Feature: Playtime on an industrial scale

BMX rider Pete Catherall at Sheffield's ski slope
BMX rider Pete Catherall at Sheffield's ski slope

How a team of ‘urban athletes’ are turning abandoned and neglected leisure, military and old factory sites into places of sporting fun in a bid to highlight their existence.

A team of ‘urban athletes’ took a summer holiday this year travelling round the UK on a reclaimed double decker bus, courtesy of Sheffield film company Salt Street Productions.

Skier Joe Hides (left) and skateboarder Calvin Ligono at Sheffield's ski slope

Skier Joe Hides (left) and skateboarder Calvin Ligono at Sheffield's ski slope

The resulting ‘Britain’s Abandoned Playgrounds’ films depict freerunning, BMX cycling, slacklining, highlining, skateboarding (and more) around a series of forgotten and neglected industrial, military or leisure sites.

The athletes (all under 30) are pictured leaping, balancing and spinning around a rusting steam ship, a mothballed shipyard, an abandoned 1930s swimming pool, a set of World War Two gun towers in the Thames Estuary, a forgotten Cleethorpes theme park and the burned out jumps and bumps of Sheffield’s ski village.

“Each location had its own individual story,” said Ed Birch of Salt Street. “All have become redundant, but all have potential for uses in the future. Like Sheffield’s ski village, all have the potential to be brought back to life.”

The plan for the film series was to draw attention to the six sites in the hope that some could be returned to public use in future, which has happened a little quicker than expected in Sheffield.

‘I’m really excited for the future of Sheffield and the future of sport in our city’

The timing for the release of ‘Britain’s Abandoned Playgrounds’ couldn’t have been better, coinciding with the announcement that the arson-plagued ski slopes looming over the Outdoor City are to be reborn under a £22.5 million redevelopment consortium led by the Extreme Destinations leisure and sports company.

“When we were filming, the ski village was the most abandoned location we visited because there was almost nothing left,” said Ed. “The undergrowth had taken over, and the fires had destroyed everything the undergrowth hadn’t taken. So the redevelopment is fantastic news, and I’m really excited for the future of Sheffield and the future of sport in our city.”

Sheffielders Calvin Ligono and Joe Hides set out on their skateboard and skis to feature in the ski village footage, expertly dodging the jagged remains on the ski slopes at Parkwood Springs as they performed a series of stunts for the camera (not always successfully).

“It’s not like doing stunts at a skate park or even in town, you have to think carefully about the run in, the trick and the landing afterwards,” said Ed. “It all has to be carefully planned out to the nth degree to keep the athletes safe.”

Skier Joe Hides at Sheffield's ski slope

Skier Joe Hides at Sheffield's ski slope

He hopes young 
people will be inspired by the films, to be aired on All 4 from mid December, but will spurn abandoned gun towers or steam ships and try out the tricks in a 
safer environment like their local skate park, for example, or maybe come to Sheffield in 2019 when the 
new ski village is expected to open its first phase.

“We take a lot of pride in the Outdoor City,” said Ed Birch, 
“and hope these films will spark people’s imaginations to get out into the outdoor spaces of Sheffield.”

Skier Joe Hides at Sheffield's ski slope

Skier Joe Hides at Sheffield's ski slope

Skier Joe Hides at Sheffield's ski slope

Skier Joe Hides at Sheffield's ski slope