Skateboarders have always been seen as alternative, autonomous, and anti-authoritarian. Subcultures tend to recognise like-minded movements and often work closely together, assimilating many of the ethics and traits of their allied groups.
As such, skateboarding shares a kinship with alternative scenes like hip-hop, punk, DIY culture and anarchism. Indeed, the circled A appears regularly on skateboard artwork. It could also be argued that how they positively and trans-legally reclaim and repurpose public and private spaces is definitely a trait shared with more practical, community-minded anarchists.
An initiative in Doncaster is taking this one step further. A newly formed workers’ cooperative made up of skateboarders — many of whom also volunteer at the nearby Bentley Urban Farm, an “upcycled community market garden” itself run along anarchist principles — have taken over Twisted, an indoor skatepark in the shadow of Doncaster’s notorious “Doncatraz” prison. The co-op also includes members of A Commune in the North (ACitN), who have used their experience of cooperatives to build the framework for this new worker co-op.
Having anarchists involved with the formation of the co-op has not only deepened the local links between skateboarders and anarchy, it is also shaping how the co-op is rebuilding the disused café area of the Skatepark. They are creating a much-needed medium-sized music venue, a vegan café, an anarchist library, and an information centre. As with Bentley Urban Farm, the plan is propaganda through osmosis, using music, skating and other art forms to introduce people to the possibility of a better, braver, brighter way of living.
The commitment to anarchism goes beyond the boundaries of the Skatepark. As mentioned, Twisted lies in the shadow of HMP Doncaster, a Serco operated Category B private men’s prison situated in the Marsh Gate region of Doncaster (yes, that’s right, they built a prison on a swamp). The prison is consistently overcrowded, routinely housing around 1,100 inmates in a space designed for 738, many being forced to double-up 23 hours a day in cells intended for a single person.
Serco, of course, exists to make money from misery. Their business is “defence, justice and immigration,” which translates into war, incarceration and dehumanisation. Serco famously had to repay the UK government £68.5 million when caught overcharging the State for its electronic tagging services. Despite 63% of people feeling that Serco should have been stripped of all government contracts, they still have the contract to tag offenders and asylum seekers. In 2013, Serco tried to cover up sexual abuse at the Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre in Bedfordshire. In 2015, a young man lost his life in Doncatraz due to “serious failures in medical attention” under Serco’s watch, and last year, the company apologised for feeding children maggots at a hotel housing asylum seekers in the Midlands. These are just a few of the bleaker moments in Serco’s long, dark history.
Once it is completed, the co-op plans to coordinate anti-prison campaigning and a whole host of other activities from their anarchist library and info-centre. In the meantime, their work involves direct prisoner support, such as sharing snacks, smokes and jokes with newly released prisoners who walk past the Skatepark with their tell-tale see-through carrier bags on their way to life outside of State incarceration.
Twisted, ACinT and Bentley Urban Farm now offer a trio of reasons for anarchists to visit Doncaster. The library and info-centre are in their early stages, so it would be great if people could get involved and help the co-op to realise their dream. Why not pop down, catch some air, support some prisoners, and build revolutionary bonds …
3 Marsh Gate,
Doncaster DN5 8AF
~ Warren Draper
This article first appeared in the Summer 2023 issue of Freedom anarchist journal.