How LEEDS 2023 is helping to empower skateboarders in city and combat stigma
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For LEEDS 2023, Harry worked with the local skateboarding community to deliver ‘My World My City My Skate Spot’, a project that supports female and non-binary skaters from across the city to empower them to feel safe and seen when street skating.
Here, he writes exclusively for the YEP:
Leeds has a great skateboarding scene; it’s always been a really positive and inclusive community that is also actively creative.
Skateboarding and art making are intrinsically linked; whether it is graphic design, illustration, animation, photography, music, writing, filming and video editing, or even building large concrete structures, you would be hard pushed not to find a skateboarder who doesn’t do one or more of these things. For most skateboarders, producing videos of themselves and their friends skating is as important as the act of skateboarding itself. As skateboarding is continuing to become more and more gender diverse, one part of it which is still incredibly male dominated, however, is those who document it.
For example, one of the few female skate filmers in the UK is Hilda Quick, who is based in Leeds.
Hilda was involved in capturing on film the culmination of ‘My World My City My Skate Spot’, our project for LEEDS 2023 which is all about empowering female and non-binary skaters, both in terms of actually getting out and street skating (as opposed to in parks) and also to build confidence in creating that all important video content to proudly share with the wider skateboarding community.
It all started with a survey. We asked around 380 people for information, opinions and insight into the growing community of skateboarders in Leeds. What stood out was that so many of the female and non-binary skaters – around 25% of the total – did not feel safe to skate in the streets or our city’s public spaces. Many of the issues they cited were the same that face all women in terms of safety; however, because of the council byelaws in place to discourage skating, they have the additional anxiety of security teams seeing them as a problem.
The consultation led us to create focus groups that included lots of the local skaters, including the Leeds collective ‘Rolling With The Girls’ [RWTG] – a fantastic, supportive and inclusive community for skateboarders of any ability who aren't cisgender men - and a partnership with much loved skate spot, Leeds Playhouse. The result was honestly one of the best things I’ve ever been involved in; 55 skaters – some first timers – street skating in public, in a place they were welcome, surrounded by an incredibly positive group of people. It was really significant and felt hugely meaningful. And Hilda brilliantly caught it all on camera, which you can watch here.
Skateboarding in the city is still seen by so many as an issue, there are outdated views on who skaters are and how they should be dealt with, when in reality skateboarding offers many young people a safe and supportive community, an active lifestyle, a creative output and increased mental health. Other cities in the UK and across the world have worked hard to make many of their public spaces skate-friendly, recognising the positive impact this can have, even reducing crime. When Hull was UK City of Culture in 2017 it became the UK’s first officially designated skate-friendly city – Leeds has a lot of catching up to do!
There are still issues to overcome, such as removing the bylaws or establishing better policing and security policies; but we hope that by having the conversation about the benefits of skaters in a city, showing that by working with partner organisations like LEEDS 2023 and Leeds Playhouse who are open to change and understand the need to have safer, skate-friendly spaces, we can work towards a more positive change in our city.