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How Milton Keynes became the UK’s skateboarding capital

a colur photo of a young man in ripped jeans on a skateboard ramp

Skating in Milton Keynes, 1986. Photo Will Tricks.

Milton Keynes is celebrating its cult status as the go-to place for skate kids with a trail and exhibition

Cliff Richard may have alerted the mainstream world to the roller skating potential of Milton Keynes in the video for his 1981 hit single, Wired for Sound, but hot on the roller skating heels of Sir Cliff, a slightly more underground crowd was also discovering the unique possibilities of the Buckinghamshire New Town.

Since the late ‘80s and early ‘90s Milton Keynes has been regarded by many as the skate capital of the UK, alongside the Undercroft at London’s Southbank and the Rom Skatepark in Hornchurch in Essex.

Unlike its competitors, good old MK is the only location that fans out across the town, which is now rightly celebrating this unique heritage with a major National Lottery funded heritage programme and exhibition, MK Skate.

Skaters were originally attracted to MK due to its smooth pavements, granite and marble infrastructure, as well as a wealth of stairs and handrails. The MK urban aesthetic, which closely reflected that of many US cities, was also highly valued in a culture in which documentation, in photography and video, is central.

a photo of a skateboarder ollying over a barrier

Photo Leo Sharpe

a photo of two young men at a skate park

Photo Anna Cox.

a photo of a skateboarder performing a trick at a bus station

1986 at Milton Keynes Bus Station Photo Will Tricks.

As a result MK has featured more than any other town or UK city in hugely influential skateboard magazines, and in innumerable skateboarding videos. Since the ‘80s, many of the most influential US brands add Milton Keynes to their tour itineraries, increasing skating traffic and adding to the city’s appeal. Responding to increasing demand, and working with skateboarders, residents and commercial tenants, in 2005 Milton Keynes developed and opened Europe’s first ‘skate plaza’, The Buszy.

Despite this, it’s a story and status which until now has remained unrecorded and largely unknown outside of the skate community. Now, with skateboarding preparing for its Olympic debut at Tokyo 2020, and its stock rising high in fashion and contemporary culture, MK Skate is seen as a timely celebration of skateboarding in the UK and its particular relationship to Milton Keynes.

The exhibition takes the form of an on-street trail and unfolds across many of MK’s iconic skating locations with imagery hosted in a series of underpasses, along Midsummer Boulevard at Malborough Gate, Saxon Gate, Witan Gate and Elder Gate. Along the way the trail highlights areas which were significant skating spots and where skating pioneers and celebrities left their mark on the town.

In the town’s shopping centre, centre:mk, an exhibition in one of the shopping units has been curated by personal collections loaned by local skaters from fashion, art, and decks to magazines. In addition, the exhibition also displays a range of documentary photos and archive cine and video footage from MK skaters from the past.

a photo of a skateboarder sliding down a railing

Tom Watts, Nosegrind, Trusthouse Forte Hote. Photo shot summer 2005. Photo Leo Sharpe.

an old photo of a skateboarder about to drop in down a skate ramp

Skating in Milton Keynes 1986. Photo Will Tricks.

Starting with the radical punks in the early ‘80s, through to the impact of US skate films and tours in the ‘90s, and on to 2020 Olympic dreams, MK Skate captures the stories of pioneering UK skate talent such as Rob Selley, Sean Smith, James Bush, Zeta Rush, and now Olympic hopeful, Alex deCunha.

The exhibition also features documentation from leading skate photographers Wig Worland and Leo Sharp, themselves from Milton Keynes, as well as by (Sidewalk Magazine) journalists Ben Powell and Ryan Gray, and filmmaker Lindsay Knight.

It also tells the personal histories of the generations of skaters, both hobbyists and sponsored, who have grown up in the city, which are shared through an oral history project and through an exhibition of their personal collections featuring pro skateboards, stickers, ‘70s polaroids, ‘90s baggy jeans, VHS and cine film, zines, and a rare pair of trainers named after The Buszy.

As part of A Festival of Creative Urban Living, MK Skate also explores the specific contribution the city’s modernist architecture has had on the development of the scene, including on the development of pioneering UK skate talent, as well as the impact internationally through skateboarding.

a photo of a skateboarder jumping over a concrete ledge

Photo Leo Sharpe.

a photo of a bunch of teenagers on skateboards

Photo Anna Cox.

MK Skate’s on-street exhibition runs until January 6 2020, with the Skating exhibition in centre:mk – running until December 22 2019.

A week of half-term activities also takes place between October 28 and November 1 with workshops and events organised by photographer Leo Sharp, dancer Mark Calape, and artist Tom Guilmard. The workshops will allow young people to garner skills in deck painting, photography and street dance.

For more information see www.mkskate.org

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