More annoying than dangerous
Inside Medway's skateboarding scene
Underneath the overflow car park of Medway Park in Gillingham sits a world-class skatepark. You couldn’t tell from the area now, but in 1978, at the height of skateboarding mania, one of the best skateboarding facilities was built at what was then the Black Lion in Gillingham. The park attracted skateboarders and BMXers from all over and was loved and well-used by the local community.
As is so often the case though, it wasn’t to last. The park was eventually filled in, with ‘health and safety concerns’ being cited at the time, but there are conflicting memories of this. One version claims a councillor who lived nearby at the time objected to the noise and young people hanging out, which sealed the fate of the park.
It is worth noting that The Rom, a skatepark in Romford in Essex built to a similar specification during the same year, was granted Grade II listed status in 2014 due to it being the most preserved purpose-built skatepark in England. But Medway’s version has been buried under a barely used car park.
Back in 2016, a petition to Medway Council to ‘dig up or repair’ the skatepark garnered nearly 1,000 signatures. It’s clear from the comments on it how much the facility meant to people, despite its heyday coming nearly three decades earlier:
“I had alot of time there having fun and keeping out of trouble”
“I spent my teenage years skating the park every day.”
“As a kid this was my second home and I didn't do drugs or drink because of Gillingham skate park”
“I grew up using this place and it kept me and all my friends off the streets and gave us hours of fun.”
“I'm 44 now but not a day goes by when I don't think of that place.”
But that was then. What is the state of skateboarding in Medway in 2023? Does much of one even exist in our towns? Are the council are help or a hindrance? What is the relationship between skateboarders and the residents around them?
As always, things are kind of complicated.
More than one skateboarder I spoke to for this piece highlighted the ghost of the Black Lion skatepark haunting the scene in the towns. It led to a defeatist attitude for a lot of skateboarders who witnessed its demise, and a perception of Medway Council repeatedly taking steps to stop skateboarders hasn’t helped.
In the years following, the flyover on Chatham High Street became the central meeting place for skateboarders in Medway to come together. The main reason for this was geographic. There were pockets of skateboarders across the five towns and Chatham was a logical central hub. The nature of the flyover helped too, offering a spacious dry area for skateboarders in a location that didn’t really bother any local residents.
It likely helped that the surrounding area was littered with skateboarding potential. Benches outside the Halifax, marble blocks, and a circular stone island affectionately known as “the biscuit” all provided opportunities for skateboarders to interact with the street environment in the absence of proper facilities.
Much like the flyover though, all of these elements were gradually stripped out of the architecture of Chatham, leaving the town as an increasingly hostile place for skateboarders.
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