Long Live Southbank was founded in April 2013, in response to a redevelopment plan which would have potentially turned the world famous spot, a mecca for UK skateboarding, into commercial retail spaces. Eventually Long Live Southbank successfully signed a joint agreement guaranteeing the long term future of the spot, and in the three subsequent years they have worked with a whole host of crews in cities around the world to help save spots special to them.
Words: Louis Woodhead and LLSB | Photos: LLSB or else as stated | Cover image photo by: Katya Ochagavia | Bottom image: Rod Broomfield and Stephane Decool
It seems that we live in an age where increasing gentrification has brought the issue of free and creative public space to a head. It also seems that, in alignment with citizens across the globe, skateboarders are increasingly motivated to stand up and protect spaces that, legally or not, very much feel to be their own. The latest example of this is in Lyon, where the cities central skate spot, Hotel de Ville, is under threat.
This article was written after conversations with a number of other skateboarders forced into the world of campaigning: Andrew Murrell and Jordan Smith who have fought a successful campaign to save Atlanta’s Black blocks and two campaigners closer to home, Sam Avery who fought a ban on skateboarding in Norwich City Centre and Amanda Healy who took on a similar ban in Kettering.
»Tackle the issue, and convey the sense of space, the people and the history«
News of a skate spots impending closure will almost always come as a shock and that initial leap into action will often be the most rollercoaster-esque step of the whole journey. Focus will be on getting the essential tasks done, setting up some form of petition, uniting people together as campaigners and beginning to get the word out in as many directions as possible. But while this initial flurry of activity is great for gathering momentum, it is important to build an organisation, crew or group with longevity so that individuals and the campaign as a whole do not burn out. Ensure that there are enough people who have the time, knowledge and commitment to cover the scale of the campaign. Make sure the whole group come to agreement as to the aims and ethos. Of course it is a skateboarding campaign, so there is no point aiming for anything with nearly as regimented roles as the average office, but it is good to have people who can understand and commit to certain responsibilities. Who will consistently update the social media? Who can commit to attending meetings? Who is happy to speak to the press?
Think of a name that reflects your cause and can be easily understood. Save Southbank was the original campaign set up in 2005 but in 2013 Long Live Southbank was opted for because it gave a nod to the past, present and future.
Create a logo which can be easily recognisable and think of some phrases that can be used to convey your message as well as hashtags and in illustrations. Long Live Southbank used 'You Can’t Move History', 'Preservation not Relocation' and 'Construction without Destruction'.
»Build an organisation, crew or group with longevity«
Create a core team and also tap into the wealth of people around who are keen to help in various ways; filmmakers, photographers, illustrators, graphic designers, writers.
Set up a petition to raise awareness, although don’t rely on this. Multiple approaches are needed.
As we have been told a hundred times over, this is the age of social media. Norwich campaigner Sam Avery described it as ‘essential’ to his campaign. A strong online following can translate into signatures, donations, merchandise sales and physical support at key events and protests. The Black Blocks Campaign describe it as their ‘amplifier’. ‘Skateboarders worldwide look out for each other… with Instagram and Facebook, you can push (it) from a local issue into an international issue.’
Different platforms reach different audiences so try and use as many as manageable. Create posts that tackle the issue, and convey the sense of space, the people and the history. People want to understand and identify with the cause and the people it affects. Most of all, gather attention by being as creative with your posts as possible.
Contacting the Right People
There is a far broader spectrum of people to contact than you would imagine at first. Here is a taste: the press (national, local, skate magazines and specialists publications including both campaign and town planning orientated), politicians from the level of local councillors right up to senior politicians whose remit is communities and culture focused. Also, engage with the body that wishes to oust skateboarding and try and find someone there to negotiate with. Contact all organisations it is beholden to (including its funders, its board and its landowners), other campaigning organisations, especially those concerned with free public space, as many interested influential people as possible, as many people in the skateboarding industry and community as possible and, of course, the general public.
»Support can be found in unlikely places«
Getting to speak directly to the decision makers and the person or people who can make the call to stop or reverse the redevelopment or ban as quickly as possible is key. Don’t get caught up in lengthy back and forth dialogue with anyone who cannot make or influence final decisions.
The Save Black Blocks campaign did an exceptionally good job at getting the message to the right people in a pressured time frame, as Andrew explained. ‘We had contacts at Thrasher and the local news... From there, we kicked off the fundraiser, which was a fantastic way to spread word of the spot's demise while covering overhead costs. With the basic social media network set up, we were able to corral followers into letting their disappointment be known on the proper officials' emails and public Facebook pages via short, respectful messages.’
Support can be found in unlikely places. Amanda spoke of the importance in finding that ‘sympathetic voice on the local council, who can alert you to the mechanics’. LLSB actively sought out and received strong support from a wide variety of organisations; architectural, cultural, artistic, local businesses and community groups. Having allies and supporters as far and wide across society as possible will help build a wide network that could approach the issue from multiple angles.
»Having allies and supporters as far and wide across society as possible will help build a wide network that could approach the issue from multiple angles«
And Real Life
A great strength of the Long Live Southbank campaign was its visibility in real life. There were at least two campaign members talking to the public and collecting signatures outside the skate spot every day of the week for more than a year. This raised a huge amount of awareness and brought some really important people into the campaign. People you connect with in real life will get a stronger feel for the campaign, they will be more in touch with the passion that drives it and therefore will be more likely to take positive action.
If it is at all possible, find a way to have a presence in real life. Find a space where you can set up a table and a couple of chairs. Make a banner, get some forms to sign and start speaking to people.
If it’s not possible to have someone on a table every day, host events; a great way to raise funds and awareness. At events and key stages in the campaign invite both the local and national press.
Positivity and the Right Message
It is useful to build good relationships with the press and media to help get your side of the story out. LLSB learned to be cautious of journalists who appeared to have agendas and the prospect of being misrepresented or misquoted.
It is important to break through the preconceptions that many have about skateboarders. This may well be jeopardising the future of your skate spot. As Andrew put it, it is important to appear as ‘mature members of respective communities, (rather than) thugs and troublemakers’.
»Try to be both: progressive and positive«
There is a key balance to be struck. You do not want to appear too distant and disruptive to the system with whom you are trying to negotiate with. But if you adapt your tone too much then the broader meaning of your message can be lost.
Long Live Southbank always tried to speak in a tone that was as measured as was sensible without losing any of its realness. There was no point in pretending that this campaign was anything but born out of the streets. But there is no reason that a campaign born out of the streets cannot be intelligent and incisive. We tried to be both progressive and positive.
It is important to put across a vision for how you want your city to look, rather than simply don’t bulldoze X. Long Live Southbank have taken every opportunity, through public speaking and private conversations, to put across a vision for London based around increasing free creative space. Growing in this way gives more heart to the campaign and enables us to speak on the specific issue of Southbank with a far broader perspective.
Ultimately you have to be dedicated. It can be incredibly rewarding. This should never be underestimated of course. But it can also be a hugely demanding time sacrifice and extremely taxing on one’s brain. Andrew described the workload as akin to ‘taking on a second job’. The reality is that campaigning involves an awful lot of time sitting at a laptop, writing emails. While this can leave you feeling a little numb at times, it is important to remember how important what you are doing is, both for your local skate scene, and via the point of principle, for the world as a whole.
»Remember how important what you are doing is – both for your local skate scene, and via the point of principle, for the world as a whole«
If you manage to keep a core team dedicated when it feels like progress is slow, then you have a strong chance of success. There really is no magic formula for saving a skate spot. There is nothing unassailable for the ordinary citizen. But you do need to be committed.
LLSB continue to help and advise many other campaigns and communities across the world who find their spots under threat. To support the ongoing work, grab a copy of the book, follow on social media or hit LLSB up at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For full interviews with the other campaigns and to get a copy of the Long Live Southbank book crammed full of images, interviews, illustrations and details of Southbank’s history and campaign, head over to the website http://www.llsb.com/.