OPINION: How a Sheffield skate park is helping transform lives

It's pretty hard to get your head round at first, but it's true.

Friday, 4th March 2016, 5:55 am
Updated Friday, 4th March 2016, 6:01 am

The humble skateboard is the latest grass roots weapon being used to fight everything from drug addiction and gang violence to child abuse and grooming.

As our feature (Pages 18-19) shows, that’s just what is being done by the brilliant people behind Onboard Skatepark on Little London Road.

It started out simply as a safe place for youngsters to go, meet friends and hang out without getting into trouble.

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But it has grown into so much more: a safe haven and a second home for some of the city’s most vulnerable kids.

What began as an idea to keep youngsters occupied so they didn’t slide down the slippery slope of vandalism, violence and drugs, has become a lifeline and a route to a better way of life.

It would be easy to dismiss a skatepark as just a haunt for hoodies and backward baseball caps.

But Onboard isn’t that kind of skatepark.

It’s the kind that offers one-to-one support to educate and train young people, including providing a space for them to sit their GCSEs.

Of course, they still teach kids the latest skateboard or BMX tricks and tips.

But they also work with 14 schools across Sheffield, supporting scores of students to get a better education, more qualifications and -hopefully - better job and career prospects.

What is also impressive is that this mixture of leisure centre, college, social service and advice bureau has been funded using Comic Relief cash and grants provided by the South Yorkshire Community Foundation.

In these days of spending cuts and service reductions it’s fantastic that a place like Onboard exists for those kids who can fall through the cracks of society.

Amy Cooper, the park project manager, and the rest of her family were inspired to begin Onboard in 2012, as a legacy to her father, Mike Hulley, who had recently passed away.

We should be so grateful for their dedication, inspiration and vision to make this incredible venture the success that it has become.

But you have to wonder why they had to in the first place.

Funding for community centres and youth clubs is coming under ever greater pressure.

Perhaps it’s easier to consider cutting activities for today’s kids - after all they’ve always got the X-Boxes and PlayStations to fall back on, haven’t they?

There never seems to be enough cash to fund all the important services that we need.

And in a time when it seems so many find it easy to forget the young, it’s brilliant that Onboard haven’t...