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West Leeds gets rolling: Meet the Armley Park skaters working out and making friends

Words: Michelle Corns

Images: Holly Thompson of Flash Forward Photography:  flashforwardphotography.co.uk 

West Leeds residents have found a way to have fun, keep fit and look stylish at the same time!

Stroll past Armley Park tennis courts on an evening and you are just as likely to see roller skaters on the courts, as you are tennis players.

As the weather warms up and we ease out of lockdown, people of all ages have realised that skating on either inline or the more traditional ‘quad’ skates (ie with a wheel on all four corners) is a fabulous way to increase fitness and have fun with friends, whilst maintaining social distancing rules.

A Bramley resident, Rachel, started a social media group to reach out with other skaters in the area and membership spread far beyond the district borders – attracting skaters city-wide.

There is a problem though with using the tennis courts. They are, of course, intended for that purpose and as more people venture outside they are not always available. There is often debris like glass or pebbles on the ground, which is hazardous, when you have wheels attached to your feet.

Skaters need a smooth, flat surface and Leeds is a very hilly terrain, so even in the parks the paths are not that friendly towards skaters. There is also the problem of the distance from the car park to the tennis courts. Some skates can be heavy and it can be a long way to carry your skates, safety gear, water etc.

I caught up with three of the regular skaters in the park: Kellie, 28, Rachel, 35, and Susan, 37, to chat about why they took up roller skating as adults, how long they have been skating and also get their opinion on skating facilities in the area.

So what made you plonk a set of wheels on your feet?

Kellie: “Work had a mental health incentive to redeem up to £60 on a hobby or item that would improve mental or physical health such as eBooks, new running trainers etc, so I finally took the plunge and bought some skates! It makes me feel free. The only limitations are those I set myself (and the pothole pathways of Armley).”

Rachel: “I was browsing Leeds Inspired website in early 2020 for upcoming events and saw an upcoming roller disco advertised. Being an impulsive type I was immediately gripped by the desire to learn to skate so I could groove on wheels to funk and soul music. When I mentioned the idea to a work colleague, who’d done roller derby in the past and still went to roller discos, she responded with so much enthusiasm that I knew it was time to go for it.”

Susan: “When I was younger, I used to skate at my local leisure centre on Saturdays! A tuck shop, music, and skating in lots of circles! Skating is so uplifting; it makes me feel about 12yrs old again!! It’s a great form of exercise, brings people together and there is a growing skating community in Leeds.”

So how long have you been roller skating?

Kellie: “Almost a month.” (at the time of this interview, although now is almost two).

Rachel: “I learned the basics of skating at Roller Girl Gang’s Skate Fundamentals course in the autumn of 2020. After that, with indoor venues locked and British weather being what it is, I only skated sporadically until around March this year, and have been trying to skate regularly since then. It feels like flying! It’s a fabulous, empowering form of exercise that gets the heart pumping and helps me to build strength. Even when it gets exhausting, it’s a genuinely joyful way to move the body. As someone who’s always found other forms of exercise boring or painful this has been a real revelation and has helped me to feel really invested in improving my fitness and health. When I get home from a skate, the most frequent words out of my mouth are, “I’m so glad I skated today – it makes me feel so good!”

Susan: “I got back into roller skating via my lovely friend Paulette, around two years ago! We’d meet up at Armley tennis courts or go to a RGG skate disco or even do a few Tik Toks on skates!”

Finally, what do you think of skating facilities in the area and how could it be improved?

Kellie: “My experience is limited to Armley but the recreational facilities at the park are definitely in need of repair or at least some maintenance. Resurfacing the areas. General maintenance would be great as we are relying on other skaters to bring brooms and clean up the broken glass.”

Rachel: “Not great! In Bramley where I live there’s definitely a dearth of suitable skate spaces; it’s the combination of hills and poorly-maintained streets, footpaths, and facilities in the area. Learning to roller skate hones the eye to be on the lookout for smooth, rollable surfaces, and in my area, we’re mostly surrounded by rough asphalt, cracks, and potholes. These are pretty dangerous to skate on, especially near roads or for beginners. My go-to spot is Bramley Park, but this involves sharing space with other users of the tennis and basketball courts, which have seen much better days and can be uncomfortable to skate on.

“Sometimes I’ll travel further afield, to quiet carparks, skate parks or other public parks, but this can be difficult as I’m reliant on public transport and many of the suitable spots in Leeds take over an hour to travel to, on multiple buses which can get expensive. I’ve noticed compared to other parts of Leeds; Bramley Park’s sports courts are in particularly poor condition. The skate park in Armley Park is also in a dire state and not suitable for roller skaters.” 

Susan: “In West Leeds I roll around the tennis courts, Kirkstall Abbey, empty car parks or generally anywhere that has a smooth outdoor space.LS-Ten is Leeds indoor skate park (in Hunslet), that holds a mixture of sessions for all ages!! It’s an amazing space to roll at!

“I also decided to research the health benefits of roller skating. So… look out, here comes the science bit: according to SportsRec; skating at even a moderate pace, gives you a cardiovascular workout, can help you shed those extra lockdown pounds and can help strengthen muscles. It is also great for mental health as it releases endorphins. West Leeds skaters (and elsewhere in the city), have started to meet up and form friendships. They are made up of different levels – from absolute beginners to more experienced skaters.”

If you are thinking of joining the ever expanding squad of skaters, there are a few things that you should be aware of:

Do research, don’t just buy the prettiest or cheapest pair of skates that you find. Many of the cheaper brands sold on Amazon, are aimed at children and the plastic trucks that attach to the wheels, might not be very strong and could break. If you are willing to spend a little more, you can pick up decent skates like Rookie Artistic or Rio Roller Script for around £80. If you keep an eye out, sometimes, you can pick up good quality used skates, but if you do…check that the ankle isn’t creased as you need it to give you good protection.

The Roller Girl Gang, in the Corn Exchange have a great selection of skates and accessories and also run sessions for all abilities.

If you buy new skates, they are often factory tightened and you will need to loosen the wheels and ‘trucks’ using a simple tool. There are plenty of instructional videos on YouTube, that demonstrate how to do this.

You may need different wheels than the ones that come with your skates, as outdoor wheels are softer and gummy to stick to the surface, whereas indoor wheels are harder. Changing the wheels is really easy and a great way to customise your skates. It’s also a good excuse for owning several pairs of roller skates.

Don’t be in a rush…there is no time-limit, and everyone learns at different paces. There are always people willing to help and give advice. Practice at home, on carpet or on grass until you feel confident with wheels on the bottom of your feet. Learn how to find your centre of gravity. Watch educational videos like Planet Roller Skate or Dirty School of Skate, they often break down the movements bit by bit. Practice the same movements until you feel confident.

Please, wear protective pads – especially on your wrists and knees. A good set like REKD, aren’t too expensive and will be worth it in the long run.

Practice falling onto your knees with pads on, this will help you get over the fear of falling. If you are worried about falling backwards, wear crash shorts to protect your coccyx. I personally recommend this from experience.

Above all – have fun. The skating community in Leeds, is very friendly and inclusive. LS-Ten, The roller rink in Hunslet is now open and hosts quad nights on Fridays but places are limited due to Covid restrictions and soon fill up.

My final comments: As a relative new skater myself, the facilities in the area are not great, we are making the best of a bad situation and skating on the tennis courts. In fact only last night, I was on the tennis court with another skater, and we had to abandon it as it was so hazardous!

There are facilities and events across the city, but unless you can drive this means that you may be looking at an hour’s bus ride, with your skates, pads and helmet, just to get there. Skating is exhilarating but it also uses a lot of energy.

Please Leeds City Council, give us some decent skating facilities in West Leeds!

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