Dan Lacey has been working for years to protect the skatepark he helped build as a teenager.
Photos: Jess Connett
On the scarred tarmac you can still see the outlines of the old ramps at Warmley Forest Skatepark, tucked on the eastern fringe of Bristol’s sprawling urban mass. There used to be twice as many ramps here, full of BMX riders, skateboarders and scooter kids rolling down the quarter pipe and clattering over a wooden spine, but all that remains are two metal ones covered in scruffy tags.
It was a skatepark that local lad Dan Lacey, now 30, helped to design as a teenager. And it is a skatepark that he has spent more than six years fighting to save.
“When I was younger I never had anywhere to skate. There is a skatepark on my front doorstep now and as a kid that was nothing but a dream”
“Skateboarding made me who I was,” Dan says, wearing a trademark cap and cradling his skateboard in his coat to protect it from the rain. He’d learned to skate in his garden aged about 14, inspired by playing Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater videogames with his friends, and before Warmley had a skatepark they would make the eight-mile round trip to their nearest one in Keynsham. “It was a long skate, put it that way,” Dan says wryly.
It was always a struggle to find somewhere suitable to skate locally: “It got to the point that we were getting kicked out of places and some of my mates didn’t want to do the sport any more. It was frowned upon. It gets a bit boring when you’re being moved on all the time – as a kid you don’t want to be shouted at.”
For years, Dan and his mates attended a weekly skate night at Cadbury Heath Youth Centre, where they practised tricks and had input into a pie-in-the-sky idea to build a permanent outdoor skatepark. In 2005 the funds were scraped together and a suitable site was found in nearby Warmley Forest Park, which transformed things for the young people in the area. “We didn’t have much around here then,” Dan says. “I’m still mates with all of those guys, even though some of them have quit skating now. It was a bit of a community.”
Dan Lacey, 30
The skatepark bounced back from an arson attack that destroyed one of the ramps – Dan points out the heat-darkened strip around the base of its metal replacement – but in 2012 several further incidents of vandalism sent costs spiralling. Without warning, South Gloucestershire Council removed half of the ramps and recycled them, swiftly ending the golden era of the skatepark.
Within a week, Dan and the youth workers were in contact with the council and making plans to completely rebuild the park in concrete, which would cost between £30,000 and £60,000. But Dan was undeterred. “I went out and Googled ‘grants in the local area’,” he says. He trawled lists and sent them to the youth workers to decide whether or not to apply for them.
Around the same time, Dan was invited to help build an indoor skatepark at what was then Fromeside Youth Centre in Winterbourne, and was involved in consultations for an outdoor skatepark in Cadbury Heath, carefully drawing up plans for the ramps in pencil on graph paper. “It felt like a full-time job on top of my full-time job,” he says.
But his efforts weren’t going unnoticed; he was given South Gloucestershire Council’s Chair’s Community Award, the first of three nominations to date.
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By 2015, concrete was poured and kids were doing ollies at Cadbury Heath Skatepark but Warmley’s funding applications were being rejected again and again.
Late in 2018, Dan and fellow members of Warmley Forest Skatepark Committee – Tom Miur, Adam Gay and Steve Skidmore – were on the brink of bowing out. “We were demotivated because we couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel,” Dan says. “We had to either get the grants or it wasn’t going to happen. The council would have handed back the lease and the skatepark would be gone because of the insurance costs.”
But salvation finally came in the form of an email saying £50,000 had been granted to them by the Landfill Communities Trust. “All I could say was ‘woah, wooooah’!” Dan says. “Then literally about half an hour later I got another email saying we’d got £50,000 from Enovert Community Trust. It was actually quite stressful because we didn’t think it would happen. It was a shock.” Costs to build the park had risen to £150,000 but Oldland and Bitton parish councils plugged the gap, pledging £30,000 and £20,000 respectively in January 2019.
“How long it’s going to take now, I couldn’t tell you,” Dan says. He shields his phone from the rain and shows me a 3D model of the latest design, all smooth flowing concrete that will fit the original footprint of the park.
Just days before he had heard that their plan for a California swimming pool-esque bowl was being be scrapped because of the extensive coal mining in the area. It’s a setback but Dan is stoic: “I’d rather spend the money on having a skatepark than finding out if there’s a mine down there.”
Spending the last six years trying to regenerate the culture of the park where he spent so much time as a teenager isn’t just about Dan’s love of skating. It’s also about giving young people living in the suburbs somewhere they can hang out with their friends, make a racket and learn lessons.
“People used to see me skating as a negative thing and I never understood why,” he says. “It gets kids out with their mates and enjoying themselves, not at home playing computer games.
“It makes me feel proud to know Warmley is going to get a new skatepark. We’ve given something to everyone,” Dan says. “When I was younger I never had anywhere to skate. There is a skatepark on my front doorstep now and as a kid that was nothing but a dream.”
Follow Dan on Instagram @lacey_skate_1988 for updates about Warmley Forest Skatepark.