Making Stockwell Red Again

28.07.2022 Exclusive, Articles

The long-overdue renovation of the iconic Stockwell Skatepark in south London has just been completed. We caught up with Daryl Nobbs and Stuart Maclure from Betongpark – the London-based company that took on the renovation project – for a chat about the park’s history, the many people involved in making the renovation happen, the pressure associated with working on such a beloved park and the red pigment, among other topics.

Photography: Elstub
Interview: Kingsford

First of all, what does Stockwell mean to you guys personally?
S – Definitely my favourite place to skate in London. When I was growing up and started coming into London, it was where I met my friends to go skating. If I had a free Sunday, that’s where I was going.
D – I’ve been skating the park on and off for 15 years. Obviously the physical form of the skatepark is incredible and that’s a big part of it, but the scene down there has always been something else. It’s so special for London. It’s such a mix of characters in the best possible way and I love it. You’re never going to be bored going to Stockwell, and it’s so welcoming in its own unique way.
S – One of the best sunsets of the skateparks in London I think, on those benches.

Can you give us a brief history of the park in terms of renovations?
D – So the park was built originally in 1978 by a gentleman called Lorne Edwards, an absolute legend of UK skateboarding being responsible for some of the first parks in London, the most important one being Stockwell of course. Since then it’s been renovated quite a few times. I can count this because we’ve actually got all these (cross) sections of it. So you’ve got the original grey concrete that was first there, then there was a grey skim done – I’m not exactly sure on the dates of those – then after that then you had the red skim that was done, which was obviously the one that everyone remembers the most, which was there for a really long time. I got to skate it once when it was red on a trip down to London. Then following that I think about 12 years ago it had a full over pour in grey again. That means now we’re basically on the fifth layer. Some sections have four different layers of concrete. It’s absolutely insane.

It sounds like an archeological dig.
D – Yes. We started digging and breaking stuff out. We didn’t know what we were going to find underneath. We definitely found things we didn’t expect: the drainage situation and all sorts.
S – I’ve got some facts here. It was built in 1978. There was a resurfacing with the red composite polymer modified screed in 1998, which had a 15-20mm depth. So that was when it was red. Then it started getting chipped away and there was repair work to deteriorating joins in 2003 then repairs to the composite screed in 2004. In 2006 it was resurfaced again, but this was when they messed it up because it was by a roadways and car parks company. That was 18mm polymer screed again over the entire park, but the quality wasn’t great and it was degrading pretty fast. There was another repair in 2007/2008. They kept on doing small-but-not-too-great repairs and that was what stood until we came on site. Obviously between 2008 until when we came on, there were loads of locals doing DIY fixes here and there.
D – I mean basically in that time Old Man Dave (Meates) filled more cracks than is known to man. He’s a legend.

The problem that Stockwell has is that it had a lot of these cheap quick fix skims over the top, not a million miles off what happened at Kennington to be honest with you, you just on a way bigger scale. This time we have built an entirely new slab on top of the existing skatepark, completely reinforced, completely structurally sound within its own right. We did a lot more investigations on the site this time than I think have been done in the past.

What was the context for the latest renovation? It was long overdue, right?
D – I think I was first having conversations with some of the Friends of Stockwell (Skatepark) guys six or seven years ago. It had fallen to pieces so quickly, like a lot faster than it should have, to the point where the surface was so degraded it was exposed aggregate everywhere – you couldn’t even ride over it without doing yourself some serious damage. Then it took a very, very long time for… basically to get the council’s ear in the first place is always a big one, to the point where they are taking you seriously and something’s going to happen. Then you know, raising the funds… A lot of the funds came from something called Section 106 money from the development next door. They had to give money back to the local community. Then essentially Lambeth (Council) had to pull the rest of it together.

It went through one tender process. I’d been working on this for a really long time at this point. This was still when we were based completely in Norway but we were going to come over and do it because it was Stockwell. We put in a very true cost of the project and got undercut massively by someone last minute. They obviously realised their mistake and basically just had the contract and didn’t build it for like two, almost three years. After the council just waiting and hoping and hoping and waiting some more, eventually they ended that contract.

Was there another tender process?
D – It was something like a tender process but essentially they wanted us to do it. We were the only guys that they saw that actually had the specialist skills to do a job like that. It’s far from a normal skatepark build.

I guess lots of people might not want the job.
D – No. It’s really high pressure. When we came in a lot of people were really nervous. Then we walked into the first consultation meeting with Friends of Stockwell and the council and the first thing Daphne (Greca, Brixton’s Baddest / Friends of Stockwell Skatepark) said was: “I trust Daryl and Betongpark 100 per cent and we have nothing to worry about.” That was so sweet and kind of her to say. That’s been the relationship throughout, which has been really flattering. I’m really grateful for their trust throughout the job.
S – When we’ve had issues, we’ve gone to Val (Katz, Brixton’s Baddest / Friends of Stockwell Skatepark) and Daphne and they’ve been like: “It’s fine, whatever you guys decide…” Same with everyone else. It’s been a load off our shoulders really, because I think everyone felt the pressure.
D – It helped. They are friends and we’ve skated the park together for all these years. And having the older dudes as well as the younger crew (dudes and dudettes) come around and have a look when we started setting all the forms and showed them how it was going to look… I have skated Stockwell with Johnners (Adam Johns) for 10+ years… and a bunch of the other guys.

How did the consultation process work?
S – After we were awarded the contract – which was basically the start of this year – we did some initial consultation at the skate shop (Brixton’s Baddest) with the council and some people from Friends of Stockwell Skatepark. Because it has already been through this process, there was already a lot of data and the company (that had initially won the contract) had already done some plans for the space, so we just wanted to go through certain options. Like the hard edge… there might have been a curb there or a jersey barrier, but that got taken away because most people just wanted space to be able to flow in and out of it. The new double-hipped section; there was a question mark over what was going there. So there were a few options that we put out. It was really transparent. Everyone was very trusting. We sat down, had some ideas and threw some designs back and forth. It emerged quite naturally.

So what has changed?
D – Not so much has changed. Ultimately the design was never really going to change. It’s Stockwell. It’s a restoration project. We’ve tried to just clean up the shapes a little bit. A lot of it was thinking about how things worked historically, trying to restore those values into it and at the same time, trying to iron out some of the horrendous kinks that the last guys had left in there. A lot of it was cleaning that form up and making it feel really smooth, just a modern version of the exact same design.

Other than that, we added a sharpened edge on that one side as you come into the snake run coming down from the stairs just to have something a little different in there, you know, somewhere you can do some noseblunt slides and still keep that roll-in, roll-out function that’s already there. And then on the back wall where the block used to be towards Thrayle House, the big tower block, we added one more little tight transition behind the sugar bowl, which actually works so sick to keep you in this pocket of tight transitions now. It eradicates one of those dead zones that was super slow before. And then connecting that new transition and the original hard edge quarter pipe we created a little protruding additional quarter pipe there. Something that was always missing from Stockwell that people like Daphne have flagged was a normal quarter pipe. The new bowl is kind of tall and you’ve got loads of really, really tight shit, so there’s one panel, which is a normal four foot quarter pipe.

That’s good for learning.
D – Yes, exactly. It just ties that last little section together that was always kind of a non-entity before.
S – The bump by the entrance is a bit bigger now.
D – It’s more that we cleaned the shape up. It’s a little less poky. And obviously the potato is the other big change. That went from being just a blob on the floor into something a little bit more modern that has hips and banks in it. We tried to think about all the different directions people skate it from and how we could make it function a little bit better.

S – I think now the line is so much easier with the driveway, like with the new hip, it sends you round then you can use the new quarter to circle. It makes it work so much better. You could already see new lines on when people were skating it on Thursday and Friday.

You mentioned the pressure associated with working on such a well-loved park already. Could you talk more about this?
S – I was shook before we started.

When I heard you guys were doing the restoration, I had Kennington in mind.
D – How on it the skaters have been at Stockwell has been very much in relation to what happened at Kennington: just a cheap, fly-by-night fix – basically for one event – that was never going to last. Given Stockwell had had similar things happen in the past, there were a lot of eyes on this and it had to be done to a T. In relation to that I have to give massive props to Bedir Bekar, who was the engineer basically working on behalf of the council and a homie, a skater and someone that also loves Stockwell skatepark. His input on it has been invaluable in terms of how we make something that is really going to stand the test of time.

How did the build go? What were some challenges specific to Stockwell?
S – It went pretty smoothly. I think one of the biggest constraints was that the site was on a red traffic route by the bus stop and our planning obligations meant that we couldn’t take deliveries before 10am, so every time we ordered any material, any tools, any service – which was every day basically – we had to comply with these planning regulations. That was quite tricky.
D – I’m still getting fines (laughs). The access is literally through a bus holding zone but to be honest the fines were minimal. Aside from that the build was kind of a dream. Every build has it’s own little challenges and there are difficult pours and you have days where it’s super hot and you have days where it rains and the tent collapses on your head, but we had such an incredible crew. We had some fresher guys from the local scene who have been trained up through the job and learned a lot. At the same time we had myself and Felix (Parker) – we have worked together for 12 years now – and we brought in some old friends from Sweden, who I’ve been working with for a decade and who are some of the best park builders in the world in my book. To have the actual dream team – the best crew we’ve ever had in my opinion –made it such a dream project.

Tell us about the red pigment.
D – The red is purely aesthetic. As we were getting closer to starting it was always in the back of my head. So many people were asking: “Are you going to make it red again?” It’s just so fondly remembered from that era. I think that was quite a golden era of Stockwell. It’s had many golden eras, but I think that was… for me growing up and seeing (Chris) Pulman Heroin adverts down there… that’s something I can remember so vividly. I can remember seeing that as a little kid growing up in the Midlands and wanting to go and skate that red place with the little weird steps in the blob. That was all I wanted to do.

It was getting closer and closer and we were getting ready to start pouring. I was like: “Do we just do it?” I tallied up how much it would cost. Actually we have a really good relationship with a company that manufactures pigment over here in the UK, so I got on the phone to them in my beggiest voice ever, explained the cultural significance of this project and why it was going to be such a massive project and so visible and they actually did us an absolute solid and gave us such a reduced rate. They came through. The concrete supplier we used in conjunction with them was absolutely phenomenal as well.
S – Shout out Capital Concrete. Always on time (laughs).
D – Shout out to PICS for the pigment and Capital for the concrete. Fucking legends the lot of them. Anyway we just kind of went for it without really telling anyone. I checked with the council to make sure no one was going to get bummed out and they were like: “If we’re not paying for it, we’re happy, basically” (laughs).

Some sections aren’t red.
D – No. There was a condition survey done a few years ago and it was all different grades basically. It was deemed that the new section – the new bowl – was all in relatively good condition compared to the majority of stuff in that old original section, so we basically decided a line we were going to draw between the old and the new and one would be completely repoured and the other would be restored, like a similar idea to everything we’ve done at the (Hackney) Bumps. We’re pretty up on polishing old concrete – we’ve done a few of them now. So we picked this line and when we chose to do the red, we were like: “OK, do we just pour up to this janky square line?” Instead we thought we’d make even more work for ourselves and we cut this big, wavy line. It’s so visible from above with that tower block, so we spent even longer cutting all through this line and jackhammering and breaking out and tying new bars in. You have this really cool effect. It even climbs up one of the ramps. It’s such a nice touch.
S – Random story about that. It’s called Stanton Red. Stanton is a place in Gloucestershire that’s famous for making bikes in this certain colour of red. A bit of history there.
D – The colour is going to settle as well. In a few months’ time, once all the chemicals have reacted in the concrete, it’s going to be a much truer, much deeper red colour – you’ll really start to see that contrast.

Then the new (now old) section… we just did an absolute overhaul, stripping back as much of the paint as we could, cutting and filling any cracks and holes, repairing the joints between the slabs, then a bunch of different grades of polishing and surface treatments on everything. When we started, the stuff that was staying felt super fresh compared to the old stuff, then when you’ve got brand new concrete against it, it looked like shit, so we had to do a lot of polishing and fixing, but it all paid off.

What sort of feedback have you had so far?
S – I’ve seen so many people eat it so far because they don’t realise how fast they are going to go (laughs). Now the big gap on the deep end is way easier and if you’re coming in frontside, the other channel sucks you up a little bit easier, so there have been a lot of people falling over. I mean we’ve got loads of really nice messages being like: “You guys smashed it, thank you so much.” Overall very positive. Even the residents, like the housing next to us, which we thought was going to be really difficult… they welcomed it and they’ve been really excited to have people back. The council is really happy – Daryl was on the phone to them today.
D – I think everyone’s pumped. It’s really nice to hear such positive feedback. You’re always super nervous when it’s something like Stockwell. The smallest change could bum someone out. When Daphne walked in on our first little session and couldn’t even get any words out… That was pretty awesome.
S – Val’s exact words were that he was: “In a state of euphoria” (laughs). Yeah, it was good.

What is next for you guys?
D – Actually we’ve got our ten-year birthday party in Oslo, which is at the same time as Torshov Open, so we’re going to try and build some DIY stuff for that. Immediately after that we’re coming back and we’re starting on City Mill (Skate), which will take us somewhere into the beginning of September and at the same time as that, we’re starting another big build down in Horsham, which will take us somewhere near Christmas. We’re backed up for basically a year at this point. It’s absolutely insane. I can’t believe how hard it’s snowballed.
S – Hereford. We can talk about Hereford, right?
D – Yeah. That’s going to be one of our big ones next year. It’s always been one of the sickest parks in the UK. It’s run independently by a charity instead of the council and they’re really, really rad dudes. I think this will be the fifth phase of the project. So we’re just building a shit load of new stuff around there, all sorts of weird, wavy sculptural plaza stuff and then lots of granite ledges and some bigger transition stuff in the corner and a little sheltered area. It’s a big one.

Who would you like to thank in relation to the Stockwell project?
S & D – So many people to thank! First of all a huge thank you for the work of Friends of Stockwell Skatepark and the locals over the last seven years for making this a reality. Your trust in us and unwavering support has made all the difference! Massive props of course to the hard work for the team who worked on site: Ewen (Bower), Joe Walker, Nick Edwards-Tombs, Harry Gerrard, Dan Surname, Elliot Russell, Linus, Stasis, Niclas, Will Goddard, Josh Cole, Pooptart and Beanhead. A special thank you to Felix Parker, our site foreman for leading the team. To Dom (Alden) and Sam (Elstub) for the technical support from Betongpark HQ and coming to help on the final push on site. Bedir (Bekar) the engineer, whose expertise has been invaluable. Val and Daphne at Brixton’s Baddest for the continued energy and hospitality. James May at PICS for hooking it up with the pigment and being an all round good dude as well as Oakley for coming through at the last minute with the funds to cover the pigment cost! Kevin Patterson and all the team at Capital Concrete for the best service ever (on a real concrete companies are normally the bane of our life!). Last but certainly not least Hanna (Radlowska) at Lambeth Council, who has been a dream client. Safe for all of you as well who came by with ice cream, beers and words of encouragement.