LLSB spring ’19 interview

03.05.2019 Exclusive, Interviews
FCB Studios

After Long Live Southbank (LLSB) launched the current project back in June 2017, the restoration of sections of the iconic wooden ledge, flatground area and small banks is well underway. Following successful major grant applications and collaboration from funding organisations and brands alike – including The London Marathon Charitable Trust – LLSB has raised the £1.1m that the project needs to re-open historic sections of the Undercroft. Due for completion summer in 2019, we caught up with LLSB to find out more about the project.

Interview: Kingsford.

At what stage is Undercroft Transformation Project right now?

The project is in a really good position right now. Following a pretty tough few years of fundraising, we have now raised the £1.1m needed and have appointed a contractor who is on site and five weeks into a 14-week build. Currently there are a lot of works going on: excavation, stripping out of cables, rats, temporary walls, preparation for the paving slabs to be re-laid… The foundation work for the new separating wall is up next. The most recent challenge has been programming the noisy works around the musical performances that go on in the Purcell Room and Queen Elizabeth Hall. To coincide with the reopening, we are planning some pretty exciting events for the summer.

When will the restored sections be open to the public?

Summer 2019. We will be putting out an announcement soon!

Will the restored area be free for all to use at any time?

Yes, free to use for everyone and open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Will there be any new elements added to the original set-up?

The new arrangement is different to what was there originally as we are not getting all of the space that was open before – we got about 50 per cent of it. So for example the old driveway is being turned into a bank-to-wall and we were required to put in a pedestrian barrier which is really a skateable jersey barrier. There is definitely room for some new obstacles but we want to skate it and feel out the lines before deciding on a new feature.

FCB Studios
FCB Studios

Will anything from the original set-up be missing?

Yes. As we’ve always said, a restoration to its complete original size wasn’t possible at this time, but we’re still getting back a large part of the little banks. However (and this is really important to have in the public domain) we have in our agreement with Southbank Centre that if a new development allows space for a new Education Centre, a full restoration will be transparently explored. This could be really important 20 or 30 years down the line.

Can you explain the importance of an inclusivity to the campaign?

Inclusivity in central to LLSB’s ethos, especially giving young people a platform to make their voices heard. The majority of those putting time into LLSB over the years have been skateboarders, so naturally that is somewhat represented in the companies we’ve collaborated with etc, but we are still really keen to highlight the roles the different scenes play at Southbank. After 2004 when graffiti was allowed at SB, the Undercroft quickly became one of the most iconic legal graffiti spots in the capital and it’s rad to see new pieces go up on a daily basis.

I am guessing that some of you may not have skated the wooden ledge and small banks before they were closed off. How have you connected with the space? I’m guessing photos and footage from back in the day have played an important role.

Yes, quite a few of us never skated those sections so the whole restoration feels a bit mythical at times. The Stéphane Decool photos from the ’70s always stand out. Rob Ashby’s photos of the little banks from the ’80s, all the TLB footage, The South Bank Video from 1991, Carl Shipman’s frontside flip over the barrier in 1995, photos of Ben Jobe… The list is long.

James Parry Jones, invert. Photo: Rob Ashby.

For those unfamiliar with the story, why was this area blocked off in the first place?

Originally sections were blocked off in 2004/5 alongside the introduction of the new obstacles as part of the Moving Units project. The space taken away was needed as part of maintenance works and the understanding was that it would be opened up again a year later. Obviously this never happened and the space was then used as a pop-up space for Southbank Centre events, partitioned into storage and workshop space and a welfare space for construction workers during the Hayward Gallery restoration. It’s amazing to be opening it up again, just 13 years late.

After the historic 2014 achievement of saving the existing skate spot from redevelopment by the Southbank Centre, how did the second campaign come about?

LLSB went straight into negotiations about getting the old space back after the Undercroft was legally protected. We produced an Old Space Proposal outlining the significance of the space and how important it was to London as a whole and the creative community that calls the space home. These preparations were ongoing through 2015 and 2016. Of course it took a while to get to a stage with Southbank Centre where we could agree on an exact plan for restoration, but once that was agreed, we gained planning permission and launched our fundraising campaign in June 2017.

How are relations with The Southbank Centre now?

Really good. We have to work very closely alongside them for the fundraising and construction. A lot of the senior staff who were around in 2013-14 have left and their replacements have a pretty fresh perspective on the project and our shared goals and intentions. Of course we still run into difficulties sometimes and we are two vastly different organisations, which can be tricky.

Were you surprised by the success of the recent campaign, particularly the fundraising aspect? It seems to me that extending the existing space is less emotive and less news-worthy than saving it outright, yet this campaign has been very successful.

We all knew we would commit ourselves and see it through, but yes at times we can’t quite believe how successful it has been. The first year was really challenging and when the cost of the project kept rising and eventually went above £1m, we definitely felt the pressure. We’re glad you asked this question because this is something we have always commented on. I guess we have learned to just get on with it and only make noise at key times so we keep up momentum. The project does a huge amount of public good. Free creative space is really important for physical and mental wellbeing and community development and then there are the arguments around architectural heritage, placemaking etc. Once we got our first major grant things starting falling into place and we’re very thankful for the continued support of the skateboarding community, especially the everyday locals who keep us moving forward.

Talk us through some memorable highs and lows throughout LLSB’s existence.

We probably can’t go into too much detail on this, we don’t want another cease and desist haha! To be honest sometimes the task felt momentous and getting traction was hard. There was also a lot of misinformation and hearsay flying around at times which was particularly difficult to deal with, especially when the campaign relied so heavily on public support.

Saying that, there have been so many good times. We are all close friends and it’s been amazing to work together on a project we all care so much about. All our events and jams have been a lot of fun. The good memories outweigh the bad.

I imagine LLSB has inspired many similar campaigns around the world. Do people involved in these campaigns get in touch for advice / support?

I think campaigns to save skate spots would always be inspired by necessity but maybe we’ve had some influence in terms of tactics and we’ve certainly had conversations with dozens of different campaigns. The first ones that come to mind are the campaign to save Black Blocks in Atlanta and the work that Skate Nottingham are doing up there. Lots of people from all over the world get in touch. We’ve spoken to small groups from Tel Aviv to Dublin and we’re always hyped to hear about skaters getting organised and fighting for their local spots.

Have you seen instances of important, iconic skate spots being redeveloped when they could / should have been saved?

Love Park is the obvious one. It was really sad to see that happen the way it did. Canada Water getting capped recently was really shitty. But this is an issue rooted in the fact that across the world, citizens really do not have a sufficient say in the way their cities feel and how their spaces are run. This is why there is such a crisis regarding public space and why it is so common for well-loved community spaces – whether they are skate spots or not – to be redeveloped in the interests of capital. It is really important that people take a stand against this and I hope that LLSB can transfer some of the momentum we have gained to help community spaces facing these sorts of issues.

Certain countries, particularly Sweden and Denmark, are progressive in terms of valuing skateboarding and integrating it into public spaces. Where does London and the UK sit alongside these countries?

London is learning from our scandinavian neighbours but the size of London and it’s governance / tax system makes it very challenging to roll out the same kind of projects. With cities like Copenhagen that have a strong social democratic welfare state and high taxes, central government has more money to spend on ‘luxuries’ like designing in skate spots to public space. The work that LLSB have been doing over the last six years is changing the way the Mayor of London views skateboarding though and recently we introduced Gustav Eden to some representatives from City Hall who were really interested to hear how they can learn from Malmö’s progressive approach to skateboarding. We have a long way to go though and one major step forward would be to stop the ban of skating the square mile of the City of London. London can’t say that it embraces skateboarding when it is still illegal to skate in one of the most important areas of the city. The growing discussions around ‘pseudo public space’ are really positive, but we are still a long way from the sort of policy and design changes that a truly progressive city should be taking.

What is next for LLSB after the restoration is complete?

There will be a scaling back of operations. We’ve got a few events we are excited to shout about soon and there is a lot of positive work that remains to be done on similar issues, but LLSB is about Southbank and will remain as such. We’ll be running free skate schools for the public every few months for the next 3 years too, which will be funded by The London Marathon Trust.

Would LLSB like to thank anyone in particular for helping with the latest campaign?

There are too many to thank really but massive massive thanks to Daphne (Greca) and Val (Katz) from Brixton’s Baddest who have lent us their basement rent free for the last year and a half, and to Palace, Supreme and adidas Skateboarding who have been truly supportive. We’re truly grateful to everyone who has helped us along the way!