In July 2016, Sk8 Safe travelled to Projekts Skate Park in Manchester to deliver the Level 1 Award in Coaching Skateboard Sessions Qualification, exclusively to the Projekts team.
Projekts is an iconic park, playing host to demo's and competitions throughout the year, and also
offering skateboard coaching both on the park and in schools.
We caught up with the park’s manager, John Haines, to get a little more info on Projekts, and how the team work to include everyone in skateboarding.
So, first of all if you could give me a bit of info on the story so far at Projekts. How and when it started, and how it’s grown in the past few years?
This version of Projekts started in 2004, but the idea behind Projekts as I understand it started back in 2001 with a small skatepark in the Mackie Mayor Building on Great Ancoat Street in Manchester City Centre. It was a Christian project designed to help skaters, particularly those most in need, the most socially isolated. It gave them a safe place to go and friendly people to chat to.
That closed down a year or so later and the MD, a great guy called Charles Morgan, went back to the drawing board and came up with a plan for a new Projekts. I wasn't around for those early discussion, but was invited in 2004 to manage the skatepark - we had a shop in those days, too, but that closed down a few years ago.
The vision for Projekts was to create a high quality, affordable, safe and welcoming skatepark; a skatepark that wasn't elitist, and wasn't cliquey and that helped people get into skateboarding and, further down the line, to do it in other cities. Whilst we haven't moved into other cities yet, we are achieving the overall vision quite well, I think.
Ultimately our skateparks will be places for educational growth, mentoring and coaching as well as incredible skate facilities in their own right. Our original vision talks about having a church meeting space in our skatepark, too! I would love to see this happen, but at the moment we don't even have our own meeting room let alone enough space for a church. But that's what visions are for, right?
So we got the skatepark in 2004 and spent eight years trying to gain enough funding to expand (that's the nutshell version). Once we expanded, attendance tripled, which was a very good thing for two reasons. Firstly, we had an amazing skatepark for Manchester that more people could use. Secondly, the council stopped supporting us in 2014 and without the extra capacity we wouldn't have survived. We grew from 6,000 visits a year to over 18,000 visits a year!
The plan now is to expand again and further increase our capacity and we hope to have achieved this by 2018.
What was your vision when establishing Projekts skate park?
I didn't really establish the skatepark, at least not at the earliest stages. From a personal perceptive my desire was to skate and be a Christian in the Manchester skate scene, sharing the Gospel when the opportunity presented itself.
From an organisational perspective, my desire was to build one of the best skateparks in the UK on dead land under the flyover in Manchester City Centre - quite specific really. I was working there every day and no one else was doing anything with it so I thought I'd give it a shot. We eventually got nearly £500k funding to develop the land and skateboarding in Manchester. It took about eight years to achieve this.
When did you first start skateboarding, and what inspired you to pick up a board?
I was 19 when I started skating. I got hooked on snowboarding but couldn't afford to go very often and someone suggested skating, so I gave it a shot and loved it.
What effect does skateboarding have on the young people you coach at Projekts?
I don't know what it is about skateboarding that makes it so addictive, but you see the look on the faces of the kids (and adults - it's not just a kids game!) when they learn something they never thought they'd achieve and it's amazing, they just want more and more of it. There are parents who virtually live at our skatepark, their kids are there so often. I mean it's pretty incredible how skateboarding impacts people's lives.
Do you think skateboarding is more accessible to young people now than ever before?
Skating is without a doubt more accessible than ever. Firstly, the internet makes accessing skateboards, skate equipment, advice on skating and access to the skate scene incalculably easier. If like me your parents didn't drive and couldn't take you anywhere outside your little town or village, you couldn't easily access skateboarding as a kid. Now it's a different world. Sit at your computer and order whatever set up you want without leaving your house. It's not as good as wandering down to your local skate shop, but the internet makes things so much easier, for sure, especially for those without access to a skate shop.
Secondly, there are way more good quality skateparks than ever and that trend is continuing. Skatepark builders like Canvas and Maverick are making incredible concrete skateparks all over the place and the result will be incredible skaters all over the place.
Thirdly, there is now such a thing as skateboarding lessons and skateboard coaches! Yes, we go into schools and help people get onto skateboards for the first time - it's a wonderful privilege. Skate coaching safely moves people through that high risk stage of skating - the bit when you first step on the board - and gets people to the fun bit of skating nice and quickly and in one piece. It increases the proportion of people who continue skating after their first attempt, it exposed more people to skateboarding and it starts to retell the story of skateboarding as an activity available to everyone not just an elite minority.
We noticed when we were at Projekts that you ran sessions for faith groups? Could you tell us a little more about that and how this helps to introduce skateboarding to people from all walks of life?
I mentioned earlier that we originally hoped that our skatepark/s would be used by Christian groups. Well, this was the first one of those groups - Holy Rollers. It's run by one of our Directors and is basically a skate/BMX session, open to anyone, with a short talk in the middle, usually someone sharing their testimony about how they became a Christian.
I'm not sure how much this session has introduced people to skateboarding - I did give a couple of lessons to a church pastor and some of his congregation, which was fun. But mainly it's other skaters or BMXers taking part, so I suppose the goal is really to introduce these guys to the person of Jesus Christ rather than to skateboarding specifically.
So, we recently delivered the Level 1 Award in Coaching Skateboard Sessions Qualification to the Projekts team. How do you feel this has benefited your coaches and students?
For our coaches the Level 1 course has given them more confidence to know that they can go into any space and deliver a high quality, well-structured and planned skateboarding lesson. It's helped
improve their understanding of coaching, their understanding of different methods of communication and improved their lesson planning skills. It's a great course.
Good teachers improve the student experience by reducing risks and delivering lessons that are pitched at the right level, which will ultimately increase the pupil’s chances of reaching their goals and improving quickly.