Rob Smith – on the House of Vans rebuild

Rob Smith on the House of Vans, London rebuild

With all the buzz around London’s UK indoor skatepark House of Vans reopening that took place at the weekend, we decided to grab hold of our mate from Bolton and card-carrying “man in the HoV know” Rob ‘Dogger’ Smith to find out all about the refit.

Read on for some behind-the-scenes info; then be sure to drop by the Waterloo venue at your nearest convenience – it goes without saying that you won’t be disappointed.

Can you give us a rundown of your role at House of Vans please Rob – how and when did you start working there, and what does your day-to-day work consist of?

Well, right now my job title is Venue Operations Manager. I started working here in February 2014 as part of the build team helping with the concrete and building the skatepark; I was later offered a job as Skatepark Manager in July, ready for opening of the venue in August. Pretty much from the get go the venue needed so much more looking after than expected; I was doing all sorts of jobs, from painting floors, organising skate events, employing part time staff and everything in-between. It wasn’t long before it was recognised that my role needed to be expanded and that someone needed to look after the venue as a whole, not just the skatepark.

Our venue holds London’s only free cinema, an art gallery, three workshops, an 850 capacity music venue, two bars and a restaurant; it does take a lot of looking after and there are a lot of other people behind the scenes that work hard to keep the venue going.

My day-to-day work consists of organising events, (on average three a month) from start to finish, including the initial idea of the event, managing budgets, requesting artwork, booking artists, staff and security and then running the event on the day. I set up the venue for the week, so I book in the part time staff and who we require for what events we have going on that week, writing the rota, I make sure the venue is ready to be open in general, book in maintenance workers, order stock, host training, look after first aid, the membership system and data capture, bits of maintenance work myself from fixing up frames, painting, random fixes, booking in a skip from time to time to do clear outs, meet with potential clients and partnerships for future opportunities, look after team riders when they are in town, book hotels and travel…

To be honest the list goes on, as they do with most of our staff here; there’s not a lot we don’t do and it takes a lot more work than people think to run a 30,000 square foot venue in central London.

Point a wall at Rob Smith and he’ll go the fuck up it. Quarter to wall ragga. Photo Horse

How far back did the plan to refit the House of Vans ‘street room’ come about? What was it that sparked the initial idea?

From the beginning the street room was an afterthought and was really basic compared to the bowl. It was always in the back of our minds to change it and eventually, after about a year and half skating the original setup, we started to draw ideas and talk about how we could make it better. When Vans was due to turn 50 in March 2016 we really pushed to have it changed for then, but there was so much going on and we really didn’t have the time to get it sorted; so our ideas and drawings kind of just sat in our Dropbox for a while.

Anyway, after three years or thereabouts, the venue kind of needed some improvements and a lots of bits fixing, so we decided to close the for two months and completely gut the venue and re-build a lot of stuff, and obviously the skatepark was top of the list!

How did the process of the refit work? Was the design worked on and finalised by people at House of Vans then passed on to a construction company in order to get it built, or did you work alongside the actual park builders from the beginning?

As I mentioned, us guys at House of Vans always had an idea of what we wanted, but it wasn’t until we got in touch with Gravity Skateparks and Marc Churchill that our ideas finally became visual and the bits that we had not quite thought about in great detail came to life. Marc came with other suggestions and really linked up the missing bits, I think it was a total team effort and a few things were even thought up last minute and added during the build.

Who was responsible for the refit then?

Churchill was the chief designer and he was the one sending through drawing after drawing when we requested new bits, or to look at alternatives. To be honest, the build team mainly consisted of a one-man army named Brian; he plodded along and had a few guys help him throughout, but he did the main bulk of it.

How long did you have to close the park for in order to get the refit completed?

We have had two months and it’s taken up nearly all that time, we had two weeks contingency, which we used a week of in the first week so its been kept pretty tight since then, not a day to spare… A few bank holidays delayed some concrete trucks but we finally got there, just in time.

Obviously with the whole layout being concrete I’m expecting it’s a lengthy and costly procedure to change anything up in there – is there anything from the refit that stands out as being a massive pain in the arse?

The first major problem was when we came to pull out the original street course; it was actually poured a lot thicker than we had estimated so the diamond blade didn’t cut through deep enough, we had to order a bigger blade that took a while to get on site and then obviously a lot more concrete than we anticipated needed shifting. We needed a few more skips and some extra muscle but we got there eventually. A big pain in the arse was working out the Lockwood fence as all the bars move up and down so as you can imagine there were some bits that worked and bits that didn’t, so it was a case of making it up as we went along until we got what we have now.

What’s next on the cards for House of Vans? Any major events coming up this year that you can tell us about, or any future plans to change up the layout even further?

We’ve got a bunch of good music events coming up, some skate related exhibitions, an amazing Chopper show that will fill the venue with a load of custom built motorcycles, and some stuff with Thrasher and Vice. With us being closed for a while we have packed a years worth of events into the next eight months so there is a lot going on. Keep your eyes open…


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