Documentary charts listed Romford skatepark's ties to community
- Credit: Matt Harris
A documentary has shone a spotlight on a long-standing and community-focused Hornchurch skatepark's struggle to survive.
As skateboarding and BMX freestyle sports make their debut at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021, the Rom Boys: 40 years of Rad film introduces the world’s “most unique” skatepark.
Situated in Hornchurch, the Rom Skatepark was built in 1978 by designer Adrian Rolt of G-Force.
After a fire in 2018, Rom Park faced a financial crisis which brought together the Rom Boys - a group of middle-aged skaters, BMXers and street artists who work together to keep the park going.
It is the first in Europe to achieve a Grade II-listed status by English Heritage, which said Rom is the "best" example of a small number of skate parks that survived from the 1970s.
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Throughout the film, which took five years to make, archive footage is shown alongside interviews that include car rally Gumball 3000 creator Maximillion Cooper and 1980s skateboarder Lance Mountain.
The historical documentary brings light to what the park means not only to its users but to British history.
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Director Matt Harris, 51, said he wanted to make the film for people who “didn’t get” the sports of skateboarding or BMXing.
He said: "I wanted to show that you can be anyone from any walk of life."
Having first attended Rom Park when he was 13, Matt rekindled his love of it six years ago when he took his daughter there on her scooter.
To his surprise, he found a group of "middle-aged blokes skating really well”, but it was hearing that the park was listed that sparked Matt’s conception of a story.
He said: “I was lucky that there was so much archive film as a guy [who he later realised was his friend at 14] tried to make a film 15 years ago."
Clips of crashes are shown, which Matt said is why "skateparks aren't made like this anymore”.
Featured skateboarder and member of the Rom Boys, Spencer Smith, handles the lease and funding of the park.
Around 200 volunteers help out there and he likens it to a “full-time job”.
The 52-year-old, whose career was as a property developer, is now retired and using his acquired skills to ensure that Rom Park stays open.
Spencer said the problem with the park is that it's “seasonal” and in need of an indoor space to keep it open all year.
The 2018 fire destroyed the park's only facility inside, which gave Matt a lead to the documentary, he said: “The fire made the whole story shift and it became about how to save the place."
Describing the park as “unusual” - as he claims there are no other privately-run skateparks in the UK - Matt predicted if Rom wasn’t run by the Greenwood family, now John Greenwood Junior, it would have been “demolished 30 years ago”.
Skatepark users pay £5 to skate all day, however Spencer says if someone is "of short means and can’t afford to pay", they are still welcome.
The Harlow-based skater said: “We do not exclude anyone. We have equipment and offer a free first BMX and skate lesson to get you started."
Reflecting on the documentary, Matt said he is still happy with it.
He said: “I hope the film attracts interest in the park as it needs investment and has a lot of potential.
“We would like to build a modern facility and it needs people to look at it and say what heritage means to them."
Spencer added: “It [Rom Park] is serving its intended purpose as beautifully as when it was built in 1978.
“It’s a hidden gem."
On July 10 Rom Park will be holding a BMX "Rom Jam” open to amateurs and professionals, with the pro competition first prize of £1,000.
The event starts at 1pm and the park's doors will open from 8am.
To register for the event or find out further details, email firstname.lastname@example.org, stating if you are a professional or amateur.
The Rom Boys: 40 years of Rad documentary will screened at the Romford Film Festival on June 24 at 9.25pm and can be downloaded online.