by Mel @troubleon8wheels
This year has felt like a whirlwind. Hands up if you're with me?
Adjusting is always challenging and I've found myself searching for a routine, in order to allow some tasks to become automated, therefore taking up less headroom. The many adjustments that we have all faced throughout the pandemic have resulted in some very worn out folks though, absolutely including me.
Photo: Christopher Green Photography
Mel, Jen and Ronke
Having run outdoor classes since the end of March 2021, I am certainly more resilient to the rain and much more appreciative of dry weather! Actually we have only had a couple of really rainy sessions in the five months. For those who have not yet been, Bodington Fields is a world class training facility, built by the Brownlee brothers to support triathletes. It just happens that roller skaters appreciate smooth tarmac as much as elite road cyclists. Having used the facility in previous years, the site manager was happy to give us extended track time, with two dedicated sessions each week. Our Sunday training finished at the end of July, and we have just two Tuesday Sunset Skate sessions left this year. The track is then taken over by cycle clubs, and we are able to return to the Ramgarhia Sikh Sports centre, so it all kind of works!
We rallied together a skate marshal team to compliment the existing instructor team, and the first Sunday on track, the team were there to support the new, very nervous skaters who had come out to join us, many for the first time outside of their home. We all wondered what on earth we were doing, many of the marshal team didn't know each other, but I thank everyone for trusting in my vision. It felt like everyone wanted that session to work, and so it came to pass.
We fell into a comfortable rhythm to support new skaters each week and welcome skaters who's faces we recognised. Our marshal team got to know each other a bit more and we had some really lovely weather. We also had our first family friendly session, and it was lovely to see adults skating with their youngsters. We had a few non-skating adults that first session, but they were soon asking how to get hold of skates!
Does anyone even remember that we used to use the footbridge to get to our kit-on area? It was so far! This was because we were sharing the track with All In Community Roller Derby - during lockdown they had supported the skate community with their distance challenges, so it made sense to offer half the track (the hilly half) to their more experienced skaters. It also gave newer skaters something to aspire to. I think.
MAY & JUNE
We endured a very wet May and June, and numbers really dropped off. I tried to stay calm, as hiring a world class training facility is not cheap! All In Roller Derby also returned to their regular training space so we ended up with the full track. Daunting at first, we learned to embrace the space. Our skaters had been practising their hill skills and were now ready to test them out properly. Watching skaters develop in confidence from walking down the hill to skating with enjoyment is a very special thing.
I am utterly grateful for the people who came to sessions week after week, both participants and marshals. You gave me energy when it was tiring. If I questioned why I was doing this during the week, at the Sunday session it was crystal clear. The friendships forged on the track were possibly even stronger than friendships forged through roller skating in the hall pre-pandemic.
We also started indoor classes again! What a dream it was to skate in a studio!
At the end of July, four months after we started, we held the second Summer Skate Picnic at the track. Ninety people came. It was supposed to be torrential rain, so only 3 days before the event, around 25 people were attending. The forecast improved and so did ticket sales, with almost half being purchased the day before. The event was sold out in the end, (although I know the track can hold a few hundred people.) I was keen for the feel of this event to be a gathering and celebration. One that marked the journey that many of our skaters had come. The vast majority had learned to roller skate by themselves in lockdown, and had the courage to come to sessions. This is not to be taken lightly, as these folks were coming to a place they didn't know (by public transport, even more daunting), meeting people they don't know, to do an activity they don't feel confident at. Overcoming all these hurdles made this Summer's Skate Picnic just stunning.
Photographs by Christopher Green Photography
The whole event was pretty magical. There was something intangible in the atmosphere. A quality, a shared understanding that the unspoken journey coming out of lockdown that we have been on together for the past few months deserved celebrating. That we had lived through some of the toughest times in our lives, due to the uncertainty of so many things. Not just live, in fact, thrive. I am humbled by the realisation of this and honoured that the chosen path for so many people through lockdown has been to embrace roller skating.
The picnic marked the end of Sunday morning sessions for the team, as it was important to give everyone some time off regular classes throughout August. Historically, the Summer months are usually quieter anyway, as people go away. Restrictions were lifting and that seemed to be the case for many.
Photography: Shaun Page @Warehouse606
Three short weeks after the skate picnic was the second big event, the skate party at the Corn Exchange. Even though the capacity for this event was lower than pre-pandemic times, it sure felt busy! Just like the picnic, the disco was full of the most amazing humans that had an awareness and unspoken understanding of the need to care for others. The world has become a kinder place, and that is a beautiful thing indeed. I'm intensely grateful for the many, many folks who also took the time to check-in with me and asked if I was having a good time. I felt incredibly cared for.
I did have a good time, by the way. Running an event is very different from attending an event. I very much appreciate how much work goes into the planning and smooth running of an event , there is a whole host of behind the scenes co-ordination that is vital for the event to be as stress-free as possible. Generally if I can enjoy myself for about an hour, I feel that I've done quite well, and actually I think I had a couple of hours skate time, thanks to the marshal team, St John's Ambulance and Corn Exchange security, so - winning!
Since the Corn Exchange roller skate party, there have been many, many requests for another one. To be honest, you'll have to wait and see. I love a good disco, so there will certainly be something. I also don't like to be too predictable with events, so am constantly searching for ways to add our own unique RGG vision.
I'm excited to return to regular weekly classes at the Ramgarhia Sikh centre. I've kept in regular touch with the folks these throughout lockdown, and the first time I saw some of the staff there was such a relief. They had chosen to close their doors for almost 18 months in order to keep their elders safe, and it seems that they have done so.
Our instructor team is ready to support the next generation of skaters that choose to learn with us. It is through the regular sessions we see people's confidence of develop the most. We notice the connections between how our bodies and our wheels. We see 'lightbulb' moments of that's how it is supposed to feel! We see individuals let go about worrying how other people think they look; let go of judgement. We see people welcome in the joy of their authentic selves. It's a journey of self discovery and self awareness.
If everything goes to plan (haha) I will be away for a week in September, at Skate Love Barcelona, the roller dance festival that inspired me to teach roller skating in the first place. I'm part of the festival team, and I am co-ordinating the roller dance workshops. This year we hope to host twenty teachers from across the world. Everything from hip hop on skates, traditional roller dance and slalom skills to ballroom dancing on skates. The pandemic continues to catch us out though, so I won't believe it's happening until it's happening! I'm very grateful for the Shop team and Skate team who will keep everything going while I'm away.
If you've been part of Roller Girl Gang's journey in the last few months (or in fact, ever), thank you. If there is something you would like us to do to support the skate community even more, I'm all ears. Just drop me an email: email@example.com
You got this. Just keep on rolling, baby.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS:
Do we run classes for children?
We invite skaters of all ages to our monthly family friendly session, usually the first Sunday of the month. Children are also welcome at the pop-up roller disco at Left Bank Leeds (last Sunday of the month).
Otherwise we are here for the parents of the children - we will teach you and you can teach your kids.
Am I too old / overweight / arthritic / un co-ordinated to roller skate?
We don't think so. Our instructor team all learned to roller skate as adults (mostly late 20s to late 30s when they started) and we have supported individuals into their 70s to learn to roller skate without any previous experience. Of course, your skate goals may be different, if your body is different, however we are all different. If you want to roller skate, we will do our best to support you to do that.
Are your classes / workshops / events only for girls?
Roller Girl Gang was founded by women primarily to provide a safe space for women and marginalised folks to be active. We welcome anyone who is a respectful human.
I skate on inline skates, can I come?
Yes absolutely! Your experience may be slightly different, and we may need to re-interpret some of the movements (if we do toe stop training for example) but you are more than welcome to come.
I saw there are free taster sessions in the Corn Exchange, when will there be more?
These sessions were running during August while we took a break from our regular classes. There will be more, but the dates have not yet been announced.
What is Skate and Shop Night at the Corn Exchange - can I just skate about?
We created this space for testing out wheels, as we know its easy to make expensive mistakes with wheels. We've invested in a wheel library to create a resource you can use. We have a small space available on Thursday evenings at the Corn Exchange and ask that you keep to this space, as we have not hired the whole space! As long as you are within our boundaries, it's fine to have a little skate using our wheels.
Where can I skate in Leeds?
You're right. Leeds does not have a roller rink. Yet. We've been working on building a community to support a rink for years now, and actually thanks to the pandemic, the need for such a space has really accelerated. Instead, we are using any and all flat space we can find. Lots of spaces are already fully booked with activities or don't want to have skaters in their space. Help us keep roller skaters known as being friendly and respectful when you're out and about.