Skateboarders shut out after Sutcliffe Park ‘Olympic’ skate hall closes

Sutcliffe Park skate park
The Sutcliffe Park facility opened just five years ago

Skateboarders have been left out in the cold after an indoor facility designed to inspire future Olympic champions closed after just five years.

The skate park at Sutcliffe Park in Eltham closed last month despite a 397-signature petition against the plans. It will now be replaced by a gymnastics centre after GLL, the council’s leisure contractor, said that the facility was little-used.

While there are outdoor skate parks near by at Horn Park in Lee, and at Charlton Park, there are very few indoor skate parks in the country.

The facility opened in February 2018, after skateboarding had been made an Olympic sport. While it was under construction, Denise Scott-McDonald, then the council’s cabinet member for culture, said: “There are few high quality indoor tracks like this in the country, and I am delighted that we will be able to offer a very unique [sic] facility for residents and athletes from further afield to enjoy.”

When the facility opened, Denise Hyland, the council leader at the time, said the centre would be “an asset to every level of local sportsmen and sportswomen, from the skateboarder to the sprinter, from local schoolchildren to our oldest residents”.

One user who contacted 853 said that GLL was “not interested in making the skate park work” and had turned down proposals to help increase usage. “It’s surprising given the exposure in the Olympics,” they added.

Maria Wheeler, who began the petition against the closure, said that the closure would have “an enormous impact on a range of people, from young to old, beginner to experienced”.

“This space is used by the many, not the few, and it provides a space that many people can get together as a community and have fun despite all differences,” she added.

The gymnastics facility will replace a similar one at nearby Thomas Tallis School in Kidbrooke. GLL withdrew from there after the pandemic hit and that hall is now being run by another organisation, Synergy.

In a post on the petition website, Wheeler said that while GLL had held a consultation on the switch to gymnastics, it was only advertised within the leisure centre and not within the wider community.

“They would rather only advertise to a selected group who they knew would help them secure their plans for a gymnasium than open the consultation to everyone for them to have a say,” she said.

But GLL, which trades as Better, insisted that the switch would help it serve the community better.

A GLL spokesperson told 853: “Since Sutcliffe Park Sports Centre opened, the skate park has been little-used, due to the alternative provision of free outdoor facilities available in the borough.

“Last summer we consulted with centre users about the future of the skate park. Several hundred responses were received, with the overwhelming majority in favour of converting the space to a dedicated gymnastics facility. As such, we have taken the difficult decision to proceed with this change.

“Investing in gymnastics allows us to serve more customers while continuing to help more young children keep active and develop talent on our pathway programmes.

“We are looking forward to offering our expanded Sutcliffe Park gymnastics programme and facilities from April.”

A council spokesperson said: “A consultation by Better found that centre users were overwhelmingly in favour of a dedicated gymnastics facility, which helps more young people stay active and healthy. As a Council we were consulted, and the addition of another gymnastics area adds to the wider sports programme available in Greenwich, including free skateparks in Horn Park and Charlton Park, and other facilities in Hornfair Park and Briset Road in Eltham.

“The gymnastics offer at Thomas Tallis was moved following the first lockdown. The school had to restrict community use once it reopened and Better moved the gymnastics offer to Sutcliffe.”

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