By Tilly

The Grove skatepark was born out of the lockdown in 2020. As society shut down, young people were stuck at home, anxious but increasingly bored. Before long, some skaters spotted potential in the neglected car park, the word spread like wildfire and they clubbed together to turn the space into a DIY skatepark. The activity gave them a momentary respite from the devastating reality, a sense of camaraderie, being physically active as well as productive, and most importantly, having a space to skate.

As soon as the DIY skatepark was established, however, the landowners wanted us out. We organised what was meant to be the farewell skate event, but that "farewell" event caught the attention of a wider audience, who were desperately in need of a feel - good story during the pandemic, and the support flooded in. A Dulwich resident got in touch with a local councillor and persuaded the councillor to negotiate an informal ‘temporary’ use with the landowners on behalf of the skaters - and the rest is history. We still face uncertainty about our future, but that never dampens our love and passion for The Grove.

About half of all users are 11 - 15 years old, a further quarter are 16 - 20 years and the rest are adults. The adults are the main driving force in terms of gardening, skate obstacle construction and maintenance work, but the teenagers are the core population who spend the most hours in The Grove. Professional skateboarders and pro inline skaters grace The Grove from time to time, and some keen skaters visit The Grove from all parts of the UK.

 All activities in The Grove are self - initiated and implemented by the people who frequent it. The majority of activities are self - funded, but we’ve learnt to be resourceful and do things within our means. No formalised structure or roles exist - the assumption is that "by deed the role will find you". The Grove community expects everyone to take an interest in its success. This helps to distribute a sense of community evenly regardless of age, background or tenure in The Grove. The youths are encouraged to develop a sense of ownership of the place and look after the site within their own ability (no matter how limited their ‘ability’ might be).

I stumbled on The Grove project in 2020 and, purely on a whim, I decided to help out ‘a little bit’ which led to me now visiting nearly every day and writing this article two years on. Who knew? I do most of the skatepark maintenance work as a volunteer, oversee the state of The Grove community and advocate externally when required.

The skatepark obstacle builds are initiated by a cluster of skaters, with more planned for the spring - summer period, thanks to the support from individuals, local businesses, skateboarding brands and Skateboard GB (the official body for selecting the Team GB skateboarders for the Olympics). Our most immediate need is access to onsite tap water. We simply don’t have access to a physical tap within The Grove, although we are willing to pay the water bill.

Gardening

The gardening project saw phenomenal growth in 2022, and the gardening team has been tirelessly working throughout winter in preparation for the 2023 season. There are still small patches of brambles intentionally left for biodiversity, but the rest of the garden area has been fully landscaped, thick brambles painstakingly uprooted one by one, and the soil has been lovingly prepared with organic compost for the joy of growing flowers and vegetables in 2023. From a humble beginning, the gardening project is now a fully - fledged entity in its own right. There are some sporadic workshops and small events in the pipeline for the warmer months. All will be announced on Instagram @the_grove_community_garden when confirmed. Any enquiries please email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Graffiti / Visual Work

We encourage graffiti artists to work strictly within The Grove perimeters. We don’t condone unauthorised visual work outside The Grove; instead, we appeal to this population to use The Grove for their creativity and spare the surrounding properties. In this respect, The Grove functions as a free street art studio / gallery combined.

As a side note, graffiti artists, though often seen as mindless vandals, have their own unspoken code of conduct. A poignant example is the graffiti work ‘Sarah Everard’ which appeared on The Grove pub building wall in 2021 in response to her brutal murder. This graffiti work has not been destroyed by any other artists, as of March 2023, for over 1½ years, which is a remarkably long period of time for a graffiti work to remain intact. In contrast, a recent graffiti work on the adjacent wall was painted over with newer graffiti within a few days.

Conclusion

It is often a frustrating and occasionally stressful effort to deal with youths, but we’d rather not exclude anyone, partly because it is physically impossible to enforce, but also some of the youths may be dealing with extra burdens, be it domestic, financial, emotional or physical. We believe youths (and anyone, really!) need a place where they are allowed to make mistakes, learn from them, and remain in the community to grow up. We don’t tolerate abuse or high - risk behaviours, but usually a quiet, friendly chat or two would set the youth on the right path. And when you get to know them on a personal level, you’ll glimpse their caring and tender side hidden under their scruffy, rebellious outlook.

The Grove gives local youths a unique opportunity to be closer to nature, be creative, be independent, be resourceful and have fun in a post - apocalyptic - chic ramshackle ambience. The adults only step in for minimum safety and welfare reasons, and we continually appeal for self - moderation amongst the youths. We believe such experiences will touch their personality and broaden their horizons. The Grove is a shrine to their childhood ­ this even applies to adults!