Welcome to Woolwich’s new skateboard paradise

Woolwich, on a crisp autumnal evening. There’s life in the town square…

…but not the kind of life the council wants. Greenwich has responded to problems apparently caused by skateboarders in the recently-revamped General Gordon Square with that most terrifying of sanctions, a letter to the News Shopper, in which regeneration cabinet member Denise Hyland calls it “an inappropriate and unacceptable activity for such a busy place”.

It’s taken over a year for the council – and contractor Volker Highways – to finish doing up General Gordon Square. Builders remain on site, despite a “spring 2011” finish being promised. But gone are the cat-sized rodents which used to prowl the square, and a fountain much beloved by dossers, as the council staff who used to clear it of their turds each morning will tell you. If skateboarding is “inappropriate and unacceptable”, heaven knows what Denise Hyland thinks of what used to go on.

With all the lighting, the new square looks pretty smart. Chalk this one up as a victory for the council. But there lies the problem. It does look like a bloody good skate park. Woolwich actually does have a “proper” skate park – and here it is, at 8.15pm last night.

“There remain alternative venues in the borough for skateboarders to have fun – and the message is that the square is definitely not suitable.”

Here’s where skateboarders are expected to have fun in Woolwich. Dark, deserted, and with a chilly wind blowing in off the Thames, the Royal Arsenal Gardens skate park was only fit for retiring to with a bottle of White Lightning, matches, and some old copies of Greenwich Time.

Back to the square, then, if you’ve a skateboard and any sense. The main problem with the skateboarders, as far as I can tell, is the damage they’re causing to the surface of the square, which you can see below in a photo taken by day just before the square’s official launch.

The open design of the square, with slopes and steps, makes its adoption by skateboarders and other wheeled warriors inevitable. After dark, they’ve nowhere else to go. Could a more hard-wearing surface have been chosen? I don’t know, but the scratches and scrapes on the square feel more like a self-inflicted wound than criminal damage by the skateboarders. How do you stop them? You can’t, unless you stick a police van there every night for a fortnight, or build a fence around the square.

To be fair, they do bring a bit of life to the square. After all, no police or wardens are keeping an eye on the square, so the skateboarders seem to be the ones looking after it, and the rest of us. At least they’re not out thieving, and their presence may well have prevented wrong-doers from entering the square. It’s practically floodlit, so feels safer than just about anywhere else around it. I cycled down into Beresford Square shortly after taking the photo above, and it struck me how dark and gloomy it was.

So how does the council go about solving its problem? I suspect it’ll involve working with the skateboarders instead of writing letters to newspapers condemning their actions as “inappropriate and unacceptable”. Because if the council doesn’t give them somewhere decent to go – and the Royal Arsenal skate park certainly isn’t that – they, and the people of Woolwich may just have to learn to love the skateboarders.


  1. And what’s wrong with skateboarders enjoying a facility in their own borough. It’s not as if GG Square would otherwise be occupied by the people of Woolwich quietly playing chess or soberly discussing last week’s debates at the town hall. There are a few people skateboarding. Others can dodge them or walk round. Get over it, Denise Hyland.

  2. If a pudding could skateboard, that’s where I’d want to be. Shame about the scrapes, but in a few years, once the surface has lost its new bloom, no one’ll notice the skid marks.

  3. I thought they were going to build on the Royal Arsenal Gardens, I just looked at their environment & planning page, where funnily enough one of the questions was ” Is there a skateboarding park in the borough?” & the answer was yes- Horn Park!

  4. “There are a few people skateboarding. Others can dodge or walk round”

    Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against skateboarders but how does one walk around people racing on skateboards. Let`s face it while there are some out there who know what they are doing, there are many who are amateurs and whose skateboarding activities within the square pose a risk to public safety.

    I think I have a right to walk through a public square without having to worry about being hit by a skateboarder. I went through the square last week (or tried too) and had skateboarders coming from all directions, one of whom ran into me. They are effectively monopolising areas of the square when they are around. And what about people less mobile than myself (older people, those with disabilities), are they expected to move quickly out of the way when a skateboarder comes racing in their direction!. The square is not a place for skateboarding. In the long run, the actions of these skateboarders will at a minimum result in more significant damage to pavements. From a regeneration perspective it has far more reaching consequences. How can Woolwich be expected to thrive in the future if residents and visitors alike can`t even enjoy its main public square for the purpose that it was intended for? (clearly never intended to be a skateboard park)

    With regard to the Council, credit should be given where it is due for revamping the square (though as you said, it is still not finished). I am also glad to see that at least the Council acknowledge the problem of skateboarders in the square. It is an issue for many people. Let’s see now what they do about it.

  5. I’m not surprised the skate boarders are in the square.

    Smooth seating and nice slope to build up speed – perfect. (Law of unforeseen consequences perhaps?)

    Also if I was a teenager with attitude again with an ipod, blackberry and top clobber that’s where I’d be.

  6. What about the ‘white elephant’ what is suppose to be the ‘skate park’ at the near water front as Daryl so rightly mentions. But then maybe I am wrong about that as well!

  7. “I see Pizza Hut is finally closing in Woolwich that must bring down to virtual zero somewhere to eat in Woolwich.

    This place seems to get more and more depressing by the week”

    What about all the improvements over the last few years? The DLR for example has been a large success as has the Royal Arsenal Development. What other shops have closed down, I haven’t been there recently

  8. Just been discussing this with TGP (since Cutty Sark Gardens is undergoing a makeover too). There is an easy cure… Adding metal, or stone ridges every so often means there isn’t a “smooth” run (but surfaces can still be navigated, by wheelchairs etc, or sat on) – they have some egs in the gallery of this site…

    That’s the stick… And clearly the carrot is to make any alternative park more user friendly. We must consider both sides for any solution to work.

    I’m personally not so bothered abt the skateboarders themselves- but we are all paying money to make things right and when it starts to look crap, folks’ll complain it wasn’t so long since it was last done.

    Whilst some existing residents seem content with this (from the comments below) this won’t act as the catalyst Woolwich needs to regenerate.

  9. Seems a big fuss about nothing. The kids have as much right to enjoy the square as any other member of the public. They’re not hurting anyone, and seem perfectly polite and friendly. It’s actually quite cathartic watching them fall off their boards for hours on end.

  10. Skating is a way for us to keep busy and do what we love, the local skateparks provided are dangerous and not built properly. The floor at the local skatepark is so rough that if you fall you risk taking off most of you’re skin as well. Some of the younger skateboarders will get in the way of the public. But if they wasn’t skating they would be running around and still getting in the way. Woolwich is a nice spot to skate when no ones about. But the thing is that none of us really want that. We just want a good skatepark that won’t kill us.

  11. U want them to not skate here put appropriate lighting in the old skate park and fix it up.
    i went to the old skate park a couple of weeks ago there is rubbish all over the place and its dark and dingy the ramps are unsafe falling apart all i see there was a couple of old drunks sitting under the ramp what is broke.
    I looked a my 2 kids and told them that can not play here.
    so offcorse the local kids will play in the well lit square in the town center what is more clean and safe then the old dump that the royal borough is calling a safe heaven for our children to skate.
    they need to stop wasting money on pointless things and give our children safe places to skate play and socialize.
    Miss S Hartley

  12. I just want to thank whoever wrote this. I skateboard there all the time and it’s true we have nowhere to go but people are saying that we could cause a accident and cause serious injuries to someone, that’s true but we really look after people walking across we don’t just skate next to people like we have no common sense. I’m 22 I have a full time job like everyone else and I like to skate we normally skate at night anyway when there is not many people walking across, and you people comment bad stuff about us but why dont you guys complain about the crackheads over there when they start trouble with random people and we protect the people we are not rebels we don’t get rude to people we are friends with all the wardens we just want to skate really so we will carry on skating until we find somewhere better so just live with it

  13. The woolwich skatepark needs tearing down, and a new smooth floor surface and ramps built. The current ramps are busted and falling apart and the floor is very dangerous to fall on.

    Most of the skateboarders in the area are adults, and do not make trouble. And if a decent park was built, skaters would stay out of the town centre.

Comments are closed.