Last Thursday, a deal guaranteeing the long term future of the world famous Southbank Undercroft was signed.
It was the high point of the community-run Long Live Southbank campaign and ended Southbank Centre’s plans to replace the world famous skateboarding spot with more coffee shops and restaurants.
For details (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iFaKN98Xg3E), Boris Johnson’s intervention (http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2014/feb/05/southbank-centre-redevelopment-on-hold-skate-park) and this final development (link to http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2014/sep/18/skaters-southbank-centre-undercroft-london-remains-open).
Ours is a rare victory but it is worth reflecting on how the battle was won.
For the last 17 months, just outside the spray paint covered relic of 60’s brutalism, there has been a fixture. ‘The table’, as it is affectionately known, has been a staple of the Long Live Southbank campaign.
It was there that we gathered most of the 150,000 signatures, including from skaters going back to the 1970s, passionate fans of brutalist architecture and even former miners who slept at the Undercroft following an NUM march on Parliament.
Aside from that vital human contact, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram were instrumental sending the campaign film viral. After rejecting help from PR agencies, self-taught social media proved more human, flexible and popular. The campaign film, the Bigger Picture, got over 83,000 views.
Our community had photographers, artists, writers, musicians, dancers and tile makers as well as skaters and BMXers. With us too were those who could translate for the politicians, academics and journalists.
The whole campaign was built on the strength of the Undercroft. After 41 years of skateboarding on the Southbank, it is deeply rooted in the local community who offered us vital historical information, for instance the lengths that the Southbank Centre security went to dissuade skateboarding in the 80s and 90s (using stones and metal bars). This fed into our legal case as well as public debate.
Southbank has long benefited from visiting skaters including some from Washington State who came and spread the word by taking Long Live Southbank stickers home and sharing material on Facebook.
The Section 106 planning agreement that secured its long term future is a testament to the dedication of the most committed, but also the strange charisma of the space itself and the people who make it so vibrant.
So what are lessons for other campaigns:
- Stay vigilant for public spaces under threat of privatisation. The Southbank Undercroft, only after a huge uproar, got the political attention it deserved.
- Campaign with your local community, and keep using and treasuring these spaces when they come under threat.
- Change the system to stem the flow of privatisation and make it easier for campaigners to gain longer term guarantees for their spaces, rather than just temporary amnesties.
- Inspire others to explore their cities more and to think creatively about their environments.
What we do at the Southbank is explore the possibilities of brutalist architecture. However, the whole city is ripe for exploring. Before it is all sold off for coffee shops and restaurants, at least…