By Mel Blackwood @troubleon8wheels
I was skating at Friday Night Social last night and recall thinking how grateful I am for that space. I found myself contemplating how interesting that what we create is shaped by our experiences.
In 2021, as we started to consider how to support the enlarged roller skate community with sessions, using public spaces (like parks or car parks) was out of the question for me. Learning to roller skate as an adult is a very courageous thing to do! Learning by yourself is challenging enough, but at least you can decide to have a go either in a small space at home, or try to find a quiet spot for one.
Learning as part of a group is an entirely different experience.
We are concerned that
· We will get lost on the way and be late, having to do a walk of shame into class
· We will fall and badly hurt ourselves
· We will be laughed at when we fall
· We will be the oldest one there
· We will be the ‘worst’ one there (the person who doesn’t manage to ‘get it’ by the end of the session.
Trying to address all these concerns is a big ask but a necessary one, if we are going to create spaces where women feel safe to try. I recently learned the term ‘psychological safety’ and think this is a very apt description of our work. We focus on women, as statistics show that women and girls' participation in physical activity drops off during the teenage years and is markedly lower in adulthood. The benefits to both physical and mental wellbeing through activity is completely missed, so we are trying to reverse that trend.
We found a private outdoor space - Bodington Fields outdoor cycle track to hold classes - so the next issue was ensuring there were enough existing skaters to support the skaters.
Hello skate marshalls. These lovely folks’ main role is to support wellbeing. That means, to check in and chat with folks coming to the sessions. Provide connection. I simply wanted people to be remembered and understand they are important. So that ultimately, they keep skating. I'm extremely grateful to our OG skate marshall crew from 2021. They watched every part of that mile-long track! Some have gone on to be instructors while life has taken others in different directions. It's to be expected, after all, roller skating should fit in with your life. Now, we are using the sports hall at the Ramgarhia Sikh centre on Chapeltown Road.
Why do I want people to keep skating? Because if there are enough skaters, our town will be able to sustain a rink. It doesn’t matter to me if I am the one to open it or not, it just matters that there is a space. In some ways, I really hope someone else will open it, as thinking about the amount of work to open and run a leisure space like a roller rink makes me shiver slightly. I’m up for the challenge though if no one else is.
Why safe spaces for women and marginalised genders though? It’s the sad truth that folks who identify as female, non-binary, queer, identify as LGBTQIA2S+, have a disability or are neurodivergent, are Black, Brown, Yellow or have mixed heritage find many spaces difficult to feel truly comfortable in. One of my values is authenticity – if folks cannot be truly themselves, I am not meeting my own core value. I believe that by creating spaces that puts women and marginalised folks first, a more respectful space is created for everybody. Roller skating demands more care for everyone in the room. The risk of collision is high, so having a room full of people who skate without consideration would be tragic. Therefore, it is the responsibility of every skater to skate within their limits and control.
By creating this expectation, everyone benefits. Plenty of people of all genders like spaces that provide more support as they start out. Once they feel confident, it is natural to explore further afield. We have seen many skaters head to roller derby or the skate park - surprised by their own increased confidence. We have also seen skaters who come back week on week ready for connection.
I am grateful for our space.
What are you grateful for?