Concerns about future of St Albans skate park

CONCERNS have been raised about the future of a popular skate park following the announcement that its management will be changing hands next year.

As exclusively revealed by the Herts Advertiser last month, Herts County Council (HCC) decided to axe the dedicated volunteer management committee of the Pioneer Club in Heathlands Drive in April and replace them with its own organisation called Youth Connexions, which currently runs young people’s services at the facility.

The move has also left a question mark hanging over the future of the adjoining skate park – the only facility of its kind in the county – which has been popular with people of all ages for more than 20 years.

HCC has this week given assurances that the facility will remain open and won’t restrict the age limit to 13 to 19 – as they will do at the Pioneer Club – but they are not thought to own the ramps so it is unclear whether they will remain in place.

And the council is also yet to make a decision on whether or not to re-employ the experienced skate supervisors under the plans, which is also a major cause for concern among users.

Ian Crooks, 25, who grew up in Harpenden and still uses the park, has set up a Facebook campaign to keep it open which now has more than 1,000 members, a petition and he organised a skate session to highlight the importance of the facility on Monday evening.

He said: “The event went very well with a large turnout of people, many of whom travelled from other parts of the country to support the Pioneer.

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“Skateboarders and inline skaters of a wide age range banded together to prove that the skate park is a valued and much needed facility in a part of the country where indoor skate parks are scarce.”

Ian explained the current staff dedicate their time to building and maintaining the ramps, enforcing health and safety and making sure the skate park is a pleasant environment, and he said that there is a debate as to if any Youth Connexions staff could do an equal or better job.

Maya Forstater, whose seven and 11-year-old sons skate there, said: “I have always been hugely impressed by how friendly and welcoming the staff and volunteers are, taking the time to encourage young skaters and teach them new skills.

“Young people at the Pioneer don’t only learn how to do ‘ollies’, ‘half-pipes’ and the rest, but also how to take risks safely, be part of a community, persevere in their goals and teach others.

“The Pioneer seems like a perfect demonstration of the kind of thing the government is trying to encourage in its ‘big society’ strategy: people working together to build strong, active communities.”

Richard Thake, HCC’s executive member for education and skills, insisted this week that the skate park is not under threat.

He said: “The skate park is an excellent facility on offer at the Pioneer and we are going to make sure that all skaters can continue to enjoy it.

“We want young people, who are the focus of Youth Connexions’ work, to be able to use the park safely, but will make sure that older users are included too. Rumours that use of the skate park is going to be restricted to 13 to 19-year-olds are unfounded.”