A pair of roller skating school teachers are on a mission to get Leeds’s women on wheels, and have started a new group to encourage girls into the male-dominated world of ramp skating, BMXing and skateboarding.
Mel Blackwood and Helen Laird will host Roller Girl Gang’s first large event at The Works Skatepark later this month and will be welcoming any female skaters to come along and test themselves on the park’s ramps and bowls for free, regardless of experience.
The teachers, who are both mums, set up the group earlier this year to create an inclusive and encouraging environment for girls to get into roller sports. It has grown from an Instagram account to being supported by skate groups, companies across the UK and in the USA, and Sport England’s This Girl Can campaign.
Both women started out as roller derby skaters, but have since developed a love of outdoor skating, trying out their skills on skateparks around Yorkshire. But they soon noticed, that as women, they stood out.
Mel, 36, said: “We started going to skate parks around a year ago, and we’d meet the odd girl, but few and far between. They would tell us that they didn’t really like coming because it felt like a male-dominated environment.
“We’d travel to different skate parks to just try it and have it a go, we weren’t bothered that we weren’t any good at first or that it was a bit embarrassing - the small children on scooter would just have to wait their turn.”
Helen, a teacher at Ebor Gardens Primary, said the popularity of roller skating had blown up over the last five years, alongside the explosion in roller derby teams in Yorkshire and the UK.
She said: “Skating is getting more and more popular. A lot of women are saying to us that they have seen how popular roller derby has become but are put off by the aggression or don’t want to join a team. They wanted to know what else they could do.”
Helen’s skills on skates saw her chosen as a member of the Moxi international skate team, which is based in California.
The team, sponsored by skate maker Moxi, promotes a love of roller skating around the world, something Helen actively encourages closer to home.
She has been taking her eight-year-old daughter Kitty skateboarding at skateparks for the last year, and she loves it, but rarely sees other girls taking part.
Helen said: “At the moment she’s young enough not to care that she’s the only girl there, but I don’t want her to worry about that in future. I want to encourage her to enjoy it - and realise it’s not a boy’s sport.”
The girls have been supported on social media by skating groups around the world, including Girl Skate UK, who have offered to run skateboarding lessons. The event will include a raffle to raise money for Leeds charity Getaway Girls, which helps young girls and women in the city develop confidence and new skills. The star prize is a pair of skates, donated by Moxi.
Mel, a teacher at Victoria Primary School in Leeds, said: “We have had so much support. The Works Skatepark have allowed us to hold the first event for free and skate shops and companies have offered some great prizes for our raffle. It means girls can come along, drop in and have a go or just watch with no pressure.
“Ultimately, we want girls to have good role models, active lifestyles and find and develop their passion for sport. If they are turned off by regular sports like rounders or netball, we want to share our love of skating.”
Future events will include outdoor skate meets and roller discos. Roller Girl Gang’s first skate jam takes place at The Works on April 27 from 7.30pm to 10pm.
For more information, follow @roller_girl_gang on Instagram or search for Roller Girl Gang on Facebook.