A brief history of Nottingham's DIY Skateboard scene by Dave Bevan
Do & DIY/Don't & Die - A Potted, Non-Exhaustive History of Nottingham's Recent-ish DIYs.
Like all UK cities with a large skateboard scene, Nottingham has seen a number of DIY builds, (both fleeting and longer-lasting) over the years.
The story is repeated across the nation: a build will pop up, get sessioned hard for a while before falling prey to the dread hand of gentrification, or council interference, or mean-spirited locals, (or a combination of the three) and another DIY project will spring up in its place like some kind of dust-covered Hydra.
Over the last couple of years Nottingham's DIY Skateboard scene has produced a fair few notable builds that you will have seen in photos, footage and across the web no doubt but ultimately, all of the larger scale ones have ended up being demolished for one reason or another.
In an attempt to create a lasting monument (of sorts) to these numerous creations scattered across the city, Notts local and friend of Sidewalk Dave Bevan got in touch with this Potted, Non-Exhaustive History of Nottingham’s Recent-ish DIYs in the hope to inspire anybody reading to go out there and do the same themselves.
You might as well - the world's probably going to end this year.
Over to you Dave...prepare for a glimpse of Nottingham's DIY Skateboard scene from the inside.
Cover photo - Dave Bevan backside grind. Photo: Tom Quigley
All other photos by Dave Bevan unless indicated otherwise.
Byrneside, our most recent wasteland DIY spot here in Nottingham was recently buried beneath hundreds of tons of earth. It’s a strange thing; there and skated one day, then almost completely vanished without trace - save for a row of curb-stone-coping, poking its chipped concrete head out from the mire - the next.
The sort of thing that makes you stop and scratch your head and wonder if you haven’t gone that little bit madder than you’d maybe thought?
DIY skate spots come and go, its just Byrneside bogged off a little quicker than normal.
Make sure it's a stiff mix...
Actually, that’s rubbish. DIY skate spots certainly seem to go, but they don’t just happen out of thin air. They take a willing, perpetually keen crew, (ideally with at least one vehicle between you/them), and either folks with money to chip in for building materials and/or folks without scruples to twoc said materials from building sights and midnight raids on road works (our preferred method).
They take an empty space far enough away from the prying eyes of The Man, but close enough to an accessible water source and piles of rubble as to not become impossible.
They take guts and sweat, blood and sometimes tears, usually laughter, though not always, and many hours of physical graft and many many more tins of beer.
They are a slog, and a slog for no reward other than the reward of making something for yourselves, by yourselves.
Making something out of almost nothing for the sakes of doing just that; for the sake of skateboarding and falling over and getting covered in shite and having fun with friends/family and for something to do, to keep The Man at bay and the dogs at bay and to keep from howling too long and too often at the moon, hanging there above the empty wastelands of the urban sprawl, which would be much better served housing some crappy slappy-curbs, whoop-de-whoops and overly whippy ramps.
So with heavy-ish, though not altogether surprised hearts, we bid Byrneside our fond farewells and remember other fallen friends/enemies, whilst looking forward to whatever concrete twat we conceive next...
Beeston Train Station – 2009ish
Our first attempt at any sort of DIY construction, which feels several lifetimes ago now. We built a bank-to-wall and a breezeblock ledge beneath the bridge, (which carries the road over Beeston railway tracks) one freezing Saturday night in winter 2009ish, whilst drunks rained glass bottles and insults down upon us from on high.
The bank-to-wall was good, though the wall we built it against was over-vert, which was less good. We hadn’t finished the block before BMXer’s ripped it to shreds with their fucking pegs. It got skated a bunch that winter, mainly at night, lit up with lights powered by a generator that Bambi had blagged from somewhere.
The obstacles are still there, under the bridge, just about, but the floor fell to bits due to a couple of nuclear winters on the trot, rendering the whole heap next-to-useless.
(Clip of Bambi wallriding at 1:48 in an archaic video offering from Neil Turner and Dave Bevan)
The Castle Bank – 2010ish – present
Our next attempt was probably the least consequential and perhaps the most brazen; Cementing up the cracks in a cobbled bank which is part of the supporting structure of Nottingham’s historical, city-center castle.
I dunno if historical architectural sabotage is a crime or not, but for the sake of argument (and lack of getting us into bother,) let's just say that it isn’t.
We donned-high-viz-vests and did the dirty work in the middle of the street, in the middle of a busy Saturday afternoon whilst the gabbling masses thronged around us. No one batted an eyelid and the spots still there, or thereabouts.
Never underestimate the power of hiding within plain neon sight.
(Clip of Jack Alison and the spot just about holding fast at 4:25 here - in Dan O’Neill’s recent Notts fandango)
The Froggy Pool – 2010-2011ish
A tiny, whippy transition built up against the curved retaining wall of a kiddie’s paddling pool, which is annually drained each winter.
It was kind of a skated spot anyway, with rough brick blocks, smooth floor and the slidey/grindy outside wall. The play park next door provided the sand for the build and the River Trent gave us the water. We even painted it a similar aquatic blue as the rest of the pool to blend in, which worked for a couple of winters, before the powers that be covered the whole place in a grippy sandpaper-like substance, ripping out the tranny and buggering up the rest of the spot in the process.
It was nails to skate this one, which didn’t seem to faze Rees or Vasey in particular, and good whilst it lasted, as we were finally learning something about the nature of stealing, mixing, pouring and working with ‘crete.
(You’ll have to find a physical copy of either Beeston Exposure 1 or 2 by Neil Turner to see any footage of the Froggy Pool - Good luck with that!)
The School Hall – 2011ish
We happened upon a derelict primary school building in the grips of a particularly harsh winter and took shelter in the parquet floored school hall, along with a few resident hobos, smack heads and goths into covering the walls with their emo pseudo-Satanic graffiti.
The space was a complete shithole: we had to clear out sections to skate from the fallen/smashed up old school debris and the obstacles consisted of an up turned wooden school desk-come-steep/short flat bank, metal filing cabinet block, a table on its side which acted as a rail, (you had to pop in/out over the protruding legs) and the school stage/drop.
All pretty shite really, but good for a few otherwise written-off damp winter days. The school eventually got demolished, and our (and the other’s) winter hideaway along with it.
(The first bits of footage in this Neil Turner oldie show the School Hall in all its crapulence)
The Skag Pit – 2012ish
A vaguely undercover spot right in the city center, which has been the refuge of many a rainy-day session in town, along with lots of transient life and the detritus of such (needles/ pipes/ soiled trousers/ etc) to boot.
The Skag Pit has never really gotten the full potential wrung out of it.
We’ve built various wooden blocks and the like down there, all of which promptly got usurped into beds, sofas, latrines and fire fuel by the more desperate inhabitants, which is fair enough when you think about it. The one time we tried to pour some ‘crete down there, we turned up with barrows and bags of cement and tools and buckets of water, only to be met by a cadre of armed cops who had the whole area taped off with police tape, as someone had gotten stabbed down there moments before we arrived. So it goes.
We even had talks with the shopping center officials who manage the site, and got their blessing to build ramps there, until something to do with public liability insurance sabotaged our plans at the last second. This is still a spot we keep one eye perpetually on for as & when the time is right to strike back.
The Gypsy Underpants (Underpass) – 2013ish
A long, skinny, tarmac paved tunnel, the middle one of several overgrown underpasses full of shite, shite graffiti and the occasional dumped body, which run beneath the Lenton Industrial Estate fly overs, connecting an out of town Park & Ride terminal and the sprawling industrial bulk of the Imperial Tobacco and Boots factories the far side of the looping junctions.
The Gypsy Tunnel was a good’un, featuring a series of gapped bank-to-walls (made from stolen paving slabs ‘creted in against the walls at various angles,) a wallie-grindy-block (our old coffee table with added slanted bit’o’metal,) a larger table-come-grindy-bank and a hand-poured curved concrete ledge, (which didn’t grind and only barely slid, no matter how fast you hacked at it.)
It was also lit 24 hours and other than the occasional sketchy fucker, graff head and factory worker come home time, pretty much a complete no man’s land.
That is until Gypsy Lee and co moved onto the small patch of grass at the entrance to the tunnel and burnt all the non-cemented-in obstacles for firewood. We got over that initial blow, and enjoyed a few weeks of a weird truce with Lee, until one day we went to skate the wallrides and found in their place neat piles of rubble and a large pick axe lent up against Lee’s caravan. When quizzed, he blamed the British Transport Police, which was ironic as it was they who evicted him and his crew a few days after the ramps got done, leaving us all back in the shit.
I’ve still got designs on building something else down there at some future point, fellow transients withstanding...
(The curse of the gypsy underpants by Neil Turner)
Homoside – 2012 – 2014ish
The best/worst named and maybe my favorite of all of the recent-ish DIY spots, Homoside was the first spot we had for long enough to really spread wide and make something out of the space, over months and years, rather than the usual weeks.
Scott Underdown - wallride nollie out. Photo: Si Bernaki
The way a DIY spot evolves/devolves is one of the best things about them I think, and a perfect antidote to cookie-cutter generic skate park boredom. It was also mere seconds away from where a bunch of us lived at the time, taking the term ‘locals’ to a whole new level and making schlepping shit to and from the site and cleaning up afterwards much less of a hassle than it could otherwise be.
We shared the derelict space (it had formally been a warehouse which burnt down in an insurance scam) with a ropey garage.
It was always a touch & go relationship we had with the yardies and Hells Angels who ran the garage, though there was some kind of mutual understanding between us, probably due to the fact that none of us really had any rights inhabiting the space, and the fella who did (who eventually did time for arson and fraud, and who threatened to kill us the first time he drove past and saw us building on his land, though was foiled when he couldn’t squeeze his expensively dressed bulk under the fence) was best left undisturbed.
We built a big chunk of the spot one night when Nottingham (inspired by incidents in Tottenham and up and down the UK) spontaneously burst into rioting and flames. It was a surreal experience actively constructing whist all around us the city burnt down and was being actively deconstructed by restless youths. A police helicopter hovered above us for a good 40 minutes, watching us build the grindy hip thing, before the cop shop on the hill above the spot got firebombed and it scarpered.
The sketchy peace between us and the other tenants eventually ran out when one day we were met with threats of violence from big nasty spanners and metal poles instead of the ambivalent curiosity we’d become accustomed to as we slid ourselves beneath the fence to skate. It turned out some bothering biddy had told the yardie in charge that she’d seen kids with skateboards messing with his vehicles out of hours, which was reason enough to terminate our tenancy, which is probably better than it terminating any of our lives.
(Homoside in full flight, both by Neil Turner)
The Mill – 2014 -2015ish
The Mill spot was fucking amazing, though I make no claims to being involved with its creation. Alex Hallford, Nick Hanson and a gaggle of others found and made the place; a series of rooms on the top floor of a huge, abandoned Mill building in Radford, just outside of the city center.
The wooden floor had warped over decades of heavy weather, forming some rad lumps and bumps and the gang pinched, hoarded, schlepped in and built the rest; vert walls, pole jams, banks to ledges, over-vert quarters, rails... so on, so forth, all of it heavily daubed in Nick’s neon-acid-freak-out-mental-breakdown-hippy-graffiti.
What with the décor, the mountains of pigeon shit you had to clamber though to get up there and the huge glass windows giving an almost 360 degree view of the city down below, skating there was quite the trip. Especially when the cops started coming round.
There were multiple entrances and exits to the Mill, and more than once we heard the plod stomping around on the floors below and made our getaways down boarded up stairwells and squeezing through condemned aerial walkways. How no one died in there (skateboarders at least; the junkies fared less well) is beyond me. Eventually the old bill moved in (Alex got caught 4 times in the same week) and property developers tore down the mill to build ‘affordable’ housing, which no one can afford.
D.I.Y. (aka Gurnside or Trentside or Ghetto Spot) – 2014 – 2017
The big one; quite literally, Gurnside was a massive open air spot next to an abandoned warehouse, laying in the shadow of the incinerator chimney in Sneinton, a 5 minute skate from the infamous square and even closer to a whole gaggle of skate rat’s houses. Living next door to your DIY spot really helps it move along. It took us a while to get going with this one; the spot being skated for ages as is, which wasn’t very good to be honest, before we started slinging ‘crete about the place. Once the floodgates had creaked opened and the snowball was rolling, the place really took off.
Within a few months of the first few pours, we had a full-on skatepark/communal inner-city ranch on the go; the obstacles snaking through the maze of Buddleia bushes linking the disparate sections of the space together, a hastily constructed stoners hut, which more than one person kipped in, various bbq and bench set ups and enough empty beer cans lobbed in the bushes to keep Andy Roy happily scavenging for months. It became it’s Own Private Idaho/commune, with rules and regulations and social patterns all of its own, with an ever in-flux, and ever growing community. It always made me think of ‘Lord of the Flies’ truth be told... it was pretty lawless down there and I loved it dearly for that.
This was the first build that grew beyond a few separate local scenes and truly encompassed the whole city scene and beyond, becoming a living, breathing model of a (dis-) functioning community, with all the fun, learning, drama, ego’s and life that that entails.
(Neil Turner’s offering to the altar of the DIY)
With a steady flow of anywhere of up to 60+ kids coming and going daily, I’m amazed it lasted as long as it did, and very thankful that it did, as those long, drunk, stoned, giddy summer evenings of clubbing together to build new shit; realize someone’s, or some collection of one’s half-baked dreams and schemes in sand, cement and water, and then figuring out how to skate the awkward fuckers once they’d set are some of the best times of my life.
As comrades Marx and Engels so rightly noted in their Communist Manifesto, all that is solid melts into the air, and so, eventually the DIY came to pass, or more accurately, was smashed up by hired goons.
I could prattle on till I’m blue in the face/fingers about the final days of the DIY, and Marx knows I have in the past, though really there is little more to say than some sense of public relations go a long way when trying to maintain your illegal tenancy on somebody else’s land, and also, who really cares?!
All that is solid melts into the air indeed, and you can’t be overly upset when an illegal build gets taken down, regardless of how much love, sweat, beers and stolen materials were poured into it. The important thing is to enjoy it whilst its there, and start all over again once it’s gone. Which leads us on to...
(One of Danny O’Neill’s pagan prayers to much the same)
Non PC World Barriers (2017)
One of the few problems with Gurnside was that it had terrible drainage issues and was basically an unskateable swamp/ice rink between November – March, which led us to seek winter alternatives.
Step on up a recently vacated PC salesroom on a retail estate next to the canal (convenient water access) and its jersey barrier protected car park. The threat of gypsies and their vehicles moving onto abandoned retail land seems to overly concern the powers that be, which can work out quite well for skateboarding gypsies, not scared to sling some concrete about.
We trannied up the barriers, creating some stupidly whippy quarters (we’ve never been very good at making life easy on ourselves) and painted all the curbs in forest green masonry paint that I got out of the paint disposal cupboard at the local tip, and before you could say ‘slappy grind to wallride 2 trick line’ we had another waste/wonderland to fall over at.
A lost lorry attempting a 20-point turn crashed into the backsides of the barriers, knocking the trannies loose, but the site is still vacant, the curbs are still green and grindy, and I’m keen to start (re-) building there as soon as possible...
(Clips from the Barriers throughout this 2017 offering from Dan O’Neill)
Maybe in some vague retaliation for the demise of Gurnside, or maybe out of laziness and/or convenience, we ended up building Byrneside, (named after semi-mythical local lurker/artist/twat-planker Owen Byrne) right next door to the site of the former DIY.
It split opinion to be honest, some felt it was a waste of time, energy and materials to embark on a new venture in such hotly contested land, and to be fair, the site we had to build Byrneside on was shite compared to the acres of smooth concrete and Buddleia-barriered privacy of the old DIY, being a few square feet of cracked ceramic tiles strewn with needles, right out in the open for all the world to see. We needed a project however, and knowing that it's better to do summit than nowt, we threw common sense to the dogs and set about it.
The space (or lack of) dictated what we could build, and short, steep and slappy-based became the vibe, aided by the fact that they were doing extensive road works just down the way from Byrneside, and piles of curbstones lay piled up ripe for the midnight raiding. We royally fucked the suspension of both Dan and Tom’s motors moving heavy concrete around, and when that source ran dry, Tom & I fucked his car even further into obsolescence by digging those curby suckers (and their resident red ants nests... we itched for weeks) out of the roadside and schlepping them down to the new spot.
As with Gurnside, slowly but surely the whole scene got involved, and again, those hazy daze and long nights of stealing, drinking, stoning and building will keep me going long after my body gives up the ghost and I’ll have to rely on such memories for my kicks.
The first session we had on the steep, slappy bank, on a dusty, sunny, early summers day with a heavy crew (including prodigal former Notts heads Mark Vasey and Jonny Robbo) is one of the best sessions of my life. The fact it coincided with long time underground ripper, scene-saving skate shop 42 top boy, and all round Notts legend Scott Underdown’s stag do was just the cherry on the steeze cake.
Again, what goes up, must come down and recently Byrneside was buried in tons of soil and shite, currently standing empty and unused, leaving us presently DIYless. Which brings us back to where we started...
The living, breathing, vital beauty of these places is in the doing, the making of them, rather than just the skating of them. The skating is just a rad side note really.
So let us not mourn these past friends, but rather pour that energy into making whatever’s next. Having already quoted Marx and Engels, I might as well make the logical next step and quote Morrissey – England is mine and it owes me a living.
(Dan O’Neill’s love letter to the last few Notts DIYs)