The Story of the Vennie Skatepark

Tom Heron and Kenny Davis, from Knightsridge Adventure Project, tell us the story of how young people built The Vennie Skatepark.

In 2013 outside the Knightsridge Adventure Project (The Vennie) a group of young skateboarders aged around 13-14 years old, were using the disabled ramp that led into the youth club, as a platform to perform tricks on their boards. This went on every day after school, relentlessly. One day the skaters decided to speak with the Centre Coordinator, Tom Heron, to ask if there was a possibility that one day they could have a Skate park built at the Vennie. At that time there was a large investment in new equipment at the Adventure Park and also drainage work completed on the football pitches, so the likelihood of finding further investment funding seemed somewhat remote.

The main philosophy and ethos about the Vennie is very much to get the local community involved and on board with our work. We hold community BBQs 2-3 times per year and this allows the community to come to the youth club and meet staff and see the work of their young people. It is also attended at times by local and national politicians. It was during one of these BBQs that Tom introduces the young skaters to one of the Councillors from the multi member ward and that’s where the conversation took place about the possibility of creating a Skate-park.

The Councillor took the idea forward to a Council funding panel and was able to put forward the Skaters idea. There happened to be an underspend in a particular area of funding and it was also coming to the end of the financial year and he was able to secure the funding to build a skate-park for these young people. Was this a stroke of luck or fate?

The Skaters took it upon themselves to do a sponsored skate which raised £113. Thinking this would add weight and strength to their proposal and contribute financially to their project.

Council officers then contacted the Vennie to come and meet the young people with a touch of apprehension and uncertainty. Knightsridge measured highly on the SIMD and had a fairly bad reputation for troublesome young people, territorialism, underage drinking, gang fights etc. So a somewhat different environment as to what the officers were used to.

After the initial meeting some of the Council officers got back to me to comment on the articulacy and politeness of the young people they had met and how pleasantly surprised they were, as they were expecting something very different. They then arranged for the young people to meet with the architects and contractors. The young people designed the Skate-park the way they wanted it to be so that it ‘flowed’. They took work home with them to speed up the process, and submitted their new drawings to architects. Eventually everything was agreed and the contractors were on site. The young people used to come round every day after school to inspect the construction work (almost like the old clerk of works) just to ‘keep an eye on things’.

The day came that the Skate-park was opened. Skaters came from all around to skate this new park.

Over a year later we were approached by Historic Scotland to see if we would be interested in taking part in a new initiative called Scotland’s Urban Past (S.U.P.).  After consultations with young people they decided to make a film about the process and outcomes on how they got their Skate-park. This was a magnificent piece of work with stories being told by young people and real footage of them actually performing on the ‘Skatey’ itself.

Working with SUP and creating the film has allowed us to tell the story of the Skate-park to a wider audience, because of their professionalism, expertise, knowledge and connections in the field. We would not have been able to do this on our own.

A short period of time passed when we were approached by BEFS to ask if we would like to take part in the Heritage and Diversity conference/workshop, held at the Hub in Edinburgh. We gratefully agreed but not fully knowing what we had agreed to be involved in. We also welcomed the invitation, as it was another platform to tell our story about the Vennie Youth Club and some of the valuable work it produces.

A young person from the film, Kenny Davis and Coordinator Tom Heron went along to represent the Vennie at the event. It was a bit strange to begin with and mildly intimidating, especially when we heard some of the voices which were in a slightly more upper class tone than we were accustomed.  It got us thinking (and worrying) if we were slightly out of our depth and what could we possibly offer to this environment and audience of people?  Would any one want to hear our story? We must be on the periphery…surely.

However, our minds were put more at ease as we spoke to some staff from BEFS and we got more of a picture as to how things would pan put for the day. We were particularly impressed and indeed inspired by the speakers which added to our understanding of the ‘Built Environment’.  As the workshops began and we were able to tell our story about the Skate-park people were very receptive, responsive and inquisitive about the processes involved in the project.

As the day moved on we became more confident and were able to facilitate better to suit our audience. We were also able to physically show our film during break times so that people could understand more about the piece of work we had spoken about. We received some really positive feedback both from the table discussions and the shown film.

When we started our journey developing ideas and creating a Skate-park, we would not be thinking of the built environment or our culture or history. We were just a group of young people who wanted to do something for ourselves, but also be creative and build something that we were passionate about and would have a lasting legacy. The park is as good today as it was when it was built. Young people guard and watch over it in a manner that tells you that this belongs to us, this is our contribution to our culture, and this is our built environment.

Our impressions of the conference were magnificent, one of the best conferences/workshops that we have had the pleasure to attend. From having the feelings of what can we offer this environment to learning by the end of the conference that we are very much smack bang in the heart of it.

Tom Heron and Kenny Davis, from Knightsridge Adventure Project, The Vennie Skatepark.