Radlands Reborn

Elissa Elwick hails the reopening of the legendary Northampton skate park that she first visited as a wet behind the ears 14 year old with a skateboard from Toys R Us

I first went there in 2000. I was 14 and didn’t have a clue how to do anything. I stood and marvelled at the 10,000 sq. ft. expanse of flatbacks, pyramids, quarter pipes, wallrides, grindrails, boxes, and then made a beeline for the ramps. That seemed like a good place to start, I could throw myself off them pretty easily, I thought. So I did – one after the other, five foot, six foot, seven foot, eight foot. And then a few hours later, battered and bruised, I skated away from that place like a stupidly happy five year old. I remember feeling ecstatic and relieved, not just that I’d come away without a broken leg, but that I hadn’t been glared at, laughed at, or ridiculed. A 14 year old girl, with a skateboard from Toys R Us.

Photo by Leo Sharp

Radlands opened in 1992, hidden away in an unassuming warehouse in Northampton. It was the first indoor skatepark to open in Europe, and during its twelve years it made a huge impact on the UK skate scene.

It had been open for eight years by the time I went, and, sadly, I only got another four out of it before it closed down.

Steve Ince, who ran Radlands, along with his dad Chris and brother Damian, said, “Radlands was great because when it first opened it was one of the only skater run indoor parks in the UK. British pros used to skate there regularly, and American pros came to do demos. We held big competitions where skaters came from all over the world to enjoy the relaxed atmosphere.”

Over its twelve years it saw several British Championships, a couple of World Championships, as well as graffiti competitions, and all night skate sessions.

I dragged my girl mates along with me in the beginning, but none felt the urge to actually pick up a board. They just liked to watch me fall over, get back up, and then fall over again. They also did a lot of flirting with the boys, while I mostly fell on my face. I had a black bruise down the right side of my body for those first few months. It never stood a chance of healing…I’d be right back on it, week after week.

And then there was the vert ramp. I loved that vert ramp. I was never any good on it, but I dropped it eleven times – yep, I actually counted, and not once did I do it successfully. But then a sad day came a couple of years later when I helped to rip it down, to make room for the extended mini ramp. That’s the spot where the last group photo was taken, on the last day of Radlands. I’m hidden in the back somewhere, waving my board in the air. It wasn’t just a skatepark. It was so massively important to so many people. And then it was gone.

I ran off to university shortly after it closed, so I never saw the aftermath, but I can picture it: a bunch of skaters with nowhere to go, and other skaters from surrounding counties with no need to visit Northampton anymore.

But eight years, and a lot of hard work and dedication, later, Northampton got part of its identity back, and by that, I mean a brand new skatepark: Radlands Plaza.

It opened on Saturday July 21 2012, with over 800 people turning up to skate it. Quite fittingly, the sun came out that day, for the first time in weeks, and deservedly so as the park is awesome…like properly awesome.

It’s all thanks to members of the Northampton Skatepark Action Group Committee and local council members, that included Steve and Damien Ince, who opened the original Radlands in 1992, and Rob Selley, now Managing Director at Motive Skateboards, who helped with the design.

Kevin Charles, Chair of the Skatepark Action Group said, “We are really pleased that after years of campaigning the skatepark has finally become a reality. Our town has strong links with skateboarding, and I am glad that we could reflect this in the name Radlands Plaza.” Rob Selley added, “It has been hard work, fun and very stressful at times, but it has all been worth it. [I’m] really pleased that we have a park again.”

Photo by Vicky Marshall Cox

Radlands always had a huge impact on the UK skate scene and today this scene is more prominent than ever. As a female skater myself, I’m pleased to see more women getting exposure. “There are definitely a lot more females skating these days, events have started introducing female categories and the standards are getting really high,” says Rob Selley.

I never got to skate with many other girls at Radlands. I remember a few came to the park when I was there, and there were a few girl bladers, but I mostly skated with guys. I’d love to have more females to skate with, and I’m hoping the new park will inspire more girls local to Northampton to pick up a board.

The all-girl skate camps that have been hitting the UK must have a great impact on getting women into it, so hopefully something like that can happen there. Sometimes people just need a push, or an incentive, it can be daunting, I know that first-hand, being the minority in a male-dominated industry, but it’s worth it. I hope to see loads more female skating Radlands Plaza.

I’m an illustrator now, working in London, but I have no doubt that my love of skateboarding while I was growing up, and my submergence into the skateboard culture, had a profound effect on my artwork over the years. I was massively inspired by skateboard artists such as Ed Templeton and Michael Sieben, and although I now write and illustrate picture books, looking through my sketchpads I can trace how my style developed. Radlands was the first time I saw, first hand, an actual ‘grown up’ taking something they’d scribbled in a sketchbook and transferring it into an actual piece of artwork on the wall.

Without skateboarding, and without Radlands to provide a fun, safe and friendly environment to skate in, I’m not sure my artwork would have developed into what it has today. Perhaps I wouldn’t be doing what I do today. I’m so grateful that I had Radlands on my doorstep when I was growing up, and I hope that Radlands Plaza can have a similar impact on a new generation of skaters. I’ll certainly be taking trips back to Northampton to skate it.

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