It’s clear to anyone visiting Sk8side; there’s an effortless sense of community here. The young people who know it are magnetised to it because of its nature, all the while it provides services that benefits young lives and advice that isn’t always easy to find.
So where did it all start and what does the future hold for Sk8side?
When Simon Woods was 16 years old, he and a group of friends started a petition for the Council to build a skate park in Ashford. In the year 2000, the skate park was opened and instantly became a place for young people to get together.
The council quickly realised that a youth centre would be the perfect addition to accommodate the large numbers of youngsters spending time in the park, and so Sk8side was born. Before then, the building now known as Sk8side acted as the changing rooms for the Stour Centre playing fields.
Originally run by CXK in partnership with Kent County Council and Ashford Borough Council, the centre offered support to young people and families providing advice and guidance to help them progress into education and employment.
The youth centre had great potential, but didn’t seem to be building as many bonds with its audience as its affiliates would have liked, despite being in such close proximity to the skate park itself. The centre needed a role model who could build bridges to those unsure about what the centre could do for them, and that’s where Simon came in. Thirteen years ago now, Simon started his youth work training, enabling him to start working and engaging with the young people that visited Sk8side.
Hiring Simon meant the centre became more appealing for young people to approach, knowing they had someone who could level with them that they knew from the skate-scene, someone they could trust.
Some time on, when the KCC began making cuts, the centre became earmarked for closure. Simon and some of his peers at Sk8side came forward with a plan to start their own business and take over the youth centre. They entered into a bid for financial support that would help keep the centre open, and despite going up against seven other organisations, their bid was successful.
Today, Sk8side continues their great work, offering support to young offenders, carers and those in foster care, as well as those who feel they need additional support in many areas of life. The youth workers give advice on mental health, sexual health, drugs and alcohol, employment and many issues that can affect young lives, helping to assist them on their journey into adulthood.
As well as the great support programmes, Sk8side balances out their work with a schedule of fun and enjoyable activities for young people to take advantage of throughout the year. By hosting skate trips and competitions, football sessions, paint-balling trips, PS4 nights and other activities, this community have a chance to bond and relax in a comfortable surrounding with friendly, familiar faces.
Sk8side also offers great opportunities to its young volunteers and forum members, including the chance to gain work experience by running the skate shop and tuck shop located within the centre. The members learn transferable skills such as how to stock-take, answer the phone, balance the books and order new products.
Fundraising is a vital part of Sk8side’s existence and is constantly running events to raise money towards keeping the youth centre open. The events often include bike rides, charity auctions, quiz nights and competitions.
The future is not certain for any business, and with such a huge job on their hands in running a worthwhile organisation and providing effective programmes for their attendees, it’s important that as a town we are supportive of their presence and understand the significance of what Sk8side do.