I recently had the privilege of speaking at the Youthwork Summit on Re:verse – a spoken word poetry project for young people I run. Here’s my talk, with two of our young poets giving some amazing performances…
The Table is a space for pioneering youth and community workers to gather together for conversation, sustenance and learning. It’s being curated by CYM (Institute for Children, Youth and Mission), FYT (Frontier Youth Trust)’s StreetSpace community and CMS (Church Mission Society).
Using creative and participative processes, we want to learn from each other, dream new dreams and explore some of the specific issues related to working in pioneering contexts. We hope it will be a place where theory and practice collide, where ideas can be discussed openly and rooted back into the every day.
We’ll be running a series of events throughout the year, kicking off with ‘Tensions Around the Table’ on Monday 13th October, 10am – 4pm at Bristol CYM. Tickets are £15 (plus a small booking fee) which includes lunch, and are available to buy here – thetableevent.eventbrite.co.uk.
Youth and community work has always been at the forefront of pioneer practice. Tensions Around the Table aims to facilitate conversations to keep pushing effective and inclusive pioneer practice and thinking forward.
Jonny Baker (CMS), Richard Passmore (FYT), Sian Hancock (CYM), Jo Dolby (CYM) and many others will be helping us to explore the many things we have to hold in tension in pioneering practice. How do we respect the existing tradition but pioneer away from it? How can we plan and organize but remain spontaneous and flexible? Is our work about revolution or socialization? We’ll be looking at the role paradox plays in pioneering practice, the tensions that arise within it as well as unpacking the paradox of being a young person. We will develop a creative space to explore how these paradoxes and tensions can be imaginatively rooted into practice.
The Table is a place where all are welcome, where grace is more important that manners and where no one voice is louder than another. It is an open table with a place set for you. Come and join us!
One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever been given, is that ideas you have now, are not always for now. Sometimes an idea needs time to grow, evolve, develop. It needs to be pruned and refined. It needs to be pulled apart and criticized by people who love you and understand the context of the idea. I love ideas. I have them all the time. Sometimes I have so many ideas they drive me insane. I am thankful for my ‘ideas’ notebook, which is filled with projects, dreams, film ideas and book plans. Some of those ideas have been done, some of them will get done and some of them may never happen. Ideas are fun.
I want to tell you about one idea, because it’s an idea I would like to be refined and pruned. It’s one of those ideas that won’t leave me alone, and I think that even though it’s kind of a big one, one day it might actually happen. It’s shaped from all the different parts of me – my experience as a youth worker, my love of art, film and creativity, my desire to see as many people as possible come to know and love God in a way that is meaningful and relevant to them…and my weird obsession with abandoned buildings and large empty industrial spaces (I once cried in the Turbine Hall in the Tate Gallery in London because it was so beautiful. It was empty). So here goes, drum roll please, introducing…The Shell.
At the grand old age of 19, I moved to Bath to begin a degree in youth work and set up a project for Bath Youth for Christ with the aim of reaching and working with the skate community. What followed was seven amazing years of ups and downs, lessons learned, God doing way beyond anything I could have asked or imagined and most importantly…young people being transformed. The project came to a close in August 2011 and this page is a space for the project to be remembered through pictures, stories and film. Scroll down to read it all or have a look at the ‘in this section’ menu on the right hand side. Enjoy!
I was 15 years old, expressing my views rather loudly as normal at my youth group.
That week I had been skateboarding on Nottingham city centre’s Market Square with my friends as usual. Two policemen had approached our group and informed us that we were not allowed to skateboard here, and if we continued, our boards would be confiscated. I told the policeman I would stop skateboarding if he told the mountain bikers across the other side of the square to stop cycling. He told me it ‘wasn’t the same’ and refused to continue the conversation.
Later that day we went to a church car park, only to be greeted by a big sign saying ‘no skateboarders’. Not even ‘no skateboarding’, but ‘no skateboarders’. I was really angry. More than just a little bit angry. It wasn’t about not being able to skateboard where I wanted, it was about people’s attitudes and prejudice towards skaters, towards young people who were ‘a bit different’, it was about people’s irrational fear of subcultures. It was about a church that was supposed to love young people, but instead put up signs to keep them away.
My rant became a preach, as I told my friends about the Jesus I knew, who didn’t just love subcultures and marginalized people, but who actually made a conscious and deliberate effort to seek out those people. The Jesus who stepped into peoples boats, who went to all the places no one would go, who got into trouble because of who he hung out with and what he said.
Then came the idea.
A project, run by Christians, not just to include subcultures, but to actually target them.
It was a great idea. But I couldn’t do it. You see I wasn’t good enough. I was one those ‘annoying’ kids in the youth group. The one who did lots of stupid things and distracted others, the one who questioned everything, the one who was always too honest, about everything. The one who had been through a lot of bad stuff. The one who the youth workers breathed a sigh of relief about when I didn’t show up.
Two years passed, and I was half way through A levels I was failing. My tutor suggested I explored other avenues, my teachers said I wouldn’t amount to anything because I couldn’t focus and apply myself. I had to leave, or they would have made me leave. Which to be honest, was fair enough. Most of the time I turned up stoned, and when I was there I was arrogant, distracting and sarcastic. I lived a double life of being a Christian who went to church on Sundays, but failed miserably to put anything I believed into practice during the week.
Suddenly, glandular fever hit. All I could do was lie in bed and think. I thought about me, I thought about God, I thought about my life. I thought about where I was headed. And I thought about that day, at youth group, about that idea. I thought about those skaters, on the market square, untouched by the church. And I knew I had to make my choice.
I left Nottingham at 17 to take a gap year with the only organization who accepted year out volunteers under 18 with no money. I was placed with a church, and a Youth for Christ centre. Within six weeks I knew youth work was my calling. I gave up skateboarding, but skateboarders remained burned on my heart. I couldn’t avoid them. I kept thinking about that idea. Someone should do that I thought. But not me, because people like me don’t do stuff like that. I’m not good enough.
I did a second gap year, and during my second year, the national director of Youth for Christ at the time, Roy Crowne, came to speak at an event in our city. We had dinner with him, and I told him about my idea. I got excited as he thought it was good, and said ‘you should do it’. He asked me whether I’d ever written my idea down.
That night I poured my heart out onto a piece of A4. The project would be called ‘One Eighty’. It would provide young people with great skate facilities, but most importantly, it would allow young people the opportunity to turn their lives around, to repent, to change their minds, to move from a life without God to a life with God, to ‘One Eighty’.
That night as I slept, I dreamt of a skate event, that I was running.
I saw a set of double doors, with glass windows.
Beyond the glass windows was a massive group of skaters, queuing down some steps, onto the road, waiting to get in. To this skate event, to the first ever ‘One Eighty’.
The next day I marched into the venue and told Roy about the idea. I expected him to take my idea and make it happen, but what he said in response definitely surprised me. He vaguely glanced at the piece of paper I had spent nearly all night working on. And he just said one sentence, and walked off, which I will never forget. “You better get on with it then. Because if you don’t do it, then no one will”.
I had another choice to make.
More time passed, and now I was nineteen years old. I had arrived for my first day at work at Bath Youth for Christ, as their new ‘Skate Outreach Worker’. My job was to turn this idea into reality, to make One Eighty happen, as my placement as part of my youth work degree. I had no qualifications. I was a teenager. I still wasn’t very good at being a Christian during the week. All I had was a desk, and a chair. That was it. No money, no team, no resources, nothing. A broken, unqualified, insecure, lonely teenager, full of pain and questions and anger and fear.
I did a survey of local skaters, to find out their views and needs. I spent time at the skate park getting to know people. I introduced myself at the skate shops. I wrote a business plan. I worked out how much money we would need. There was a lot of zeros. I told the trustees what I wanted to do. They were amazing, and were up for giving it a go. We agreed to hold a test event, where we could try the ramps we wanted to buy, and see whether the need was really there. If there were more than 100 people, then we would go ahead and launch One Eighty as a project.
The launch event date arrived. We had a great venue, we had the ramps hired, we had the volunteers, we had a logo, we had the press coming, we had a great DJ, we had the local skate team coming to give a demo, we had everything. One hour until we opened, and everything went wrong. The DJ was stuck in traffic, the people bringing the ramps were lost, I had forgotten about five hundred things. Half an hour to go and everything arrived, we just about got it all up and running in time.
Five minutes to go and I remembered that I hadn’t put up the signs on the front door. We hadn’t arrived through the front door where the young people would be arriving, we had entered with the equipment through a side door. I walked very quickly with the signs in my hand, and as I approached the entrance my heart leaped out of my chest, and I dropped the signs on the floor.
I saw a set of double doors, with glass windows.
Beyond the glass windows was a massive group of skaters, queuing down some steps, onto the road, waiting to get in. To this skate event, to the first ever ‘One Eighty’.
My dream just came true. That had never happened before. We saw 400 young people come through the door that day. It was absolute chaos. I loved every second of it. I wasn’t sure, but I think there was a need for a skate project. I think there was a need for ‘One Eighty’.
Graff was a youth project that developed from the skate project (see 180) as young people who were into skating were very often also into graffiti.
We worked in partnership with the local council, Youth Offending Team and council youth service to deliver a weekly project that gave young people a safe and legal space to develop their skills as artists. As a result of the project graffiti statistics in the city reduced massively and we were able to divert young people from illegal graffiti into legal art.
This page is a space to share stories, photos, films, policies and other useful information from the project.
Having a mobile skate park in a trailer that weighs over a ton is great, but also involves some slightly annoying practicalities, such as needing quite a meaty vehicle to tow it. At first I’d recruited some local volunteers with tow bars on their cars to help us transport the trailer whenever we had a session.
After a couple of burnt out clutches and near death experiences, we decided we needed our own vehicle. We put an advert in our newsletter, and amazingly someone from a local church gave us a vehicle that could tow the trailer easily. This became lovingly known as, ‘the Shogun’; a ten year old automatic three litre four by four. Here she is:
We had our own vehicle, nice one God. But it was ten years old, and it wasn’t long before the dashboard did its own little disco every time you put the key in, and lights came on I didn’t even know it had. In the end we had to ignore the lights, because we didn’t really know what was actually a problem and what was just the disco. Then came the genie lamp sign. This was the light that just stayed on all the time, no matter what we did. Apparently some people call it the oil light. Anyway it became obvious the car was on its way to motor vehicle heaven and that we needed to think of something fast, because without a vehicle, our project doesn’t really work. I had a plan that we could just put another advert in the newsletter, and that, just like last time, a nice big free four by four would arrive on our doorstep and save the day. Guess what? That didn’t happen.
We had some visitors from another youth project, and I was sharing the vehicle problem with them. I told them my next plan was to look around some local garages and find a cheap old vehicle that would do the job for a bit longer, meaning I wouldn’t have to raise loads of money and do anything that scary. A youth worker from the visiting project, said to me;
“What vehicle do you really want? What would be the absolute best vehicle you need for this project?”
In a moment of fantasy we discussed Land Rovers, Hummers, Nissan Navaras, Monster Trucks, Helicopters, newer Shoguns, and loads of other massive four by fours that would do the job perfectly. We looked at websites, watched YouTube videos, and laughed and joked about our dream vehicle. After saying something like ‘oh well, back to reality’, my other youth project friend said something that challenged me to my core;
“You are saving the lives of young people. What you are doing is of the highest importance and you should have the very best equipment to do it with. Our God is big, and nothing is impossible for him. Don’t get a cheap second hand vehicle, ask God for what you want, and what you need, and he will give it to you”.
He was totally right. Which was really annoying.
So after lots of research and thinking and dreaming, we decided that the vehicle we needed and wanted, if money wasn’t an issue, was a brand new Nissan Navara. Brand new, they cost £25,000. That is well over what the project cost to set up in the first place. Oh crap. Where am I going to get £25,000 from?
I decided I needed to test drive the vehicle. Mostly because it would be really fun, but also because I needed to see it. I needed to sit in it with God and ask whether was just a stupid idea, or whether it was really something he wanted for us. I phoned up our local Nissan garage, and arranged a date to go and test drive it along with Max, our year out volunteer at the time.
As we walked into the garage and registered our arrival, I became aware of some strange looks from the staff. I suddenly remembered what we must look like. A couple of youths, with big baggy jeans and hoodies are not their usual potential brand new four by four customers. They looked a bit scared, like they thought we were going to rob the place. They made lots of checks, looked at our ID and seemed happy enough. It probably didn’t then help when I told them that we would be purchasing the vehicle in about two months time, and would not need finance as we would be paying the full amount. The sales assistant paused for quite a long time and said, “OK then”. At that point we didn’t have a single penny of the money and I had no idea where it was going to come from. But I had to speak out in faith that we did have the money, the money was already ours, and that the vehicle was already ours.
Test driving it was just the most ridiculous amount of fun ever. Oh and also, it totally did the job we needed it to, towed the right weight and had a large storage space in the back. We wanted one, and we were going to get one.
I got on the case with grants, and found two that were eligible. These would take us up to about £19,000, if we got the grants. ‘If’ is a big ‘if’ in the world of grant applications. As part of the grant process we researched how much it would cost to get our logo and details on the side of the vehicle. I was sent a picture of what it would look like. I added a bible verse and I stuck it on my wall, knowing that one day soon I would replace it with a real photo of our own vehicle. Sometimes you need to visualize how you want something to be, as well as talk about it.
We prayed. We filled in forms. We waited. We prayed the Shogun wouldn’t die.
The first grant we applied for was for £7000. A few days after the deadline has passed, I got a phone call from the grant administrator, who told me that in their grant criteria, it clearly stated that they did not fund vehicles. My heart sunk as I waved £7000 goodbye. Then she said something very funny;
“Next time you make an application to us, please make sure you read the criteria properly. This time however, we have decided to make an exception to our rules because we like your project, so we will be awarding you the full amount of £7000”.
Ching ching! We were one step closer. £18,000 to go.
Then came the youth bank fund. We had helped some One Eighty members apply for some money on our behalf. We had applied for £12,000, which was a lot of money for one project to receive from a relatively small grant. We were short listed however, and had to take the four lads to a grant panel to give a presentation on One Eighty and why we needed the money.
It was really simple. All we had to do was pick up four young people in the Shogun, take them to a youth centre and let them give their presentation. Then the grant people would discuss it and send us a letter in the post. Then hopefully, we would get the £12,000 and be almost there! It started to become real, it started to feel like we might actually do this.
I was using the Shogun that day for an event site visit, and had a couple of hours to get back to Bath, pick up the young people and a staff member, then head straight to the presentation. No problem, plenty of time.
After the site visit, I got into the Shogun and started to head back to Bath. I looked at the dashboard, and then came the disco. But it was a different disco. Then there were noises. Strange noises.
I was still ten miles from Bath, and things were getting worse. There was smoke, and more noises. I started praying, “Not now, not today, please”. More smoke started coming out of the bonnet and I knew I had to stop. I pulled over in a bus stop and popped the bonnet, staring at the engine, because that’s what you do when your car has broken down and you know nothing about cars. The smoke was still coming out, and I didn’t know what to do. We didn’t have break down cover, I was in the middle of nowhere, and I had about an hour before I would have to leave to go pick up the lads. The car was still working, so I decided to keep going and hope it didn’t explode. I drove really slowly, and the disco now had a smoke machine.
I made it to a village a few miles nearer, and pulled to a stop at a pedestrian crossing. The lights turned amber and as I put my foot on the accelerator, nothing. Beeping from behind, more smoke, the car wasn’t moving. It had died. I burst into tears as cars started to go by me, and no one offered to help. I looked around at where I was, and of course by complete coincidence and nothing at all to do with God, I was right outside a massive car garage. Within thirty seconds I had four mechanics pushing the vehicle to safety, and within two minutes I knew exactly what was wrong with it. The crank on the engine had gone, which in other words means, the Shogun had gone to motor vehicle heaven. In less than one hour I was supposed to be picking up four lads from all over Bath and taking them to a presentation that might mean we would get £12,000 towards the new vehicle that would ensure the survival of our project. Even if we did get that money, we still had £6000 more to raise which I had no idea where to get. I cried again, a lot. All over the four nice mechanics. They looked a bit awkward. After I’d stopped crying I began to think of a plan. We had to make that presentation. We just had to.
I took out my phone to call Max at the office, battery low. Rubbish. I got through, and tried to very quickly and clearly explain the situation. I was still going to be a while getting back to Bath on the bus and I needed him to figure out a way of getting all the lads to the youth centre as well as me and him, with no car. He was only 18, possibly the most laid back person I had ever met and I’d never really given him any serious responsibility before. I didn’t know whether he’d be able to pull it off. After more crying he seemed to understand it was important, and he said he’d sort it. Then my phone died.
The bus ride was 15 minutes, but it felt like three hours. God knew we needed the car, why hadn’t he stopped it from breaking down until after the presentation? What were we going to do if we didn’t get the money? How were we going to run One Eighty for however long it took to get the new vehicle? Why had I thought I could do this? I have no clue what I’m doing. I can’t do this. I don’t want to do this anymore.
I took out my iPod, and I put on some music. I calmed down, and I stepped out of the emotion of the situation, looking at the facts. God loves me, God has chosen me for this, God is with me and loves this project way more than me. He knows we need that vehicle and he knows we need to get the lads to this presentation. We’re going to get there, we’re going to get that money and everything’s going to be OK.
When I arrived back at the office, my jaw dropped. On my desk were two piles of paper, they had the names and phone numbers of two of our trustees, who had agreed to use their cars to pick up the lads, and us, and take us to the youth centre. There were maps and directions for both cars, it was exactly what we needed, and perfect. Max got a high five.
We went to the presentation and made it on time.
The lads did a brilliant job, and gave an excellent presentation.
I walked out of the building with a cheque for £12,000. A trustee just happened to bring his camera, and captured the exact moment we found out we’d been successful:
There were more tears, but this time, they were tears of joy. And if it’s possible, there were tears of confidence, tears that God is everything he says he is, that all things are under his control, that nothing is impossible for him, that he is faithful and will come through. Tears because we are going to get that car.
The next day was so mixed, as I had the celebration of winning the grant, but the nightmare of figuring out how we were going to tow our trailer around until we had enough money to buy our new big black truck. It could still be months and we needed it now.
Then, God spiced things up a little bit, because he obviously felt the last few days had been too boring. He told me to order the new vehicle. It was no audible voice, but a strong sense that I just couldn’t ignore. I tried to fill my day with other things, but I kept feeling it. Order the vehicle, order the vehicle. I think my reply went something like, “WHAT? You have got to be joking. We don’t even have all of the money yet and I don’t even know where the money is going to come from. Also I’m probably going to get fired if I order it”.
Order the vehicle. Order the vehicle.
I phoned the Nissan garage and ordered it over the phone. It would take six weeks to arrive and they needed a £7000 deposit with the other £18,000 payable on collection. Guess how much money had just cleared in our bank account from our first grant? £7000. Done.
As I put the phone down, I felt sick. I’m going to get fired. We’re going to go bankrupt. The treasurer is going to have a heart attack.
I’ve got six weeks to find £6000.
There were no more grants to apply for. I didn’t have any rich friends. I wasn’t really experienced in bank robbery. So it had to be God. I’d done everything I could, I’d fought with everything in me. It had to be God.
A few days later, a church was having a giving day for Bath Youth for Christ. They told us what they had raised every year and what they were expecting to raise this year, and our director budgeted accordingly. They raised £2000 more than we had expected. This had never happened before. They were surprised, we were surprised. We had £2000 for the vehicle.
£4000 to go. Five weeks left.
A week later I phoned the garage and negotiated £1000 off the price if we put the garage’s name on the back of the truck.
£3000 to go. Four weeks left.
At this point I started to panic because I was totally out of ideas. There was literally nothing left for me to do other than pray. It was incredibly scary.
About a week later I walked into the office, turned on the computer as normal and checked my emails. I had an email from an old friend who now managed a large internet florist company. She read the newsletters and knew we wanted to get a new vehicle but had no idea of the events of the last few weeks. She told me she wanted to donate some money from the company, that she had prayed about how much, and that she had decided on an amount.
Would £3000 be OK?
In the same week, a garage offered us the use of an amazing Land Rover for as long as we needed it. For free. It even had one of those remote starts, so you could start the engine from almost a mile away. This was completely pointless, but great fun to scare people with. Another local man gave us £2500 for our insurance costs. We had more than enough. More than enough.
Within another two weeks our vehicle was ready, and Max and I went to pick it up. I will never forget that day as long as I live.
As we pulled into the garage, I saw it. This big, black truck; spotless, beautiful, ours. We didn’t owe any money for it, we didn’t have to give it back, it belongs to us. It’s ours. As I looked at it, my whole body tingling, I closed my eyes as they filled with tears, and I promised God I would never forget what he had done for us. Because it’s easy to forget. I don’t ever want to forget.
I remember paying for the final amount, putting my pin into the machine as it asked me to pay £17094.22.
I remember the face of the sales assistant as we told him the story of the money.
I remember when he put the keys in my hands.
I remember him talking through the engine and the spare tyre, but I wasn’t listening to a word he was saying. I was just smiling.
I remember him saying we were the youngest people he had ever seen buy a brand new Navara.
I remember taking it straight to the petrol station, and the attendant saying, “nice truck”.
I remember driving back, with the stereo on full blast, laughing and crying and singing and shouting, full of the presence of God, feeling happy for Max that he was taking the other vehicle back at the time.
I remember driving past people and seeing them looking at the brand new big black truck. Our brand new big black truck.
I remember sleeping soundly that night.
I remember the picture on my office wall.
Most of all, I remember feeling that this was all really about something else. Something much bigger.
Josh had been coming along to One Eighty for a while. He was a nice kid, quiet, and a very good skateboarder. His Dad wasn’t really around, and his Mum Alison would nearly always drop off and pick him up from One Eighty sessions. We started chatting to her, and got to know her quite well. One day she shared that she had a job interview coming up and I told her we would pray that the interview went well. She said she had a catholic background, but didn’t really believe in God anymore as the last few years had been so bad for her and Josh that she couldn’t believe in a God who would let that stuff happen. Breast cancer, Josh’s Dad leaving, trouble with the neighbours, it had been a tough life.
As the weeks passed and we got to know her more, I invited her to church with me. She kept saying she would come but didn’t show up, so in the end I picked her up and took her to the Sunday morning service of my church. She was blown away. Church can be like this? There are so many people, they seem happy, and reasonably normal.
A few weeks later, she became a Christian. This was very cool.
The next day I got a phone call from her and she was distraught. Being a single Mum meant things were tough financially for her, and she had saved up for months to buy Josh a Nintendo DS for Christmas. Josh was sat on the front doorstep of their house playing with his DS, when his Mum called him inside to ask him something. After the conversation when he returned to the doorstep, the DS had gone along with the box of games beside it. Someone had stolen it from their doorstep in a matter of seconds, and she was gutted;
“How can God have let this happen? He is not with me, this was all a mistake, how can I ever afford to replace it?”
I found myself incredibly angry, wishing she could just have a break and enjoy the first few weeks of having Jesus in her life in peace. I was surprised how angry I was. I told her to go and get Josh, and pray with him that the DS would come back. I told her I would pray too, and that the DS would be back by the morning.
Back by the morning? Why did I say that?
I ended the phone call and then had a bit of a chat with God which went something like; “Hi God. Erm…so I sort of told Alison that the DS would be back by the morning. I have no idea why I said that. Any chance of some help?” I did not believe it would ever return, let alone be back by the morning. I totally panicked. I was going to add to her fear that becoming a Christian had been a bad decision.
God’s response? Trust me.
Maybe I should go and buy another one and drop it round in the morning? I could get it on my credit card and have it paid off within a couple of months.
God’s response? Trust me.
I have a friend who is a games journalist and I knew he had a spare DS. Maybe he would lend it to Josh until she had enough money to replace the stolen one. I phoned him and he agreed because he is lovely. Hi John.
God’s response? Trust me.
I prayed like I had never prayed before and I went to bed scared and dreading the morning when I would have to try and explain to Alison why I had said it would be back by the morning and it wasn’t. I eventually got to sleep.
The morning arrived. My phone rang. It was Alison. She was talking very fast. Someone had dropped the DS and all the games back through the letterbox during the night. I mean really, who does that? I was speechless and she was still talking, about how much she had felt God with her, about how amazing it was to pray with her son for the first time in years, about how she could see that God was looking out for her and everything was going to be okay.
I was definitely more surprised than Alison.
When I used to skate, my friends and I would occasionally travel to Storm Skate Park in Derby, a massive indoor skate park. Nothing like this existed where we lived; it had some of the biggest ramps I had ever seen, and I would always come back with bruises and cuts!
One day we arrived, and this was going to be the day I ‘dropped in’. This means literally ‘dropping in’ to a half pipe or quarter pipe from the top. The skater usually starts in a tail stall position on the coping and from there tips the skateboard down and into the ramp. In skateboarding this is one of the easiest and hardest things to do. It doesn’t take a lot of technical ability, it just takes guts.
So there I was; my helmet, elbow pads, knee pads and wrist guards all velcroed on as tight as they would go. My hands were shaking, sweat beginning to make its presence known inside my helmet. I watched all the other boys gliding up and down each ramp, making it looking as simple as brushing your teeth, or turning on a light. Words echoed round my mind about what I was about to attempt. Bend your knees, lean forward, just go for it I thought.
I edged closer to the ramp, the no bigger than 5 foot ramp seeming twice as big from the top. I positioned my board on the farthest point I could stay stationary, counted to three several times, closed my eyes, tightened my muscles and I dropped in.
I soon realised that closing my eyes wasn’t the best of ideas, also because I was so worried about everything else I had forgotten to lean forward and so I slipped backwards, knocking my head on the tough and unforgiving wood surface. I was stunned and hurt by the fall, but more by the laughter I heard echoing from what seemed to be the whole skate park. I skated away, sat down and took off my helmet. Maybe I would learn to ‘drop in’ another day. I didn’t have the guts to try again, and the time came to leave as an announcement came over the PA system that the park was closing in ten minutes. I ran over to another area of the park to grab my helmet, and looked to the top of the vert ramp, the highest ramp in the park. A small boy, no older than primary school age was standing at the top with his skateboard ready to drop in for the first time. I watched him as he tried and fell, cutting his elbow. I then watched in absolute amazement as I saw the boy get up, pick up his skateboard and try again. And again and again. Fourteen times in total! I almost shouted out loud when he dropped in successfully, driving his fist through the air, thinking no one was watching.
Ten years later…
Thanks to some lovely changes in the law, my age means I cannot legally drive a car and a trailer, without taking a separate ‘B&E’ trailer test. So we had to get me some trailer driving lessons, and book a test.
Now, let’s just say that there may have been a few times I had accidentally driven the car and trailer together before realising it was illegal, so I was quietly confident that the lessons and trailer test weren’t going to be that hard.
I was wrong. So very wrong.
First, comes the manoeuvre, where you have to reverse the trailer around a cone, and then make sure the back of the trailer is in a 400 mm box. If it is slightly out of the box, you fail. If you get out to check it, you fail. Just like real life.
You had to take the test in an unloaded trailer, so this meant unloading almost a ton in weight of ramps out of the trailer, into a storage unit, then driving for 45 minutes to the test centre.
The lessons went well, and I was happy I was going to pass the test. I wanted to, as it costs almost £100 every time you take it, as well as it being major hassle to unload all of the ramps and load them back up again two hours later.
The day of the test arrived and we drove the car to the storage place, hooked up the trailer, drove it around the corner to the storage unit, unloaded the ramps and drove to the test centre.
I failed the first test. We drove back, loaded the ramps back into the trailer, returned the trailer to its parking space and booked another test.
The second test day arrived. We drove the car to the storage place, hooked up the trailer, drove it around the corner to the storage unit, unloaded the ramps and drove to the test centre.
I failed the second test. We drove back, loaded the ramps back into the trailer, returned the trailer to its parking space and booked another test.
The third test day arrived. We drove the car to the storage place, hooked up the trailer, drove it around the corner to the storage unit, unloaded the ramps and drove to the test centre.
I failed the third test. We drove back, loaded the ramps back into the trailer, returned the trailer to its parking space and booked another test.
The fourth test day arrived. We drove the car to the storage place, hooked up the trailer, drove it around the corner to the storage unit, unloaded the ramps and drove to the test centre.
I failed the fourth test. We drove back, loaded the ramps back into the trailer, returned the trailer to its parking space and booked another test.
At this point I wanted to give up. We could just rely on volunteers to tow the trailer, couldn’t we? I felt humiliated and exhausted by it, I had cried over every single HGV test examiner at the test centre and now they even recognised me. My back ached from carrying those stupid ramps. Our bank account was hurting from the cost of the tests. Every emotion in me told me to run away and never look back. I had tried my best and it just wasn’t happening. Nothing in me wanted to go back and take that test. Nothing.
Which is why I booked the fifth test.
The fifth test day arrived. We drove the car to the storage place, hooked up the trailer, drove it around the corner to the storage unit, unloaded the ramps and drove to the test centre.
I passed the fifth test. And did a very silly dance.
Sometimes when you feel like giving up, your next attempt is the one that will succeed.
Our biggest battle with One Eighty was always venues. We started off with the perfect city centre venue, a massive hall that was already used for rollerskating. Unfortunately due to lots of different reasons, we were kicked out of this venue after just a few months. I struggled to find a venue that even came close to our first one, but eventually found a youth centre which had a small hall we could use. It didn’t even have enough space for all of our ramps, but at that time we were only attracting around ten young people a week and I thought this venue would be a temporary solution that would allow us to build up the project.
Then, the project exploded. After a few months at the youth centre, our numbers had tripled, the hall was getting dangerous and we needed somewhere bigger. I tried everything. Schools, universities, garages, car parks, warehouses, churches. No one wanted us in their space. We prayed, prayed some more, and did everything we could possibly think of to find a better venue. Nothing, for months, nothing.
Then we found out about a church, half a mile from the city centre, which had no regular congregation. It was a massive church, complete with storage space, kitchens, toilets, access and basically everything we wanted. The only thing it needed was a new floor. We suggested the idea to the church, and they seemed interested. Within weeks we had found an architect who said he would help us through the process, the approval of the church PCC and diocese as well as a floor company managed by a Christian who agreed to build us a new floor at cost price.
It moved so fast, it was ridiculous. It seemed to fit, it seemed to make sense. The doors were opening, the right people were coming forward to help. There seemed to be something so incredible about holding One Eighty in a church, about destroying young people’s stereotypes of what church is. It seemed right to reclaim the church for the mission of God, to breathe life back into a dead building… everything just slotted into place!
We would have to raise around £12,000, but in my mind that was only half a big black truck, we could do that. We were all ready to go, all we had to do was find the money and then we could finally get our dream venue.
Then, the phone rang.
It was the PCC. They had had a meeting. They had decided it was a bad idea. They were putting a stop to it. The answer was final, the answer was no. I was stunned, gutted, so disappointed. I thought this was it, everything had fitted so perfectly into place, why had this happened? I didn’t understand it.
I had to start all over again. All those meetings, all those plans, all that time I had spent on proposals and research…for nothing.
Within two weeks another option appeared, totally out of the blue. A school had asked us to come and do a skate event for them, at their sports hall. It was like the hall had been built for us. The access was perfect, the floor was amazing, the location was good. We asked the school. They said yes. They offered us weekly slots on a Friday night. We couldn’t believe it! Maybe all the hassle of the previous potential venue had been to lead us to this one.
They were slightly concerned about us marking the floor, and we were also not able to move our sessions to a Friday night. We decided to hold five monthly events there over the winter to test the format of the venue. This would reveal any potential problems to us, get the location known by the young people and reassure the school that we would not damage the floor.
We made a big deal out of the events, we called them ‘Fight the Elements’, we paid for flyers to be designed and printed, we organised a date to have a massive competition in partnership with the local skate shop. We were excited, the young people were excited, the buzz around the events spread, and when the day of the first event arrived, we were more than ready. The team were all in the office, about an hour before we were due to leave to pick up the trailer and head across town to the school.
Then, the phone rang.
It was the bursar of the school. I felt the room start to spin slightly, as I heard the words ‘too worried about the floor’, ‘the teacher you dealt with didn’t get my permission’, ‘cancelling all five events’, ‘no possibility of you using the hall for skateboarding ever again’.
I couldn’t believe it. I was fuming. For a few seconds I sat there thinking about it. The young people had been so excited about these events, they would be devastated. I had no way of telling them in time that it was cancelled. We needed that venue.
The event was not going to be cancelled.
I told my team to pray, and I phoned the school and asked to speak to the bursar. She wasn’t at her desk. I waited five minutes and tried again. She wasn’t at her desk. I waited five minutes and tried again. She wasn’t at her desk.
I felt like I was going to explode. I went into another room in our offices where people wouldn’t be able to hear me shout. I texted everyone I could think of and asked them to pray, I told them what the venue meant to me, what it meant to us, what it meant to those lads. And I shouted and screamed and stomped at God, because I was not going to lose another venue.
I went back upstairs and phoned the school, asking to speak to the bursar. She wasn’t at her desk. I waited five minutes and tried again. She wasn’t at her desk. I waited five minutes and tried again. This time they stopped answering the phone.
I had half an hour before I was supposed to leave with my colleagues and pick up the trailer. There was only one thing for it. I needed to go to the school.
By now, rush hour traffic had hit Bath, and the roads outside our city centre offices were gridlocked. To get to the school we would have to go right through the city centre. With a massive four by four truck, it would probably take us over 45 minutes to reach the school.
My colleague had a smaller car, parked on a back street near another longer route which would avoid the traffic. We rushed to it, and I made him drive like a total maniac. Sorry Luke. Also sorry to that lady walking her dog that we nearly killed.
We arrived at the school, swerving into the car park like the A team. I ran into the reception but no one was there. I went into the staff room but no one was there. Eventually I bumped into a teacher who was holding a glass of champagne. It was the end of the Ofsted inspection, of course she wasn’t at her desk. I explained the situation in a frenzied waffle, and the teacher said she would take me to her. She was new, and forgot how to get to the room everyone was in. The clock was ticking. I had fifteen minutes to find this bursar, persuade her to let us hold the event, get back to the office, pick up the truck and my staff, pick up the trailer, then get back to the school and set up the skate ramps.
We reached a set of double doors, to which the teacher said ‘ooh there she is’, she tried the door but it was locked. I could see the bursar pick up her handbag and put down a glass was holding…she was about to leave and I couldn’t get to her because the door was locked. This was my last chance to save the event and possibly the venue. I decided I couldn’t take any more of this, and under my breath I commanded the doors to open in Jesus’ name! I’m not sure who was more surprised when the doors opened.
As I walked towards the bursar, I tried to calm down, take some deep breaths, remind myself that she would probably get a restraining order against me unless I handled this properly. I needed to be passionate, but not psychotic. Sometimes this can be a fine line with me.
Hello Bursar, I’m blah blah from blah blah, how’s Ofsted gone, blah blah oh great that’s nice blah blah blah. My turn. In 60 seconds I told her everything. I told her about the project, the events, the flyers, the boys. With tears in my eyes I told her things I didn’t even know I felt, I had no idea what was coming out of my mouth but I just went with it. I told her she couldn’t cancel my event. I begged her to let us go ahead.
I thanked her and bolted for the car, telling Luke to step on it! As soon as we got near the centre of town again the traffic hit gridlock, and I got out of the car and ran.
I jumped into the truck, drove like a total psychopath, went through two red lights, picked up the trailer and made it on time.
The event went ahead, despite many more battles that night, including the hall being double booked.
I told them that we would never give up.
I told them that we will always fight for the things that are important to them.
I told them that God would never give up.
I told them that God will always fight for the things that are important to them.
I told them they needed to write lots of letters to the school.
Despite a successful event, the school wouldn’t budge, and we lost the venue.
And that’s it. We fought, we battled, and we lost.
One Eighty never moved out of the youth centre.
Some locked doors open, and some don’t.