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BEST PRACTICE - DON'T REPEL THE BORDERS

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Milton Keynes has created a world-class skatepark, built bridges with teenagers and made its streets safer, says Ka...
Milton Keynes has created a world-class skatepark, built bridges with teenagers and made its streets safer, says Kath Burke

COUNCIL Milton Keynes

AWARD LGC Awards 2006

CATEGORY Winner,Community Involvement

SPONSOR St Paul Travelers

'It's bad, it's sick, it's hench bruv - we're well stoked.' That's the official Milton Keynes Council reaction to winning an LGC award translated into skater-speak.

Milton Keynes is already one of the top five skateboarding cities in the world, and it is being propelled to the centre of the world skating map since opening its award-winning skate plaza in March 2005.

The£130,000 plaza at the central bus station has already attracted visits from eight professional US skating teams and a famous brand of skate shoes has named a new design after the skate plaza, which is called 'Buszy'.

Richard Ferrington, who project manages the SK8MK initiative, is so fired up that he's hoping to build an Olympic standard skatepark in the city. His team is already designing skate objects to fix in the streets - creating a network of skate-routes throughout Milton Keynes.

The city's wide-open spaces, granite architecture and grid-like design have made it a mecca for skate boarders, BMXers and inline skaters for the past 20 years. But decades of wear and tear from street sports has caused cumulative damage, and in autumn 2002 the council was keen to heal conflicts between pedestrians, streets sports enthusiasts and other road users while sprucing up public spaces in the city centre.

Although some councils try to ban street sports, Milton Keynes values the health and fitness benefits of skating as an outdoor pursuit. It embarked on a massive consensus-building exercise, starting with a public meeting with the police, skaters, landowners, shopkeepers, business people, architects, artists and parks /land-use experts. The council surveyed young people about street sports facilities in the city, organised a film at a local cinema, workshops, expert speakers and a free pop concert.

The bus station was chosen as the location because it was already a popular skate spot. And young people indicated they would prefer an open street-style facility rather than a park location. The plaza recreates world famous street skate spots - from San Francisco to Barcelona, and includes research materials so that the council can test which are most resilient against wear and tear.

Mr Ferrington is proud of the commitment young people have shown to design and raising funds for the new facility.

'They came to meetings in the council offices and the members loved it because they'd be coming into some tedious planning meeting and there's about 15-20 young people walking around with skateboards,' he says.

The council drafted in two skaters under a government training scheme, to design the plaza and other skate facilities, after receiving training in 3D and graphic design. One of the helpers is a pro skater who works between jetting off to Korea and far flung destinations to compete in events.

'A lot of people think there's conflict between skaters and pedestrians but the chap working with me can skate 30 hours a week without coming across a pedestrian,' says Mr Ferrington.

'And it's a healthy sporting activity. You don't have to be on a team, you can do it on your own - there's a fantastic camaraderie between different skaters.'

Mr Ferrington is evangelical about the communal benefits of skating plazas and parks - and his team already offers design and consultancy services to other councils that want to build their own skating facilities.

'If you've got areas of the city which are redundant or underused why not build a skatepark - it animates what could be a dead space,' he says.

Mr Ferrington has tried his hand at skating himself but he doesn't dare go to the plaza unless it's completely empty. 'It's too embarrassing,' he says.

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