Bump ‘n’ grind

Vans help Hackney Bumps revive a London skatepark for future generations
By Ella Joyce | Sport | 1 December 2021

Hackney Bumps, photography by Amanda Fordyce

Built in 1986, Hackney Bumps was pretty much left for dust after being neglected by the local community until Nick Tombs and Greg King decided to take matters into their own hands in 2019. Shortly after the first build, The Hackney Bumps Community Group was formed and the pair are now supported by a dedicated team of skaters in the form of  Daryl Nobbs, Sam Elstub, Rich Maskey, Esther Sayers and Kavita Babbar. Having refurbished the park into a haven for the local community to enjoy, the Bumps stands at the centre of a new wave of London skate culture – priding themselves on inclusivity and community spirit.

Having predominantly raised funds through DIY merch and Crowdfunder campaigns, over the past couple of years the Bumps have formed an organic relationship with skate giants Vans, who have rewarded their hard work with a $50,000 grant as part of their annual Checkerboard Day Fund, which rewards sixteen charities from around the world who share a mission of revitalising public spaces through arts, sports and culture.

Celebrating the partnership and ongoing success of Hackney Bumps, last week saw a lively turn-out of skaters rip up the park alongside local artists each leaving their tag on the graffiti wall. We also made it down to chat with Nick Tombs, Sam Elstub and Kavita Babbar about their incredible redevelopment process that has revived a London skatepark for future generations. 

Hackney Bumps, photography by Amanda Fordyce

Ella Joyce: The park was originally built in the 80s, what’s its history?
Nick Tombs: We think so yeah, it’s actually been really hard to work that out, we think it was the mid-80s.
Sam Elstub: 1986, we believe.
NT: The thing that’s mad is that it’s built on the back of the Tories dissolving the GLC [Greater London Council] and basically they spent a fortune on this place. We spoke to the old Mayor of Hackney at the time and he said it cost about £250,000 or something like that, which for the 80s is insane. He’s a lovely dude, I don’t know if that is true but if it is that’s an insane amount of money, it was knackered up until really recently but I think that it survived really well for that whole time.

EJ: What was the park like when you guys found it?
SE: Nick was the first on the scene pretty much, at the beginning of lockdown or before that actually wasn’t it? Way before that.
NT: Greg [King] and I used to come skating here, you’d come on a Saturday afternoon and maybe ten other people would be in the place, we’d spend all afternoon here but you couldn’t even push around it. Basically, people used to come and have bonfires in it and burnout mopeds. We had the same conversation over and over basically every time we came here saying someone should we really sort this shit out.

EJ: And you were the guys that stepped up to the plate.
NT: Yeah one day Greg was just like, “Shall we do it then?” and I was like, “Yeah I guess we should.” Which is cool because then it ended up actually happening, which is great.

Hackney Bumps, photography by Amanda Fordyce

“The renovations have brought new energy to this place and the amount of people who’ve started skateboarding because of it is incredible. Spaces like this have massive potential for learning. We have shown that.” – Dr. Esther Sayers

EJ: How did the initiative with Vans come about?
SE: We’ve got a relationship with Vans through all kinds of stuff, they’ve supported us with various other smaller things over the past couple years of building and they have the Checkerboard Day Fund, which is $50,000 they give to organisations they feel could benefit from that money, and obviously they know us and know the job that we’re doing down here – they seem to buy into that and want to support it even more.
NT: It’s amazing honestly.
SE: That was the biggest point you know, we don’t take money from everyone.
Kavita Babbar: We get our money through crowdfunders, making t-shirts, donations and stuff like that.
SE: It was really about what we were doing already and what we planned to do, this is just the icing on the cake really.
NT: It’s always just felt super legit, they’re not asking anything from us they’re not trying to put Vans all over the place. They’ve been really supportive.
SE: I think it’s people that actually understand what we’re doing rather than just saying, “Can we be a part of it and ride on that wave?”

EJ: Rather than a promotion for themselves, they really care about the work you guys are doing down here.
NT: Yeah exactly there’s been that level of respect shown for it.
SE: You know they’ve been here before and I think that makes the main difference to us doesn’t it.

EJ: It sounds like a really organic relationship.
SE: Exactly that, they’d be there anyway regardless of this Checkerboard Day Fund, it’s a no-brainer really.
NT: That and where we’re at with the council as well, we’ve spent so long doing everything without the council’s permission and it all being a fight. But at the same time that Vans got into it, we were in a really good place with the council and we’ve now got money behind us. It’s like the last two and a half years have just all come to a head.
KB: The support through those guys, brands like Vans and Dickies and everyone else and the local community as well, that’s all helping the space grow. It’s like no other skate park because it’s a very welcoming space, we get everyone from kids to parents to pros, everyone comes down it’s a really nice vibe.

Hackney Bumps, photography by Amanda Fordyce

EJ: What’s the next step for you?
NT: We’re going to take a bit of a break, for sure. [laughs] I think we need to take a break from everything for a while and just enjoy the Bumps.
KB: It’s the amount of work that goes into it, even just emails coming through and stuff, all the admin. All of us are in full-time work and freelancing so we just do this on the side.

“…we get everyone from kids to parents to pros, everyone comes down it’s a really nice vibe.”

EJ: It does feel like a real labour of love.
NT: Yeah absolutely. We’ll take a break but we’ll look at building again, where we’re sat right now is probably where we’ll end up building next and build this whole corner out. It’s really nice to be in a situation where we’ve got the money, we’ve also got the blessing and we do now kind of have the respect of Hackney Council, which we have not had until recently.
KB: It’s been a bit of a struggle but it kind of adds to our story I guess, making us stronger as a group.
NT: Yeah so we have more plans to build in here and the nice thing is that there’s not really any major obstacles to get past to make that happen anymore, we just have to let the council know and give them a bit of warning. We’re looking at taking this whole wasted area out here and turning it into a sort of plaza, hopefully down the line there’ll be a cafe in the park, a toilet and water fountains – all the things the park doesn’t have. There’s money from Sport England as well, so the takeover is real – it’s happening.
SE: I think that stage of it is more about integrating what we have here within these four walls with the wider park, creating a space that’s more welcoming to people who don’t skate; seating, space for smaller kids who aren’t as experienced and aren’t as confident. That’s the long plan, it’d be amazing. 
SE: I think it’s also worth mentioning, the context of the whole project is that it started off DIY basically, so there were no contracts in place, everyone was just here and pouring the concrete themselves. It’s still like that but I think the relationship with Hackney Council has made us be a little bit more legitimate with the way we go about things.
NT: We’ve worked really hard to get to this point, they stopped us building last year and we didn’t build anything for the best part of a year. We jumped through every hoop they threw at us until they got to the point where they couldn’t really deny us and that was a massive effort in itself. It’s nice to have conversations with them where you’re not treated like a naughty fucking kid for not doing what you’re told, it’s been a long road to get to this point and now it feels really really great.

Hackney Bumps, photography by Amanda Fordyce

We’ve done free skate lessons here for about three summers now, we give skateboards out to kids who come here and don’t have their own, we take local kids skating, we’re doing free skate lessons for staff from Homerton hospital…”

EJ: The design of the park was really cool, asking the community to submit designs for the build, can you tell me more about that?
SE: I actually think that’s the best part of this story. It’s the most democratic design process I’ve ever been part of as a landscape architect – this is a really good formula that we can use on other things. We proposed that we would basically invite the community to submit all of their designs and we used Instagram, email, pieces of paper put up around the place, and we got a lot of replies, about a hundred or maybe more. We then boiled those down into the ones we thought were feasible for build and what would work with the existing space. We put a shortlist together and then did polls. The people decided really and then we refined it at Betongpark [urban archetecture firm] and just made it workable, essentially it’s the community’s design that has made this happen.
NT: That’s the thing, the foundation for this design is not from Betongpark it’s from the people who are going to be using it and that is really important because the more this thing has grown the more that has become apparent. People are really invested in this place and the result is great.
KB: For the people by the people. [laughs]
SE: I think it shows how much people care – they want to take the time to model these things on their computer, to sketch them in detail.
NT: A seven-year-old kid on a sketchpad or something.
SE: All of these things we take into consideration.
KB: It’s so good to get a variety of different skateboarding abilities as well.

EJ: It really doesn’t feel like an intimidating environment, is creating that kind of environment essential?
NT: Exactly. From the start it’s always been important Bumps doesn’t come across as intimidating. The reason I feel so strongly about that is because whenever I used to see a skateboarder around here I’d be like, “Oh have you come to Hackney Bumps?” and almost every single one would say they’d never heard of it, and it’s two streets away! The only people that used to use it a lot were local people. It’s always been a really good beginner spot because of the bumps you can pump and carve around and stuff like that, even if you’re not an amazing skater. We didn’t want to steam roller it and become a spot where the local people felt unwelcome. We’ve done free skate lessons here for about three summers now, we give skateboards out to kids who come here and don’t have their own, we take local kids skating, we’re doing free skate lessons for staff from Homerton hospital – we do a lot. We’ve started to meet other charities and stuff in the area too, that’s really important to us.
KB: Yeah to get to the point, only two years in, where we can give back to the local community, I think it’s fucking amazing to spread that love throughout. It kind of consolidates us within this environment and the community we want to be in.
NT: There’s a school just there and there’s a kid called Kyle who Sam gave a board to last summer, he was down here at about 8:30am and I was like “Haven’t you got school?” and he was like “Yeah it starts at half nine.” I was like, “Well pick up a broom then,” so he’s sweeping the leaves and stuff [laughs]. We’re teaching people that this is their space.

“It’s been around as long as these other really recognised places and now I think it’s getting it’s time. The best thing for me in a design sense is that the bumps are central to the whole park” – Sam Elstub 

Hackney Bumps, photography by Amanda Fordyce

Those middle bits we were never going to change, we’ll fill in the cracks, we’ll preserve it but anything that gets added has to work with what’s originally there and that’s the thing that’s kind of sick” – Nick Tombs 

Hackney Bumps, photography by Amanda Fordyce

EJ: How are you hoping the community continues to interact with Hackney Bumps?
KB: For them to continue that when we’re old and carry on going for as long as possible.
SE: They’re the next generation that’ll take over the torch.
NT: It’s really true, we’ve got kids coming through who are like ten or twelve years old who weren’t skating a year ago but are now ripping and that’s insane.
KB: We’ve got a massive group of girls as well which is super important.
NT: We’re really proud of that.
KB: I think the next thing is actually trying to make it even more diverse, bring in more people of colour and women, creating a safe space for everyone. There’s a lot of groups out there and it’s just about making sure they’re invited.
NT: And this is probably the most kid-friendly skate park you’ll ever fucking see, most of the time it’s local people using it. I came down on Sunday last weekend, or the weekend before and there was barely an adult skating it, there were like forty kids flying around like mad. We get golden hour you know when the kids go home for dinner.
KB: We love the kids coming but at the same time it’s nice when we’re like, “Okay this is our time now.” [all laugh]

Follow Hackney Bumps on Instagram.
Hackney Bumps is located at Daubeney Fields, E9.

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