Roller-skating has brought old and young, beginner and pro skaters together to dance their troubles away in tough times. And Victoria Park is the place to be.
‘March 16 is when I got my skates,’ says Tre Rodrick-Forde, 25, from Tottenham. ‘Ever since I’ve been working on it every day. The only day I don’t skate is when it’s raining.’
Though he dabbled in ice-skating as a child, Rodrick-Forde is one of many who dusted off their skates during the lockdowns and joined in, side by side, with East London’s already well-established community of skaters.
Attracted in part by the nostalgia for childhood joys that has seeped into our consciousness in the past 18 months – think school cake, board games and 90’s fashion – roller-skating is a low cost, socially distanced activity for the warmer months.
With its smooth tarmacked paths and welcoming vibes, Victoria Park is the ideal spot to feel the breeze blowing past or dance in the sun, attracting skaters from all over London. During the first lockdown the People’s Park was closed to the public, but open once more it is humming with activity.
Gathering in Victoria Park on Saturday afternoons with their camping chairs, music systems and colourful, often customised quad-skates, this is simultaneously a tight-knit community and porous, undefined group.
‘It just takes one friendly person to bring you into the community,’ says Indija Anderson, a dancer based in Hackney Wick who also started skating in March this year, and was waved over to join in a routine.
While Victoria Park is perfect for street skating – its wide external loop is the ideal long flat surface on which to pick up some speed – jam skating is what we’re here for today. Like many passers-by, we sit down on the grass and enjoy the show; an audience is always welcomed.
A more technical type of skating involving precise footwork, routines and choreographed moves, this could easily be classed as a form of dance, though, ‘put on a pair of skates for eight hours and you’ll believe it’s a sport,’ says Rodrick-Forde.
Unlike competitive sports, however, there’s no sense of one-upmanship. It’s both an independent activity where individuality is celebrated with customised skates and bright outfits, as well as a community where moves are constantly swapped and taught.
‘No one’s too big for you here. You know that saying, “you’re only as strong as your weakest link”? We want to see everyone progress here,’ says Rodrick-Forde.
This supportive nature is what makes the community feel like a family. Leigsha Peter, 39, Romford, has been skating as an adult for 11 years, but remembers skating as a child with her uncle, too. She runs the Instagram account mym8skates, showcasing some of the best moves in London.
‘Skating is a big family, we’re all about teaching and helping each other’ she says.
‘It doesn’t matter your age or where you’re from, so long as you’ve got skates on,’ says Peter.
Brought up in Hackney, Erbi Rassim, 47, now lives in Kent where he works teaching salsa and tango. Having dabbled in skating as a child, he picked up his skates three months ago.
‘There was no dancing in lockdown so I had to do something. Skating’s not too different from dancing so it took me a few months to get back in the swing of it.
It’s like a family here. They don’t skate in Kent, it’s boring, they’re too worried about falling over.’
Rollerskating has a long and rich history in black British culture, with roller discos first becoming popular in the 1960s among black and LGBT people as a safe space for self-expression and escapism.
The lockdown boom has led to many who may have previously had little interaction with skating giving it a go, but this is no new fad. Skating has been popular in East London long before government-sanctioned daily exercise became a part of our lives.
Across the Olympic Park, the Stratford Shopping Centre has been a special place for skaters from across London to gather and skate since the 80s. An indoor pedestrian thoroughfare open 24-hours a day, it’s smooth mall floors are the perfect surface for wheels.
‘My dad skated in the 90s and that’s what got me into skating. It’s important to remember the people who paved the way for this,’ says Rodrick-Forde.
Everyone here today has a love for Victoria Park, with the group noticeably conscientious with how they treat the space. Music is no louder than many of the birthday parties or gatherings held in the People’s Park, and they make sure to leave the area spotless at the end of the day.
This is one of a handful of places that’s suitable for wheels, without potholes, cars or other sports dominating the space.
‘We want more spaces to skate in,’ says Rodrick-Forde. ‘Just give us one court, you know, when you’re thinking of building more tennis courts, only four people at a time are going to use it. But twenty of us could be skating in that space. And we’re just asking for one.’
In times of crisis roller-skating has long provided a joyous form of escapism for those seeking support from a family of their own choosing. As Victoria Park continues to attract experienced and fresh skaters to dance together, this is one craze we hope is here to stay.
Photography by Anna Baldwin
If you liked this, have a read of this piece on Sporting Bengal: the FC tackling racism in football
Can you help us?
As a not-for-profit media organisation using journalism to strengthen communities, we have not put our digital content behind a paywall or membership scheme as we think the benefits of an independent, local publication should be available to everyone living in our area.
If a fraction of the local 40,000 residents donated two pounds a month to Roman Road LDN it would be enough for our editorial team to serve the area full time and be beholden only to the community. A pound at a time, we believe we can get there.