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Skating history: the story of the Undercroft Skate Space

Young skateboarders in action at the undercroft skate space in 1976; in the foreground one skateboarder pulls along a nother one who is sitting on his board.
Undercroft Skate Park at the Southbank Centre in 1976. Photo by Brian Gittings. Courtesy of Long Live Southbank.

It’s been the heartbeat of London skate culture since the 1970s, a location scratched into the memories of generations of skaters, and even recreated in Tony Hawk Pro Skating 4 – and it’s right under our feet.

The skaters navigating the brutalist underbelly of the Queen Elizabeth Hall rip around it like it’s the only natural thing to do there. But as is so often the case in skating, what’s now known as the Undercroft Skate Space wasn’t purpose-built.

This patch of concrete ledges, pillars and stairs was simply left open to the public by its architects when it was built in the 1960s – but it quickly became a second home for a community who made it their own. And it never stopped: now it lays claim to being the world's longest continually used skate spot.

A loan skateboarder skates in the concrete undercroft at the Southbank Centre in 1977
Screengrab from YouTube upload

Watch interviews with people who’ve skated the ‘little banks’ most of their life, and they talk fondly about the particular rhythm of wheels over concrete slabs, the physical scrapes on the surface that tell stories of a million tricks. There’s a palpable and invaluable connection between this public space and those who use it. And it’s that rare and vital thing, a historical site which continues to be used. 

The Undercroft Skate Space has always been a home for artistic expression – videos, photography, graffiti, plus the constant creativity of skating it. It’s been a venue for open jams and community events, as well as a reliable haunt for passing time with friends and legendary regulars, and meeting like-minded people.

Since 2013, the Undercroft Skate Space has been preserved through collaboration with Long Live Southbank, an activist group of skaters originally formed to push back against its planned redevelopment. 

In 2017, the same group worked with the Southbank Centre to renovate it, in a project that added new lights, replaced sections of the concrete and reopened a large section of the space. That work was completed with funding from skate brands like Palace Skateboards and Supreme, the Architectural Heritage Fund, London Charitable Marathon Trust, Sports England and the Mayor of London’s Good Growth Fund.

Lean over the railings today and you’ll see it rumbling with activity, packed with skaters of all levels and backgrounds. 

If you skate, there’s space for you there – as part of a tight-knit community, and in a historic place preserved for the future by the skaters who use it.

 

by Thomas Lewis

People viewing the archive display at the Future Exhibition Makers on the Open Foyer Policy
Pete Woodhead
Southbank Centre Archive

Find out more about the history of the Southbank Centre and our buildings through our Archive.