Sheffield leading the way as skateboarding helps to make public spaces safer

A once run-down area is seeing a resurgence as the ‘Brick Lane’ area of Sheffield, where people meet up, walk through into the city centre and is thanks to skateboarders using a few pieces of street architecture installed on the public bridleway.

‘Mairoland’ on Exchange Street in Sheffield is a pedestrian street with a series of different height concrete blocks and round metal railings, which would not look out of place in any urban environment. These features were purposely installed in 2020 to create the only inner-city skateable public space in England. Since then, the space sees hundreds of local skateboarders enjoying the features every week, as well as people travelling from around the country to skate here.

The area known as the Castlegate district of Sheffield has previously experienced crime and anti-social behaviour (ASB) problems including drug dealing, alcohol abuse and episodes of violence in and around Exchange Street, with many people choosing alternate routes. However, since the installation of the skateable features, there is now a noticeable change. When the space is being used by skateboarders, informal guardianship is taking place which is leading to a significant reduction in the extent and visibility of drug use and other anti-social behaviour.

Artists Sharon Mossbeck and Michael Borkowsky opened Fronteer Gallery in 2020 on Exchange Street. In the last two years they have observed significant improvements, directly linked to the street’s use as a space for skateboarding. They feel the skate obstacles, along with the graffiti wall have given the previously run-down street a “cool” East End of London feel.

These benefits are increased when both the skaters film and photograph each other and “families come down [to Exchange Street] to take photos of the skaters and graffiti walls at the weekend.” Those engaged in illegal activities are obviously sensitive to being caught on camera, so quickly vacate the space when skaters, graffiti artists and spectators are present.

Commenting on the introduction of the skate park, Sergeant Darius Razaghi from South Yorkshire Police’s Sheffield City Centre Neighbourhood Policing Team said: “As we have emerged from the Covid-19 pandemic, all of us have seen huge changes to how we live our lives, and the way our city centres operate has also changed significantly.

“Now, more than ever, it is important that our city centre is a safe place for all to enjoy, and it’s been great to see this part of Exchange Street being used for a positive purpose through the Marioland project. We look forward to continuing to work with Skateboard GB and other partners down in Castlegate to support the ongoing regeneration of the area.”

Like other post-industrial British cities, Sheffield has significant social challenges.  Household income is significantly lower than average, at £16,131 per head in 2019 compared to £21,433 in the UK overall. This is the 209th lowest in the country. The effects of Covid-19 and the long-running decline of the UK high-street has led to large numbers of vacant retail units in towns and cities nationwide, with municipalities struggling to find new ways to help town centres recover. Projects similar to Castlegate, Sheffield are now being considered by other towns and cities to create the much needed buzz that centres have been lacking.

Neil Ellis, a local skater who also works for Skateboard GB, and helped petition for the space, said “It is great to see the benefit skateboarders can have on a city and help change the area. Once an area feels safe for skateboarders, then others feel safe to visit and the knock-on effect is very powerful for an area that once felt scary to walk down”.

Skateboard GB has insight on over 1,600 skateparks around the country.  However, this is still the only purpose-built city centre space where skateboarding can take place alongside a wide range of other activities, leaving a huge potential for other towns to follow suit.

Next Article

Sam Beckett appointed as Performance Development Coach at Skateboard GB