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‘Unmet need’ for Wollongong skate parks filled by DIY spaces | Illawarra Mercury

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‘Unmet need’ for Wollongong skate parks filled by DIY spaces | Illawarra Mercury

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A petition to review the decision to dismantle the Port Kembla DIY skate park has attracted nearly 1000 signatures in less than 48 hours. Port Kembla resident and Greens Ward 3 candidate Jess Whittaker began the petition after feeling “blindsided” by Wollongong City Council’s decision to dismantle the park. “We’d been working together and Council staff had been supportive and then we felt like this just came out of the blue,” she said. Mrs Whittaker had been involved in the construction of the facility and said the skate park had the overwhelming support of the community. “There was just a real sense of pride that we’d done something and we loved it. It was safe, a great community space and our kids can walk down there by themselves.” Read more: Amphetamine trafficking doubles in Wollongong in last year For Austinmer design academic and illustrator Pat Grant, the Port Kembla DIY skate park provided a lifeline during lockdown as a place to get out to with his son and exercise. Having skated when he was younger, Mr Grant had given up the sport for years, but found on his return that a very different culture had grown up around skateboarding. “The skate parks that I was spending all this time at were places where young people, and particularly young men, were really looking after each other,” he said. Mr Grant became involved in the community that was behind the Port Kembla skate park and ended up designing a t-shirt to raise funds for improvements to the park that sold out, raising $2500. Port Kembla is not the only location where a DIY skate park has popped up in the Illawarra. Skaters have found and repurposed neglected areas around the region to support their sport, from underused car parks, to construction sites and vacant lots. One of the most popular DIY skate parks has been a location known to local skaters as Mavs. Wollongong skater Marlon Roche explained how the name came about. “It’s got a sign called Mavricki’s Chicken, so everyone just calls it Mavs,” he said. Maintained under a tacit agreement between senior skaters and the site’s owner, the site drew in skaters due to its central location and variety of railings, ramps and bars constructed by skaters. Earlier this year, the site was dismantled ahead of construction of a tower block on the vacant and adjacent lots. Mavs and other DIY spots filled a role that Council-constructed skate parks, which are often highly popular for younger skaters, couldn’t, said Mr Roche. “The skate parks are fun to warm up at and then if you want to go try some serious tricks and document them, usually you want to go to a more street-style spot, and a DIY will offer that kind of aesthetic.” Despite this appeal, other communities in Wollongong have been pushing for a formal skating spot for years. Austinmer resident Josh Landman began a petition in 2020 for a skate park in Thirroul as a safer alternative to DIY spots and more accessible for northern suburbs residents who would otherwise need to travel to Helensburgh or Fairy Meadow. “Within days we had well over 1000 signatures,” he said. While Wollongong Council has committed to a CBD skate park in 2023/24-2024/25 and a park in the northern suburbs in 2023/24, Mr Landman said there was a longstanding desire from the community that was only just beginning to be addressed. “There’s clearly a demand and an unmet need.” Mrs Whittaker said that skate parks provided an important place for an often forgotten about demographic. “My heart breaks a bit for young people. They’ve got climate change, they can’t afford houses, there’s not a lot of hope out there. But we can give them a strong sense of community and a skate park is one of the best ways that you can offer,” she said. “For a young person who’s a bit disillusioned, doesn’t know where they fit in the world, well, they fit at a skate park.” To read more stories, download the Illawarra Mercury news app in the Apple Store or Google Play.

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