Skateboarders mark ‘end of era’ at Bristo Square

Skateboarders will have to find a new place to skate. Picture: Greg Macvean

Skateboarders will have to find a new place to skate. Picture: Greg Macvean

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In a slightly fuzzy photograph from 1994, a few dozen teenagers are gathered on the steps of McEwan Hall, skateboards in the foreground.

Now, 21 years later, the boys are back – many with demanding jobs, some with kids, but all of them with their skateboards keen make the most of a cultural landmark that they fear will soon be lost.

A group of around 20 veteran skaters braved the rain yesterday to gather on their old stomping ground for one last hurrah.

Edinburgh University’s plans to refurbish McEwan Hall will see much of the street furniture and stonework in Bristo Square completely replaced.

It has been used as a skate park since the 1980s, with many who turned up yesterday regular visitors since they were teenagers, or even younger.

Engineer Antonio Natillo, from Galashiels, told of his disappointment at plans that will likely see the birthplace of street-skating in Scotland lost forever.

The skateboarders wave goodbye to their old haunt. Picture: Greg Macvea

The skateboarders wave goodbye to their old haunt. Picture: Greg Macvea

He said: “It’s a shame. I’m not even allowed to put double glazing in my windows because of the planning rules, but they seem able to get rid of a monument.

“Every city around the world has its own skating Mecca, and this is Edinburgh’s, and everybody from anywhere who knows anything about skating and comes to Scotland, wants to come to Bristo.

“I’ve been skateboarding since I was about eight, and I’m 36 this year. When my parents came up to Edinburgh to see my grandmother, I’d go skateboarding at Bristo. A lot of groups of friends have been created around here. Hopefully that can continue, but obviously not if they plan to take it away. It’s really valuable. It’s more than skateboarding, it brings together totally diverse people. We’ve all got different backgrounds, but we’ve got one thing in common. It’s just like tennis, or cricket, or rugby – we choose skateboarding, but it’s not catered for.”

Mr Natillo added that while most city skaters now used a purpose-built facility at Saughton Park, it didn’t have the history, charm or convenience of Bristo Square.

It’s a shame. I’m not even allowed to put double glazing in my windows because of the planning rules, but they seem able to get rid of a monument.”

Antonio Natillo

Only the ornamental lamp in the south-west corner of the square will remain, but even that will be dismantled and put into storage before being returned to a new location. The square itself will become a circular amphitheatre made of rings of stone steps, with a new glass pavilion acting as an entrance to refurbished space within the basement of the 19th century hall.

Underbelly, which operates a festival venue in the square during August, will not appear at the site this year and next while the work is being carried out.

Ali Menzies, chairman of Skateboarding Scotland, said that while the square was “a bit knackered” and needed improvement, it should remain skateboard-friendly.

The 38 year-old finance worker from Edinburgh said: “I’ve skated here since 1991. It’s a long time. For years we didn’t have a skate park in Edinburgh, until almost 2010.

“Before that all we used to skate was the street, and Bristo was the place to be. People were coming from around the country.

“It was a place we could come and not get much hassle. The police were cool with it, because we weren’t doing any harm. I just hope they replace it with something that’s skateable,” he said. “This feels like the end of an era.”