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Building a better Belfast through skateboarding… New collective determined to bring communities together and change perception of sport

A new skateboarding group is aiming to change people’s perceptions of the urban sport while bridging the divide between communities.

The Belfast Skate Collective was set up by friends Clare Kearney and Conor Valente, who wanted to get more young people to engage in a range of community development projects through the sport.

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Clare Kearney shows off her skills

Clare Kearney shows off her skills

Clare Kearney shows off her skills

The group, made up of 11 skaters from across Belfast and beyond, wants to show the wider public that skateboarding is not as anti-social as many seem to think and, in fact, brings people together more than most other sports in a creative and positive way.

Clare (24), who is originally from Portglenone but has been living in Belfast for the past six years, has been skating for about a year.

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Clare Kearney at Belfast's Bridges skate park

Clare Kearney at Belfast's Bridges skate park

Clare Kearney at Belfast's Bridges skate park

After chatting to Conor about ways in which the local skateboarding community could improve, they came up with the idea of establishing the collective last month.

“Over lockdown, there was a boom in skateboarders everywhere,” she said.

“I only started skateboarding last year. I went down to the park with loads of friends and it was so nice to be there as an individual but skating as a collective.

“There’s another group called Skateboard NI and they’ve primarily been working with the council to help build skate parks. There’s a new one being built in Newtownabbey now. They’re basically doing all the groundwork for the facilities, but what we’re wanting to focus on is bringing the community together, whether that’s through working alongside youth groups or giving facilities support for young people. It doesn’t matter where you’re from, skateboarding brings loads of diverse groups together and we want to be there as an authentic representation of the sport.”

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Conor Valente takes to the air

Conor Valente takes to the air

Conor Valente takes to the air

North Belfast man Conor (28), who has been skating for 13 years, said that setting up the collective was particularly important because of the growth in popularity over lockdown.

“People who had never tried skating picked up boards and found it a great way to build confidence and meet people,” he added.

“Skateboarding offers an alternative to the usual sports and activities for people.

“The biggest growth in people who are starting to skate is people of all genders from the LGBTQ+ community.

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Conor Valente set up the Belfast Skate Collective to help young people

Conor Valente set up the Belfast Skate Collective to help young people

Conor Valente set up the Belfast Skate Collective to help young people

“Skateboarding in Belfast always offered an alternative way of meeting people from different backgrounds, but it tended to be young men from nationalist and unionist communities.”

Conor believes that the new groups taking part have made the skateboarding community more welcoming and inclusive.

“They have made the scene a lot more accepting. Skateboarding has always been for those who want to be different,” he said.

“It is a sport which is progressive in its attitudes. The integration of different groups of people only helps to diversify the whole scene.

“The by-product of this is that the scene has grown more inclusive.”

He added that with skateboarding usually attracting creative individuals, the collective wanted to use this creativity to build something positive for like-minded people.

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Conor Valente and Clare Kearney

Conor Valente and Clare Kearney

Conor Valente and Clare Kearney

Clare stressed that she wanted to use the group to change the general public’s perception of skateboarding.

“People have this image of a skateboarder flying through the city centre, knocking into people and causing trouble. However, this stereotype is a bit unfair,” she said.

“Skateboarders actively use public spaces that are often left empty and forgotten until needed for an event, such as Custom House Square, for example.

“What the public sees as inanimate objects and empty forums, skateboarders see as potential.

“They engage with the architecture of a city and they see a beauty and purpose in it that others may not. They bring stagnant and empty spaces back to life.”

Clare told Sunday Life that she has been researching other European cities, such as Malmo in Sweden, that are more “skate-friendly” in the hopes of influencing this type of attitude in Belfast.

“Malmo has used skateboarding to rejuvenate public spaces and even has skating represented when having discussions on city development and other projects,” she revealed.

“We hope that this could happen here. [We want to] have the council actively engage with the skateboarding community.”

One of the ways the group hopes to change people’s perceptions is by organising clean-up events in the city centre skate park Bridges.

“We hope, through these types of events, to help skaters and other park users to appreciate the space,” Clare said.

“We won’t stop at the skate park either. We want to organise them right across the city. If any other community groups want us to get involved, please get in touch.

“We know that getting the public and the city to open their minds to skateboarding is a two-way street.

“We want to show everyone that we can play a part in the development of Belfast for the better.”


n If you would like to get in contact with the Belfast Skate Collective, email belfastskatecollective@gmail.com or follow the group on Twitter and Instagram


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