Julie Smith, our Development Manager for Calderdale, blogs about the success of Skate it Yourself, who have been supported by us with Sport England funding.
Well, it may not become my future sport – I’d break bones! But as a way of engaging young people, reducing anti-social behaviour and bringing together a community – I’m 100% behind skateboarding.
I’d met Kierhardy several years ago and was truly inspired and motivated by this young gun. He knew his sport, he knew people and places that needed support, and he had the skills and compassion to lead the way. With support from us at Yorkshire Sport Foundation (YSF) and others, he developed himself in coaching, youth work, mental health first aid, safeguarding and who knows what else, and now inspires others to follow his lead. He started Skate it Yourself (SIY) and the rest is exciting.
He has led a few skateboarding projects within youth centres and indoor facilities to bring the sport to new audiences, which I loved. He then took it to the streets to bond with those young people who want to be outside, and away from institutions. He worked with youth teams and HIMMAT and then approached YSF to start a park-based outreach project. We had received funding from Sport England for specific work with children and young people, of which Calderdale received an allocation.
Elland and Hebden Bridge are very different areas, yet the young people in both were bored and not quite behaving themselves. Elland park and skate park were seeing glass smashed and things destroyed on a weekly basis…until Kier and his crew started going every week.
The youngsters slowly took ownership of the space and began to look after it. SIY was looking after them and they were learning to look after their community. Older teens who went down to skate began to help the younger ones and a true skateboarding community grew and flourished.
Back in September when I visited, there had been three boys of about 11 sat on a container (the football club’s), throwing things off the roof, bored for ages. They were clearly watching us and enjoying the tunes (from the enormous boom box Kier had brought along) from afar. After a while they got off the container and bit by bit they got nearer. Kierhardy and his crew timed it well and went over to chat. Before I knew it, the boys came over, joined in, and loved it! Kier and his team just have a way. They’re young and cool and ‘get it’.
Hebden Bridge is an altogether different place, yet with similar issues of the youngsters being bored and causing problems. Anti-social behaviour rates were high; young people were taking drugs and excessively drink in the town centre and park; and the police and safe streets team were becoming more and more frustrated.
Kier and Dan (councillor and HIMMAT legend) built relationships with the parks team, safer streets team and the police, and soon started a weekly skateboarding session that we funded.
The beauty of this relationship is that the council and police know the SIY team will be there every week and that the young people will respond better to Kier and his crew chatting to them, than to a police officer telling them off. The number of youngsters Kier has provided water and snacks to, to help them sober up (from substances, MDMA, alcohol) before getting them home is unreal. He’s dealt with so many issues and always follows up, genuinely caring for the young person, and signposting them when necessary.
Now, on this new project, every Friday evening the team brought along Wilma (the VW camper van) as a safe space to have chats and hot chocolates. They provided music and DJ equipment, and other sports equipment (basketballs, footballs) to try to engage everyone. They bought lighting as well as signposting materials to help any young person in need.
The SIY team took to the streets to bring all the young people hanging in town to the park so everyone could be together and grow a community, as well as them being safer together.
The crowds grew, the use of drugs and drink reduced and anti-social behaviour incidents reduced. The statutory services were delighted as it meant they could patrol elsewhere, and parents were seeing improvements in their youngsters. Kids were back in school thanks to the confidence they’d developed through being part of this community and older ‘trouble makers’ were now volunteering to help younger ones develop in both skateboarding and life skills. Wow.
This wasn’t about developing talent in skateboarding; it was about building a community, improving life skills and boosting happiness levels. Yes, more people are more active, which clearly I love; but it’s the social and personal outcomes that mean so much more. Lives are better. Kids are happier. Society is safer.
Photo credit: Active Calderdale