Why Skateboarders Are the Soul of London’s South Bank
They've been synonymous with the area for more than a generation, congregating in an adopted car park that recently survived a redevelopment battle.
Beside the River Thames, in Central London, is the city’s eclectic arts and entertainment district, South Bank. Its food market, book fair, music, art exhibitions, and performances have made it one of the most fun places to visit in London. This video for Travel + Leisure by Carlos Carneiro of London Sessions explores the community that has helped shape the area into what it is today.
One of its cornerstones is the Southbank Centre, a massive arts complex that is home to many venues, including the Queen Elizabeth Hall, the Hayward Gallery, and the Purcell Room, which host performances of every imaginable genre, from spoken word poetry to dance performances. The British Film Institute is here, and so is the National Theatre, a 1,000-person amphitheater (that presents such amusements as a free, pop-up cinema in the summer).
The Southbank Centre is also home to an accidental skate park. Winstan Whitter, a British filmmaker and skateboarder, explained that when skateboarding was emerging in the 1960s, its early adopters were drawn to an abandoned car park for the handicapped beneath the Hayward Gallery. For decades since, skateboarders have made use of the undercroft’s banks, ramps, and smooth surfaces.
Recently, plans were announced to change the Festival Wing, and to remove the skate area in the process. But the proposal was met with massive opposition, from artists who performed at the Southbank Centre in “Long Live South Bank” protest shirts to the skateboarders themselves. Eventually, Boris Johnson, then London's mayor, bowed to pressure and insisted that the Festival Wing transformation leave the skate park untouched.
“You can’t mention the Southbank Centre without mentioning the undercroft and the skateboarding and the young people who use it," said Whitter. “It’s intrinsically tied and bound to the space. It always will be.”