty interacting with local decision making mechanisms at times because the local meetings were placed within school hours. However, when they were able to interact with them, they proved themselves more than capable of playing a valid role there.

It is crucial that decision-making mechanisms are accessible and available to young people if local authorities wish to properly engage young people and reap the associated benefits.

They had several challenges, and had to learn a lot of a new skills and go into a lot of alien situations, but with parental support and through the ease with which they were allowed to interact with the local decision-making mechanisms, it has produced a positive result within them, for their overall goal, and also for local democracy.

Challenges they faced

  • Facing an opposition group and disappointments where votes were disregarded or blocked
  • Being quite heavily scrutinised
  • Occasionally being stereotyped
  • Compromising on their original plans
  • Remaining polite and sticking to their case under pressure and sometimes in heated debate.

Opportunities that arose

  • Being part of a debate
  • Taking on a long-term campaign and carrying its momentum
  • Public speaking
  • Undertaking or commissioning complex procedures such as noise surveys and structural reviews
  • Inter-generational interaction
  • Interacting with local political figures such as councillors, the MP for Lewisham, the young mayor, the mayor and local assembly.

When asked what advice they would give to anyone in a similar position, they said "don't give up", "just carry on" and "you might meet some pretty nasty people, but just take it all on board."

Next steps

They are now proceeding with the structural and design aspects of the finally approved skate park.

They also aim to have youth workers manning the skate park at different points to run some sessions to attract more young people to participate.

Further information

Imogen Slater
Skate Park Action Group (SPAG)
Email: imogenslater@hotmail.com