Though the park had a bad reputation in some respects and was known for criminal activity such as drug dealing and knife crime, many residents also found the park a vital community asset and could see great potential for its development.
Community Roots CIC explained how, through this work, they met two young men – Will and Dave – who would go on to make a substantial change in their local area. “One sunny afternoon we went to the skate park and talked to two young lads. They started talking about what they loved about the park and their concerns. We asked them about their vision for the park and they said that Gloucester should have an Olympic standard skate park, as BMXing is an Olympic sport. They were teenagers at the time and were already thinking about legacies and their vision for the area. They talked about the skate park as a brotherhood, how the youngest look up to their elders, and how they all keep an eye on each other.”
Since meeting Will and Dave in June 2015, Community Roots CIC have been guiding and supporting them to become leaders – the young men taking key, active roles in the current transformation of Gloucester’s skate park.
Will explained how Community Roots CIC supported him through a process of active listening and encouragement. “They listened to my vision – they didn’t tell me what to do; they just mentored me through it.”
Will and Dave connected with a diverse mix of residents with the common interest of the improvement of Gloucester Park to form Friends of Gloucester Park. Will was elected the Vice Chair of the group and Dave is a committee member. They took part in a leadership course to develop their organising skills and began an ambitious fundraising campaign for a £100,000 renovation of Gloucester’s skate park.
Community Roots CIC brokered a series of meetings between Gloucester Environmental Trust and Will and Dave, representing Friends of Gloucester Park.
Throughout this process, Will and Dave took an instrumental role in communicating not just their vision, but the shared vision of the skate park users for the future of their skate park. In addition to an ongoing listening process carried out at the skate park, Will and Dave – along with 10 crew members – also organised a Skate Park Jam event, which gave skate park users the opportunity to feed into the plans and meet with members of Gloucester Environmental Trust. This was attended by approximately 150 young people; their families and friends.
Gloucester Environmental Trust could see the passion of the young people and granted them £75,000 to extend and improve the skate park. This also prompted Gloucester City Council, who own the skate park, to make a contribution of £10,000 as well as providing officer time for project management. The process of working with the council to develop plans for the skate park has involved ongoing negotiation and power-sharing, particularly in commissioning designs for the proposed refurbishment, as Community Roots CIC explained:
“Will influenced the tender document and sat on the panel that chose the successful contractor. The successful company then attended an event organised in October half term and did a design check with the skate park users before the design was finalised. Even at this stage the designer tweaked the design, raising a ledge after a suggestion from a skate boarder. The skate park users are confident that they have got the skate park extensions that they asked for, and they feel listened too.”
Will, a bike mechanic by profession, has been using the skate park for over a decade, and has been able to successfully take on a role as a leader throughout this process – due to his close relationships with the rest of the skate park users and the trust built up between them over the years.
“This community has been a massive part of my life,” Will reflected. “The little kids that come here look up to me and come over to talk to me about their bikes.” He describes a long-term vision of the skate park as a place where people can skill share, help each other with bike maintenance, and pass down ‘skate park etiquette’. However, this vision is one that stretches beyond his own involvement in the project: “This is the first phase in my mind anyway – hopefully my friends will carry it on,” says Will.
The Gloucester skate park community and the Friends of Gloucester Park have almost raised the funds needed to make the renovations possible, which is a massive victory for them and the wider community. But more than that, the collaborative process followed to get to this point has meant that users of the skate park – of all ages – can now say they have had a direct role in shaping a space that is home to their community – a community that can now flourish for years to come.