To me, Barnsley Blocks are the epicentre of skateboarding in Barnsley.
The blocks were originally built around 2007 and we waxed them from new. They slid perfectly immediately but funnily enough only started grinding around six years later. Shortly after they appeared, the blocks became the meet up spot for skateboarders in Barnsley, and it has been ever since. About 100 feet into the neighbouring carpark there is a 20-foot long flat bar and around twenty plastic slappy curbs…it’s kinda like our own version of a ‘city plaza’.
Over the years we have naturally become accustomed to the rough floored, hard to skate, rude boy infested blocks, and it is now the perfect spot for us. We have shown many people from out of Barnsley the blocks but only a few have taken to them. If you ever do on the off chance skate these, do so after 5pm; security are cool with that.
This place is in an area called ‘Smithies’, which is around five minutes from Barnsley town centre. Incredibly boring looking I know, but that’s the kind of guy you’re dealing with.
Anyway, this place is basically miles of open land with the odd pond, open fields with traveller horses roaming, and the occasional bit of woodland. This place is perfect for a walk on a summer’s day when you just want to do absolutely nothing but shut off and chill.
There is the odd car tyre/shopping trolley in the ponds, but let’s just ignore that.
Surely you’ve all seen this spot in a video or two at some point, the classic Barnsley FC Banks.
This spot has been skated for nearly twenty years; conventionally the banks have always been the main part to skate but in the last three years or so the rails have been getting touched a lot more.
To simply look at the spot in a photograph, it doesn’t do it justice. Not just justice for how good the spot is, but for how hard the spot is to skate. The run up for this spot is a nightmare, you have to run onto your board as fast as possible a good few feet prior to hitting the banks and hope you have the correct speed. Once you hit the bank the bricks are decades old so you can only imagine how pleasant an experience that is.
As for the stair set, just before the stairs there is a grate you have to ride over/pop off. A few people have used a sign over the grate but I have seen the stairs/rails skated without.
If anything represents Barnsley in one, it’s the Barnsley Pie Shop. Just look at that sign: bald, bare, and straight to the point. We first saw the pie shop when trying to find spots nearby; every time we walked past we would say how rad it looked just from the sign alone. We finally figured out the opening times and the food was just as good as the sign…fresh homemade pies by a superbly friendly lady.
As the pie shop is located on the main clubbing street, they only open at party times for the drunken consumers. You would see all kinds of sights when going there, for example, in the same night walking to the shop I was sexually harassed by strippers on their cig break outside ‘Wildcats’ and when walking back from the shop I saw a mass brawl. Proper Barnsley…
Here is another spot along the same lines as the Barnsley FC banks. Kwik Fit wallride was skated decades ago but as the floor got rougher the spot eventually became impossible to skate. The floor became too rough to skate a long time before I started skateboarding, but a couple of years ago the car park of Kwik Fit was renovated and a perfect tarmac floor was laid. This instantly became a classic spot again many years after the original Barnsley skaters skated it in the 1980’s.
Historically Barnsley was very much associated with mining – were any of your family involved in the coal industry?
None of them, not one: My granddad owned a toy factory in Barnsley, my dad worked at a chemical plant in Huddersfield, and my mum was a secretary – both sides of my family are from Barnsley though.
Despite being known for its industrial history, the majority of the town is actually rural. What was it that drew you skateboarding living in a place like this?
Yeah. There are a lot of districts; they make up the town because the districts were made for the mining community so now all the mines are gone we’re left with however many districts. I grew up about five minutes from the centre in a cul-de-sac, on an estate, so it was quite nice to be honest.
Skateboarding began elsewhere to be honest: I was five years old with my mum and dad in Blackpool. On the front there’s a bandstand with some steps and there were guys ollieing up them and I was mesmerised by it. Two years later I found a skateboard and wanted to be able to do what they were doing. I just took that skateboard absolutely everywhere with me and I’ve skated ever since.
Was Chris Mann one of the first people you skated with growing up? Who else made up your crew?
When I first started skateboarding at Barnsley Carpetworld it was all the original guys like Scott Hardy, Wayne Rataj and all that crew. I was just some little kid; I wasn’t really part of their crew I just hung around there because the only skateboarders in Barnsley hung out there on a Sunday morning. The first proper crew of people who I started skating with was with the Penistone guys when I met Chris Mann. One day, on the top of the six-foot ramp, there was a crowd of people and this really strange kid with his big toe out stood in the middle with everyone going, “Whoa! Look how big his toe is”. Turns out that was Chris Mann, (laughs). Ever since that day we’ve been good friends. I don’t know if he’s grown into his big toe, maybe all the other toes have equalled up to it, but for a twelve/thirteen year old kid his big toe was massive. Splice that up how you want… I skated Penistone for a couple of years and that kind of fizzled out. I’ve known Birdy (Alex Bird) all the way through school and he started skating in year eleven and we’ve remained friends and skated since.
How did you get treated during high school for being a skateboarder?
Because I was on AVIT (local skate shop) all the kids thought it was really cool and that I was a ‘sponsored’ skater so it was quite easy to be honest. Everyone in our year was quite sound, the knob heads were outnumbered by nice people, which is really weird thinking about it… Because skating is more accepted now, the people who were probably the chavs of our day are now the ones dressing like ‘skaters’ today.
Barnsley is undergoing some regeneration at the moment, what effect is that having on the place?
It’s lost a lot of the original feel, as they are quite ruthless with knocking buildings down and just putting a new one there. We had a library that was really well built, the architecture was nice and unique and they just threw a German designed college up within a month. At the same time, it does keep it relevant and fresh but the council just don’t seem to understand what to knock down and what to keep. They’ll knock the library down but then hesitate knocking Cheapside down; the main shopping street, which is just pebble dashed, classic seventies, horrible looking buildings. There are the original buildings and then new ones so nothing coincides with each other. You do need to keep relevant and with the times but it’s nice to have an identity. It’s nice to have an image, which Barnsley lost when all the mines went. It’s struggled ever since to have an image and identity and getting rid of the last bits it has is quite sad really.
With what you mentioned about Barnsley’s history slowly disappearing due to redevelopment, is there anything that still celebrates it?
We’ve just got a museum in the Town Hall and it’s just Barnsley history and heritage. I didn’t expect it to, but it’s been done really well with a lot of donations and that’s a nice celebration of what Barnsley is about. We’re twinned with a town in Germany so once a year we have a German market; we have international food markets as well. In the last five years it’s become a lot more cultured which is good because culture opens up peoples’ minds.
A lot more people have immigrated to Barnsley so people have to be face-to-face with others of a different race, nationality, cultural background and people now understand it a lot more. A lot of people in Barnsley hadn’t really left so they hadn’t met anybody else and just focused on things they heard on the news or what they had been told about people of other races and nationality. Now they’re actually face-to-face and it’s making it become a lot more open minded and metropolitan.
You made a scene video in 2014 called Spectemur Agendo; can you explain what that title means?
‘Spectemur Agendo’ is Latin for ‘judge us by our acts’ and is on the Barnsley coat of arms, so it was a no brainer to use as a video title. I’m not going to go deep because I’ll end up sounding stupid. I didn’t look at it in the aspect of ‘judge us by our acts’ because we’re ‘outsiders to society’ as skateboarders. You could look at it that way but I didn’t, that’s too pompous and pretentious.
Between the sections you cutaway to a documentary about the history of Barnsley, why did you feel it was important to show that?
It was an old documentary called Barnsley: A Portrait Of A Town & Its People. It’s really good to watch all the way through. Spectemur Agendo was to represent skateboarding in Barnsley and Barnsley as a place. It wasn’t representative of me entirely, or everybody in the video, it was representative of the town and what’s going on with skateboarding in the town. There hasn’t been a proper Barnsley video since Wayne Rataj’s Brain Damage . Chris made a video when we were kids, A Skateboarder’s Cup of Tea, but that was just sections on YouTube when we were fifteen years old, which is good to look back on but not as majorly representative as Brain Damage, which is an absolutely fantastic video, so I wanted to make something that stood up against it.
How has the skate scene changed from the previous generation to yours? What sort of effect has getting a skatepark built had?
Skateboarders all hung around with each other back then. It didn’t matter who you were, what you dressed like, what you looked like, how old you were; every skateboarder would meet up at Barnsley Carpetworld and go skateboarding. But now, it’s so popular, it’s little groups. So, say with our ‘crew’, there’s about five of us that are trying to hold a proper crew down but there are others who are knocking about. No one really makes a conscious effort to skate as a group anymore. We do try; we don’t seclude ourselves or go out of our way not to hang around with them but it’s easy to go to a skatepark. Don’t get me wrong, I will go to a skatepark and have fun just because I like skateboarding but I prefer street. We grew up with it, we never had a skatepark in Barnsley, I grew up skating Carpetworld from being seven years old so it’s just been street through and through since a really young age.
Was Brain Damage your first real influence and is it still very significant to you?
It is yeah and also growing up with videos such as Waiting for the World  and Feedback . Wayne Rataj made Brain Damage, as far as I know, over 1998/1999 and brought it out in 2000. I bought it from The House and it was just in a black case with a little label on that said ‘Brain Damage – A Rataj Production’. The music, the spots, the skaters, the editing, everything even from a young age appealed to me and still does now. Not even for nostalgic reasons but aesthetically, it still appeals to me now. There is literally no one like Wayne Rataj in the world; he was just the strangest, coolest guy. Full video wise there is nothing like it. There was never anything like it before and there’s never been anything like it since for me.
I was going to call Spectemur Agendo ‘In Search of Rataj’. You hear so many stories and that’s what keeps it relevant. He used to go into Sumo in Sheffield in a blazer and glasses with no lenses in, pick boards up and would be talking to people, asking about brands and stuff then put his finger through the glasses and scratch his eye to see if anybody noticed.
Why do you feel it is better to see someone skating in their hometown areas rather than what is produced on filming missions to big cities or abroad? For example, you’ve mentioned how much you prefer Gilbert Crockett’s section in Old Dominion  to his section in Propeller  because it’s mainly filmed in his hometown.
It comes across and appears less contrived. It seems natural and shows that these skateboarders, who are the biggest skateboarders in the world, can be professional from their hometown, travel within a radius of an hour and film brilliant sections. It’s inspirational because it shows you don’t have to move out of your hometown, don’t have to move overseas, don’t have to move to a big city that everybody has skated, rinsed and documented for years. But you can go be a productive skateboarder from your hometown.
You’re content to stay local as long as you’re enjoying skateboarding then? You don’t see the point in moving somewhere with a more prominent scene to try ‘make something’ out of skating?
No, I couldn’t care less about ‘making it’ in skateboarding. We’ve all seen that example of what can happen to a British pro; they get to twenty-six/twenty-seven, they peak and then they get distribution sponsors until they’re about thirty-three and then have to enter reality. There is only a select minority who can still hold it down, skate with a solid bunch of sponsors and put video parts out in their mid-thirties.
Thankfully, in British skateboarding, there are still skateboarders like Joe Gavin, Nick Jensen, Scott Palmer and I want to say Mark Baines but that would sound biased with him being a good friend. These humble, productive, professional skateboarders with a good style, they’re the ones who hold it down for British skateboarding and it’s rare that you still get those because there is so much output now. It’s less filtered than it used to be; now you have to find good skateboarding rather than seeing just good skateboarding on video.
To round this off as you always speak of him in pretty high regard. Has Scott Hardy had the biggest influence on you and more so because he’s from Barnsley too?
Scott is the man. He’s always skated and been part of the scene since the Carpetworld days. He’s possibly the most stylish and talented skateboarder there has been out of Barnsley and to this day he still skates every week, better than he ever has. Not to forget he’s nearly 40! He currently lives in Canada but still posts videos to Facebook at least once a week of everybody, including himself, skating out there, which is rad. I had the privilege to skate with Scott a couple of weeks ago whilst he was back over visiting for Christmas. I think Scott’s an influence to all Barnsley skateboarders just down to how motivated and talented he still is. He’s a perfect example of why there is no excuse to slow down as you get older.