Skateboarders call for more space in the city after boom in popularity
- Credit: DENISE BRADLEY/Archant2021
It's a sport which has rolled its way into the hearts of hundreds of thrill-seekers looking for a different way to get active in lockdown.
But skateboarders in Norwich say they have become the target of abuse and unfair criticism after a lack of suitable spaces to skate has left them pushed into the city centre.
For years skateboarding has been labelled as an anti-social activity, where groups congregate and cause trouble.
But skaters in Norwich said this could not be further from the truth.
As the pandemic hit, in the last year, hundreds have taken up the sport.
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But as more take to the streets and skateparks, the problems skaters face has come to the fore.
Sam Avery is the owner of the Drug Store skate shop, which will be reopening at a temporary site on Bridewell Alley on Monday, April 12.
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He has long campaigned for Norwich to become a more “skate-friendly” city and was involved with the build of Eaton skatepark in 2010.
But more than a decade later, he said the skating community is now ten times the size but nowhere else has been built and skateparks across the city have been allowed to go into ruin.
Following recent complaints from residents about skateboarders in the city centre, Mr Avery said the attitude towards skaters needs to change.
The 41-year-old said: “With any group you have the odd bad kid but 99pc of skateboarders are pleasant, respectful people.
“But skating gets treated like an anti-social activity when it isn’t.
“It is not only physically beneficial, but there have been studies done on mental health benefits, especially for young people.
“It can be a really positive activity but it's difficult when there isn't a place for people to do it without feeling like that going to be harassed, kicked out, sent packing, shouted out or abused in some way.”
He added: “When I started skateboarding there weren’t any skateparks.
“You would just venture around your town and find things to skate on.
“Skateboarding came from the streets and it will always be a street activity. But skateparks are useful for people to go, to be safe, to learn and practice.
“The easiest way to create more space would be to re-do the pre-existing parks, Fiddlewood or even the older part of Eaton park.
“There is a park at Loddon which is a really good template for the council who want to provide a space without spending a fortune.
“What we would love to see is for Norwich to become a skate-friendly city where they incorporate skateboarding into future planning."
Eaton is the biggest and most popular skatepark in the city, but in recent months it has become “overcrowded” and “dangerous” as skateboarders, roller skaters, BMXers and children on scooters fight for space.
But other parks such as Fiddlewood and Heathgate are usually avoided due to old and “badly-designed" ramps and rough, tarmac flooring - which can cause injuries for skaters.
A Norwich City Council spokesman said: “We are very proud of the skate facility at Eaton Park, which has been popular for over a decade. It was funded through an £8m investment agreement with the Homes and Communities Agency and was designed to national competition standard.
“Through this and other activities and facilities throughout the city, we are glad to offer a multitude of opportunities for recreation.
“Local government budgets have become increasingly challenging to balance in recent years, and the profound financial impact of Covid has only made things harder.
“Our Covid recovery plan sets out a clear route to help the city bounce back from this hugely difficult stage in our history, and any trends that have emerged due to the pandemic will be explored.”
Alex Williams, 21, a UEA student and president of the skate society said: “We would like to see less denial from the council that we exist.
“There is now a massive skate scene in Norwich - it’s an amazing community.
“You see all of these places for people to play football, tennis and basketball . We need the space to do our sport.
“We just want to see our community grow and for people to appreciate skating. We put blood, sweat and tears into it because we love it.”
Mr Avery, along with his business-partner and mayor of Beccles, Ashley Lever, will submit a planning application for the build of a new store and indoor skate space – called Community East - within the currently disused St Peter Parmentergate church, on Kings Street.
If the plans are approved they hope to provide a “community-space” for people to come and learn, socialise and skate in the colder months.