Updated: 25/11/19

September 2015; 12 months on from the success of the Long Live South Bank Campaign. Now that the Totally Thames festival is underway, we decided it was a good time to look into one of the most iconic and memorable places on the river and the story of its salvation: London’s South Bank Undercroft. Jasper; pro-skater and Gophr courier, sat down with us to tell us a bit about what made a group of skaters unite to save their space. 


How did you get involved in the Long Live South Bank Campaign (LLSB)?

“When I came to London I didn’t know anyone and the Undercroft was really the first place I went. It was about the only place I knew because it’s a famous spot for skateboarders. As soon as I went there I met loads of people and made loads of friends. It’s kind of a hub for skaters to meet people. So, it felt natural to get involved in the LLSB to stop the developers trying to remove the space that is so important to all of us.” 




Where were you when you first heard about the proposal to close the Undercroft?

“I’m not sure how it started, but I remember going to SB one day and there was a rumour going around that they were going to shut it down. A week later posters started to appear about the new proposal. 

“A couple of weeks after that my friend Henry and a guy called Paul from Uprise, a children’s youth organisation, started putting together a campaign to try and stop it. They were creating forms and petitions and protesting against the planning permissions.”



What is it that makes the Undercroft so special?

“There are so many reasons. It’s a really interesting space; I mean, it all started in the 70s  when it just used to be crackheads and junkies that would hang out there, and that was all the space was used for. It was just completely dead. 

“At this time, people started to skate there because it had the banks and people could imitate what was being done in L.A with the bowls. 

“People have skated there since. It’s not a skate park, but you’re not out in the streets either. It’s like a claimed space for skateboarders. It’s really organic the way it’s evolved and changed and that makes it really interesting. It’s a really interesting vibe when you go there; everyone knows everyone and there’s a real sense of community. If you’re local there, then you’re all homies; that kind of thing.”


Have you met some interesting people who are involved in LLSB?

“I’ve met loads of pro-skaters; people who I looked up to when I was a kid. I made a lot of connections and friends from being there. You’re constantly meeting new people from around the world, in that one spot.

“I’ve managed to get sponsored now, and have gone on trips to film and work for the company I’m with. That’s all happened through connections that I made skating there.”




What was your role in LLSB?

“I was mainly helping out on the table, explaining the situation to people and getting them to sign the petition. I wanted them to understand what was happening with the space, why it’s important to us, and why it should be important to them too. Mostly, we were dealing with tourists, which was pretty difficult when they didn’t have the same level of interest as us, but we actually got a great response from people. A lot of local people were really supportive as well.

“If you were local there and you skated there, you would do some time on the table. You’d skate up and down when it was packed with tourists and get them to sign the petition. It wasn’t like there was a professional force behind us, it was just us guys doing something for the space we love; a community effort.”




What do you think would have happened had they moved the skate area to the hungerford bridge?

“I don’t know man. I didn’t really like thinking about that concept. I mean, I wouldn’t skate there and I know that 90% of people from the South Bank wouldn’t go there. What they had designed was terrible. Even so, that’s not why we go there. You don’t just go there because it’s somewhere to skate. The city is full of things to skate. There’s loads of other skate parks if that’s what we wanted. We wanted the culture of what South Bank is.”


What were the events like when you gathered together to make a stand against the South Bank centre?

“We put on our own events within South Bank to raise awareness and get more people involved. We also arranged a few skate competitions. Another thing we did, was brought in all the tens of thousands of the petitions that were enveloped and boxed up at South Bank. Then, we all skated from South Bank to Brixton to Lambeth council. I guess you could say it was a ride out; hundreds of skaters to take them down and make a statement. That was our protest.” 




What was the defining moment that made you feel that you had real support and that you could pull this off?

“We got a lot of support from RIBA (The Royal Institute of British Architects). A lot of politicians said that it is an important space and that it shouldn’t be changed. Over the couple of years we had a lot of influential people coming out and saying that that space was more important than a couple of extra cafes or shops. 

“I think from the National Theatre, there was a lot of protests about the South Bank centre changing it, but they weren’t sure as they are a part of that organisation. So from local businesses we didn’t see much support. And of course from the South Bank centre there was an interesting relationship going on there…”


 How so?

“They were really sneaky and were trying things on that they really shouldn’t have been doing. Like making a lot of false statements about us, almost like smear campaigns. 

There was a time when they turned off all the lights for months, so that people couldn’t skate there. That attracted some pretty dodgy people that usually aren’t there because there’s usually too many of us there for that. So, at night the was all this dodgy stuff happening and the South Bank Centre could then paint the space in a worse light than it was.”




Do you know of any other schemes where this has been used to save and nurture local culture?

‘Since seeing the success of Save the South Bank, a lot of spaces around the UK, especially skate parks, have contacted the LLSB and asked us to give talks on how we framed our campaign and so on. This was to help people set up their own campaigns. 

“There is one ongoing for the skate park in Stockwell because that’s currently under threat. There was another successful campaign outside of London, I think in the midlands.” 


Do you feel proud that you helped save a national and cultural treasure?

‘I guess we don’t really see it that way. Like yeah, it’s an important space. But for us it’s just like our space, where we go hang and chill with our mates. We feel proud that we have managed to defend it and not have anyone take it from us. It’s more we just didn’t want things to change.”


If you want to read on or are thinking about getting involved in LLSB, check out their blog. Also check out the Friends of Stockwell Skatepark and help save some of London’s unsung history.

All photos credit: Jasper Bainbridge