DIY power from Brussels - when good people don't give up
Byrrrh (pronounced ‘beer’) began life three years ago as a reaction to the complete lack of indoor skate facilities in the Belgian capital, following the closure of Anderlecht’s Roller Park. With the only indoor facility in Brussels gone, the local skate scene, led by the irrepressibly optimistic Youssef Abaoud, were faced with a stark choice: create their own space or watch the skateboard scene in Brussels wither away during the winter.
Necessity is the mother of invention as they say, and that, coupled with the abundance of derelict industrial buildings on the outskirts of Brussels, led Youssef into the hinterlands in search of a suitable venue for the first iteration of Byrrrh & Skate. Joining forces with like-minded individuals looking for an unofficial music venue, they eventually stumbled on the first of three spaces.
This initial occupied space also gave Youssef’s project its name, thanks to an ancient sign above the entrance advertising a popular French wine-based aperitif called ‘Byrrh’.
The freedom afforded by the semi-legal status of the first space was not without its drawbacks however as Youssef explains,“The people that we joined with for the early version of Byrrrh were lovely, but their emphasis was on partying. Unfortunately, partying means noise and noise means police interest, which meant that we were forced to leave.”
The two intersecting groups were undeterred and moved on to another similar space in the same run down district where Byrrrh continued.
Youssef’s approach to park building was pragmatic and well suited to the evanescent nature of the situation he was dealing with.
“The basis of everything we build is wooden crates, they are the backbone of all the ramps – everything else was donated or recycled from the debris surrounding the building we occupied.”
Eventually Youssef and the skaters were forced to move again after the second building was sold, leaving the skate scene of Brussels facing yet another winter with no indoor facility.
“It was crazy, we are the capital city of Europe and yet we had no indoor skatepark for the winter since 2005. There is only one small outdoor concrete skatepark in the centre of the city so we had no choice but to do this.”
The lack of political support for the Byrrrh project and for skateboarding in general in Brussels served to galvanise the DIY ethos and led to Youssef eventually approaching Levi’s Skateboarding after he had found the current site.
“We knew that this time we had to operate differently – we needed an official space to build within so that we were not forced to move on again but in order to do that we needed financial help and this is where Levi’s Skateboarding came in. I am forever thankful for their support.”
The Byrrrh project sat perfectly with Levi’s Skateboarding’s previous support of DIY skatepark builds in places as diverse as La Paz, Bolivia, Christchurch, New Zealand and Kathmandu, Nepal and thus, after preliminary meetings with Levi’s Skateboarding late in 2016, the connection was established.
As Levi’s Europe Marketing Manager Temar Biratu puts it, “After meeting with Youssef in December of last year we knew that this was something that Levi’s as a brand had to support. All credit goes to him for his unerring love and commitment to skateboarding. We are very proud to be able to help facilitate such an essential and grass-roots project…”
The third and finally official Byrrrh & Skate space opened its doors to the public on Saturday March 6th 2017 and, judging on the hundreds of people who passed through its brightly painted doorway on the opening day alone, looks set to be a highly celebrated addition to the local cultural scene.
Youssef has big plans for Byrrrh now that he can finally stop worrying about the constant possibility of being kicked out with no notice.
“Now that Byrrrh has an official home, we are free to expand the idea as we always intended to do from the beginning. Anderlecht, where the building is, is a very poor neighbourhood with many social problems and we hope to be able to connect with the local youth and offer them a supportive and positive environment. We want skateboarding to be for everyone who lives in Brussels and now we are finally able to offer that. We have many plans to work with local youth groups and schools, to host regular exhibitions within our art space – to basically become a cultural hub accessible to anyone in one of the most neglected areas of the city. None of this would have been possible without the support that Levi’s have shown us…”
Many thanks to Kim, Zara, Phil, Temar, Youssef and all the Byrrrh locals for their hospitality and for creating such a showpiece of what can happen when the right people refuse to give up. Check out the Byrrrh Facebook Page at: https://www.facebook.com/byrrrhandskate/ and plan a visit for yourselves.
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