By Killian Faith-Kelly
On a wintery Wednesday night, at the junction of Asylum Road and Queens Road in Peckham, 26-year-old Will Beall is filming his friend Tom skating.
Fifteen or maybe 20 times, Tom Laughlin, 34, skates up to the same concrete planter, and attempts the same trick.
If he gets it wrong, he lets out an exasperated sigh, skates back to his starting point, and tries again. If he gets it right, he gets an encouraging “yip” from a friend watching on the sidelines, skates back to his starting point, and tries again.
This, Tom tells me, is skating. A lot of trial, a lot of error.
If you’ve ever been to Queens Road, Peckham railway station on a dry evening, you will probably have seen some part of this routine.
At the very least you’ll have noticed people skateboarding there, and you might have admired, or been irritated by them, or just tried to ignore them. But they’re always there. Why?
Peter Lally, 33, has been skating outside the station since 2014, when a timber merchant’s yard was transformed into a public area with open space, smooth surfacing and – perhaps most crucially for the skaters – three concrete planters, the particular height of which caters to a broad range of skating tricks and abilities.
He says the accessibility of the spot is a big part of its appeal. “It’s a good place to start out,” he said. “People who’ve moved to London come down here not knowing anyone and they get to know people.”
That was exactly what happened to Will, in 2019. He went down alone, another skater mistook him for someone else, they got talking, and he’s been going back ever since.
Both he and Peter have made friends through skating at the spot, and extol the openness of the community that surrounds it. “Most skaters are fairly friendly,” says Peter. “If you just say hello to everyone, most people will chat to you.”
There is a skatepark in Peckham Rye Park they could go to, but the skaters say it is not lit at night, not as easy to get to, and it doesn’t have as many places to sit, or the bakery, which used to give them its leftovers for free at the end of the day.
And besides, people like Peter, Will and Tom prefer skating in places that aren’t designed for skating. It’s cooler, they say.
They do get the occasional bit of bother from a pedestrian annoyed at having to walk around them, or a homeless person from the hostel down the road, but that’s part of what this place is – an intersection. A meeting place.
“It’s a free space, what would it be otherwise?” said Peter. “Everything’s being commercialised – there aren’t many free places to just hang out anymore.”
Pictured top: Tom Laughlin, 34, kickflips outside Queens Road, Peckham railway station (Picture: Peter Lally)
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