Long Live Livi
“There is so much pressure on teenagers and young adults to conform, especially young women. The thing I loved about skateboarding when I was young is that I could wake up, shove my old clothes on and get out. I never felt pressure to look good or to wear makeup or make an effort. I don’t want my kids to fall into that trap either.”
These are the wise words of Romany, who is the mum of Rudi and Mac, two members of a skate crew named the Snagglerats, based at Livingston skatepark, just 40 minutes drive from Edinburgh in Scotland. In June 2020, their story was beamed out into the world via BBC Scotland, in a documentary called “Long Live Livi”. These young girls skating the rough concrete, cracks, drops and dips of legendary Livi skatepark was on mainstream TV, Thursday Prime Time.
They skate, fall, get back up, chit chat, but mostly they skate. It was, for some, the first time they had seen girls skateboarding or represented in this way on TV (a good friend of mine reached out to say that to me after watching it). In my opinion, that’s what makes the documentary “Long Live Livi” so powerful - this is a story which presents a different view. As a photographer, I have spent over eight years gripped by the visual power skateboarding and action sports have in challenging how the media represent women and girls, to look beyond stereotypes and expectations. I’ve been working on projects which raise awareness of women in skate to champion it as positive content for the world to be inspired by and society to learn through. So at the end of 2019, I was invited along to shoot the behind the scenes photos for “Long Live Livi”, back on my home turf of Scotland. It was a dream to capture inspiring and empowering images of Scottish lasses dropping the gritty concrete of Livi skatepark, and encouraging each other. It was September when I first drove the 40 minutes from Edinburgh to Livingston and it was only the second time I had been to that skatepark, it had felt like an intimidating place. I hadn’t had or taken the opportunity to skate when I was growing up in Scotland - I didn’t know I had the option, so skateparks were grey areas for me. I have since seen them in another light and seen what skateboarding can do to change people's lives around the world.
When I arrived at Livi, the Snagglerats were already on their boards, the camera crew setting up. It was wet in the park, so they had brought along squidgy brushes to soak up the puddles. The issue of drainage in the original part of the park was clear, but it didn’t stop them from at least trying to clean it up so they could skate. “It has been nearly 40 years since Livi was built. On the whole the original section is gnarly with a really rough surface, cracks, and holes. Money available over the years seems to have been spent on expanding the park but not much put into the iconic section” explained Parisa Urquhart, the co-director of “Long Live Livi”who works on documentaries that challenge the status quo. Not only does the film tell the ambitious plans of the Snagglerats skate crew to reinvigorate the legendary skatepark and bring the buzz back, but it delves into the history of the skatepark and what made it legendary. Why did Tony Hawk, Steve Caballero and Mike McGill visit in the 80s and 90s, and why should we care about this skatepark in 2020? As Romany puts it “Livi is legendary” and you feel it as you stand staring into the deep end of the original 80’s bowl.
Parisa co-directed the film with Ling Lee, a recognised director, editor and camera woman. “It was a properly designed skatepark and so became a mecca for skaters and still is today”. Parisa has a lot of knowledge and interest in the design of Livi, because it was her uncle Iain who designed and built it. ”The bowl was ahead of its time - Iain designed and created a wooden ‘transition machine’ that successfully created the perfect angle and smoothness of the bowl.” As a snowboarder, documentary filmmaker and niece of Iain, Paris knew this film had to be made, to honour her uncle's work and give the park continued and new appreciation.
When visiting Livi for research, Parisa spotted Poppie, Rudi and Mac (the Snagglerats) skating, she knew the way to tell the story of Livi was to interweave the history of the park with the story of the younger generation that Livi is having an impact on. It shows that the park is worth fighting for. This was the chance for her to not only protect the work her uncle had put so much time and energy into, but to also make sure the next generation have Livi to skate at.
Parisa made the film happen with support from the Scottish Documentary Institute, and it was aired on BBC in June. It’s now available to watch on BBC iPlayer and Amazon Prime (USA and Japan), thanks to the word spreading about the story and the supporting fundraising campaign for rejuvenation.
The six year old Snagglerats may only be little but their voices are loud, especially supported by their mums. Since the filming, they started a crowdfunding campaign which has successfully raised £5k to go towards the regeneration of the park. “We are hoping the money can be used to inject some life back into Livi without spoiling the heritage.” says Romany. “We can’t leave the park to crumble, be destroyed or sold to developers, so we need to make it a real destination again like it once was. It’s what Livi deserves!” Romany is so full of passion for Livi as it is where she spent much of her youth - somewhere she would go to be around like minded people and feel included. It’s the same feeling now that her kids and the Snagglerats have, and what makes it so important to them.
“When I'm skateboarding I feel like I fit in.” explains Poppie. "I am making friends who support me and encourage me”. Whether it’s for the next generation or to save a skatepark for its iconic past, this is one that needs people to get behind it for Livi to live on.
Words and photographs by Hannah Bailey aka Neon Stash.
Hannah is a passionate award-winning photographer, journalist and producer who has been immersed in the underground scenes of action sports, adventure and the outdoors for over 10 years. Born in Edinburgh, UK, Hannah has travelled the world to document women in skateboarding.
Parisa Urquhart is a documentary director and producer based in Edinburgh, Scotland. Through her company Urquhart Media Limited, Parisa has a particular focus on identity and colonisation, and an emphasis on truth and education.
Ling Lee is an award winning film-maker whose work focuses on human stories, crossover cultures, and experimental film techniques. She is a Director, Editor and Camera Woman who has lived and worked in various countries including Germany, UK, Italy, China and Argentina.