Projekts MCR is a Community Benefit Society with a mission to make skateboarding accessible to everyone and to build community through skateboarding. As part of this, Projekts has developed sessions specifically to improve access to skateboarding for women and girls and encourage a more diverse skateboarding community.
Why did you decide to create a women and girls session as part of Projekts MCR?
When we launched this initiative in 2014, women and girls represented less than 2% of skatepark visitors.
When we spoke to this audience about their experience in skateparks they explained that skateparks were intimidating due largely to the male dominance – they felt they were being watched and that they weren’t welcome.
The males were often more experienced skaters and could use more of the space and skated faster. The ability gap made the female participants feel an even greater sense of anxiety about using the park.
Projekts wanted to remove these barriers by creating an exclusive session for women and girls, which would include equipment and coaching within the entrance price.
When designing the sessions, we spoke to individual women we knew who were trying to learn to skateboard and we spoke to the female students in schools’ sessions.
The objective was simply to remove the barriers and start inviting people to attend the sessions.
We did not place a target on the number of women we wanted to attend, as this can inadvertently lead to manipulation of results. We viewed this as an experiment – testing an idea to see what would happen.
It became our most successful event of the week and led to a growth to 27% female attendance.
How important is it that organisations like yours focus on making exercise and activity as safe as possible?
It’s a huge priority for us- worryingly for us the greatest challenge we faced when setting up the sessions was the negative responses we received from many men in the skateboarding community who considered it unnecessary to provide a session that was exclusive to women and girls.
They felt it was unfair to exclude men and boys from the skatepark an evening a week.
Our social media was bombarded with abusive or insulting comments; young men would refuse to leave the skatepark and then would linger outside during the session, which made the participants feel uncomfortable, so we saw first hand how concerns over safety can have an affect on girls’ motivation to join in an activity.
Thankfully things have now settled down and people realised that things had gone too far. Some people came and apologised for being so unpleasant and retracted their comments and we no longer receive complaints about Girls Night.
We now want to find a way to grow the sessions for all abilities and make sure the girls know what opportunities are available to them at the skatepark because we know what a profound impact the sessions have had on many of the people attending the Girls Night sessions, and on the demographic of skatepark users more generally.
Mostly the impact has been around building friendships, having a support network and people to talk to. In some cases, though, it's really changed the trajectory of an individual's life.
One of the girls who regularly attended the sessions was suffering from extreme anxiety and her dad put it like this: "Thanks to Girls Night, I've got my daughter back."
Her life was really turned around by this weekly event - she built friendships, had the support and mentorship of the coaches, and had something to look forward to each week. Before that she was struggling to leave the house.
Skating gives people a focus. There's an anticipation of getting back onto the ramps and landing the new trick you're working on.
Some girls have formed friendship groups who meet up to skate different skateparks across the UK and which impacts the UK-wide skate community as well as the local scene.
In some cases girls who attended the classes have ended up volunteering for NGOs like Skateistan or SkatePal, and using their passion for skating and supporting others to help groups of disadvantaged children in other parts of the world.
What would you say to other people thinking of starting their own group or changing something in their local areas?
If someone is considering setting up their own groups to support people who are struggling to gain access to skateboarding, it's important to understand the reasons why those people aren't able to access the skatepark in the first place.
Understand when a user group needs an exclusive session
Firstly, our research showed that the biggest barrier was the existing, more confident and experienced skatepark users. We continue to hear stories - particularly from beginners and female skaters - that they sort of "sneak" into their skateparks early in the morning before the more confident skaters arrive.
For women and girls in particular, an additional barrier is that skateparks are heavily dominated by male users who often give unwanted attention to girls when they come into the skate spaces. Sometimes that's in the form of staring at them, other times it's skating harder, faster and closer to them, which gives the impression that they don't want to share the same space.
For those reasons, we believe it makes sense to create spaces that are exclusive to the group you want to work with- it helps everyone to feel safe and reduces the risk of conflict between users of different abilities.
Think about whether there are any financial barriers that can be eased for new users
Secondly, having equipment available allows people can try out skateboarding without committing financially, reducing the initial financial barriers to taking part and increasing the number of possible participants.
Likewise, if you're offering a coaching service you really should ensure that you have the right safety kit available and that the coaches are trained to a high standard.
The function of the coach is to help someone reach their goals in a safe and enjoyable way and increasing the likelihood that they will return to the session.
They need to be able to identify what the participant wants to learn and to figure out the best way to get them to that point effectively.
The first few minutes of a person's first time on a skateboard are the highest risk, so it's crucial that those initial stages are managed safely or people end up feeling like skateboarding is too risky and that you need to be especially brave or talented to do it, which is completely untrue.
Skateboarding is for everyone.