Words by Erdington Local editorial team
A campaign has been launched to give Erdington its very own skateboarding park. With Birmingham still basking in the success of the Commonwealth Games, a lasting sporting legacy could be created where the Queen’s Baton brought so much joy to residents.
Erdington skateboarder Rick Swift, aged 32, is spearheading The Skatepark Initiative which if successful will see a £200,000 facility for the Olympic urban sport built in Pype Hayes Park.
He told Erdington Local: “I’ve been skating since I was ten and there has never been anywhere in Erdington to go, we always have to travel to Sutton Coldfield, Yardley, or Perry Barr. So, after looking into the feasibility of getting our own skatepark we’ve decided to go for it.
“I thought it is about time the youngsters in Erdington were given somewhere to go, they get a lot of bad press but there is nothing for them to do locally.
“Skateparks are proven to help young people’s physical and mental health, just half an hour a day at a skatepark will make a huge difference to the overall health of our residents.”
Rick has been working on the plans for more than five years and slowly started overcoming the practical hurdles needed to make his and the Erdington skateboarding community’s dream a reality.
He said: “There is everything from noise pollution to ensuring access for ambulances…. but the most important is there ‘where’. Erdington has a lot of parks, but they are all quite small and do not have space for a skatepark like the size of Sutton Coldfield’s one.
“However, when we approached Erdington Councillor Robert Alden he told us it was pretty much Pype Hayes Park or nowhere, so we have decided to go with Pype Hayes Park.”
The next step for Rick is to register the fundraising committee for the skatepark as a charitable organisation.
He said: “We are beginning the process of becoming a registered charity because then we can go for all kinds of funding. There are lots of pots of money if you know where to look, whether it be Sport England or the National Lottery. Skateboarding is an Olympic sport now, which in itself seemed an impossibility ten years ago.”
Rick is determined from the outset to ensure wheelchair skaters are welcome in Erdington.
He said: “The Commonwealth Games success was merging able bodied and disabled sports so we are determined for our park is to be diverse as possible and most importantly wheelchair friendly.
“Wheelchair skateboarding is a big thing, and there is a big push for the sport to be included in the Paralympics – and when you see the tricks that are done in Wheelchair Motocross then we would be mad not to want to be inclusive as possible.”
Las Vegas native Aaron ‘Wheelz’ Fotheringham, who coined the term WMCX (wheelchair and BMX), began entering BMX competitions and his tricks and videos have inspired a generation of disabled athletes.
Rick added: “We will not compromise on making our skatepark wheelchair friendly, we already have had professional skatepark designers get in touch.”
The Skateboard Initiative launched a petition to Birmingham City Council to show the depth of support for a new facility in Erdington.
So far 710 people have signed the petition at Change.org with residents echoing the complaint there is nothing to do in Erdington for youngsters.
Jade Morgan said: “I’m signing because the youth of today have absolutely nothing to do. Outside of school, children cause trouble and get up to no good because there’s nothing to do.
“It’s about time we make changes for this so that the kids of today have more space and safe places to socialise and creatively express themselves without turning to a life of crime and alcoholism.”
Erdington has got a dearth of facilities for youngsters in comparison to other constituencies. A recent internal Birmingham’s City Council report recommended Erdington should be the home of any new youth centre if funding to be secured, such was the lack of activities locally.
Mark Preston, who founded iconic skateboard Birmingham shop Ideal in 1991, has been at the forefront of the skating scene in Birmingham since the 1980s believes it is the perfect time to get the public and political support to build new skatepark.
He told Erdingotn Local: “Skateboarding is on an upcycle now, it is cyclical, but it is becoming more popular. It is in a good place, there is a lot of people skating at the moment. The Olympics has helped.
“Skateboarding is a lot more diverse now, the ethnic diversity is better than ever before and there are also a lot more women and girls skating too, which is great to see.
“The pandemic was really good for skating, a lot of people got involved then. So, numbers are high.”
The second city has been at the bottom of the league when it comes to official organised parks, but skaters had their own paradise of a sprawling 1960s urban landscape which has now all but disappeared.
Mark said: “Birmingham has always been very poorly serviced by skateparks, for a big city it has been a joke basically down the years. But what we had in Birmingham was great streetskating.
“Birmingham had places like the Central Library and other places which were brilliant. The 1960s designed Birmingham was fantastic, it was made for skating. It was like a fantastic playground for skaters in the 1980s and early 1990s, I’m 53 so I was lucky to be around at that time.
“However, when as the city gets developed we have lost these places and architecture these days is very aggressive against skaters. So skateparks now are the future.”
In the last 20 years skateparks have sprung up in Yardley, Selly Park, Perry Barr, and Sutton Coldield and remain popular.
And Mark, also known as Zippy, backs the proposed Pype Hayes skatepark, even offering to advise its design.
He added: “Skateparks are always a good thing because people can congregate there and they know they will not get kicked off. Families can go down there and have fun.
“However, the design is important, they have to be brave, there is no point having a beginner’s area because after a few weeks people are no longer beginners.
“A new skatepark has to be adventurous, and we are more than happy to poke our noses in at the design stage.”
One skateboarder familiar with the streets of Erdington, who will find any design easier than most, is Team GB Olympian Bombette Martin.
The 16-year-old was born in New York but her grandfather is Paddy Martin who has run the Rose and Crown Boxing Club in Erdington for decades.
Her brother Kayo is also following in his sister’s footsteps and despite being American born will jump and skate for England.
Bombette said: “I like to make the joke that I’m half a New Yorker, and 3/4ths a Brummie! I spent so much of my childhood in Erdington because my dad is British, so I guess it didn’t really cross my mind, or my family’s mind, to even try and compete for America.
Bombette has spoken fondly of Birmingham and Erdington, and Rick is planning to enlist her for his campaign.
He said: “Imagine if Bombette came to our park after winning medals, imagine how that would inspire a generation of Erdington skaters?”
For more on The Skatepark Initiative visit www.facebook.com/TheSkateparkInitiative
To sign The Skatepark Initiative petition visit www.change.org/p/birmingham-city-council-theskateparkinitiative