Reclaration: the new heritage

The Southbank Centre in London is a rare and special place; a landmark brutalist monument and part of one of the the most important clusters of artistic buildings in the UK.

Within its underbelly lies something completely different: the Southbank Undercroft.

Long Live Southbank – a non-profit organisation – tell us why the Undercroft and its diverse creative community is of great value:

Queen Elizabeth Hall _ Southbank Undercroft 2008 c Historic England DP049537
Queen Elizabeth Hall and Southbank Undercroft 2008 © Historic England DP049537

This is one of the world’s most significant skateboarding spots, highly influential to thousands across the globe. Spanning far beyond skateboarding, it affects and directs the worlds from fashion to photography, street art to architecture. It is a self-determining space of unrestricted creativity, a community-led hub and a hive of artistic energy.

Located along the south side of the River Thames between Waterloo Bridge and Hungerford Bridge, the Southbank Undercroft stands out as a timeline of expressive minds with its iconic 1960s mushroom columns seamlessly meeting the graffiti and street of our modern times. There are few places which have such a strong natural buzz about them. It is also a space which at first glance some would dismiss – it’s not often a space so graffiti covered makes claims at heritage.

Southbank 1976 by Brian Gittings
Southbank (1976) by Brian Gittings

The debates around heritage are changing. In terms of iconic architecture, the Southbank Undercroft was created comparatively recently, in the 1960s. It is covered and re-covered in graffiti on a daily basis: it’s artworks unpreserved and unpreservable.

Savannah Keenan Southbank
Savannah Keenan skating at the Southbank. Image by Jenna Selby

It holds a huge weight of value to many in a highly personal way. It is a school; decade after decade the older generations of Southbank Undercroft users and residents have looked out for and mentored the youngers. It has been a playground, a rare place of release in the over commercialised city. It has seen some of the most important and exciting tricks in the history of UK skateboarding and it still holds, behind layers and layers of paint, some landmark pieces of artwork.

Ryan-Decenzo-Frontside-Flip- photo by CJ - D76V6900
Canadian Skateboarder Ryan Decenzo in mid frontside flip photo by CJ – D76V6900

A different kind of heritage

Users of the space are aware of its history and importance. Skateboarders from all over the world flock to see which sequenced line of tricks they can make within the space that their predecessors didn’t; weaving a new line of thread into the spaces history. Many of these tricks are immortalised in the ever-growing collection of chips and scratches etched into the concrete. The tops of the banks and the stairs bear the marks of skaters who are now legendary.

Ocean skateboarding at the Southbank Undercroft. Image by Katie Edwards

A kind of modern day cave painting, the owners of which are lost in a pool of thousands of other artists, each making their mark without a signature.

Reclaration

That is where we come in. Long Live Southbank was first formed in 2013 in response to the threatened closure of the space. Our first tasks were to officially and legally preserve the spot free from any future redevelopment.  Then we turned our focus to restoring long lost parts of the Undercroft. The future is looking bigger and brighter.

Southbank 2017 by Nick Constant
Southbank 2017 by Nick Constant

We are working alongside Southbank Centre to restore legendary sections of the Undercroft which have remained hidden behind hoardings since 2004. They are underused areas which could be of great significance to the creative future of London and a huge asset to the community which inhabit the space, just on the other side of a partition wall. The return of these sections would give buoyancy to the atmosphere, give an air of entirety to the landscape and let the spaces true charisma fill out.

Southbank Undercroft 2008
Southbank Undercroft 2008 © Historic England DP04536

To present the new ideas which surround this project and because we felt there was not yet an apt descriptive word to explain it, we created a new word: ‘reclaration’;

A self-initiated restoration of tangible and intangible aspects of the built environment by its resident/s, with the aim to reclaim and develop an eroded atmosphere.

The world is increasingly muddled: we are increasingly estranged from our roots. That means there is all the more reason to preserve and support places like Southbank, which can give a true feeling of rootedness in a very modern sense.

Robbie Hunter double deck handstand roll, 1970s Southbank. Image by Cath Hunter.

Unlocking the Undercroft

With planning permission granted, the only barrier now is funding. Our fundraising campaign combines the restoration of the hidden-away historic sections of the spot with the creation of a new Schools and Young People’s Centre for Southbank Centre, generating more creative opportunities for local residents and visitors to the site.

 

We’re crowdfunding to raise £790,000 for the project.

There are many ways to help. You can donate, purchase a product or crowdfunding reward or sign up to our new Company Supporters scheme for small to large organisations and corporations. You can express an interest at supporters@llsb.com and regular donations can be made at www.llsbdonate.com. Spreading the word and sharing the messages also helps us engage with people far and wide. Ideas and suggestions can be sent to us at hello@llsb.com.

It is a hugely exciting time with a great future for the spot within touching distance. We hope to continue bringing people together in a collective appreciation for community and culture as we reach out for your support.

Written by Long Live Southbank for Heritage Calling 

1 response to Reclaration: the new heritage

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