'We will be back'- Owners of Bognor Regis skate park determined to return after closure

The owners of The Base skate park, in Bognor Regis, have vowed to return after closing down on Saturday (May 14)

“We’re a phoenix and we’re coming back. There is no doubt in my mind that something will come of this, something that allows this community to come back and come back stronger.” Those were the determined words of Benjamin Cooke, owner of The Base skate park in Bognor Regis, which hosted its last ever skate session on Saturday (May 14).

Mr Cooke said the closure comes as a direct result of a 44 per cent rent increase back in January. Another rent spike, he added, is due next year. The surging costs, combined with the financial legacy of the pandemic, left the indoor skate park in a financially unfeasible position and Mr Cooke was forced to close.

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The Base has provided a safe, indoor space for skating and scootering for nearly ten years, giving children, teens and adults the opportunity to practice the extreme sports with cutting-edge equipment. Deciding to close, founder Janina Cooper said, was as ‘devastating’ for staff as it was for the community of riders and parents who frequent the centre.

The Base skate centre

"We’re always talking about the mental health of children, how many kids are cooped up in their rooms and don’t want to come out, and this is another thing being taken away from them,” she said.

"It’s like we’re almost forcing them back into their rooms, putting them back onto video games and then wondering ‘where have all the kids gone?’”

With youth clubs like The Phoenix Centre and The Finditout centre closing down last year, youth provision in Bognor Regis is notably threadbare. So, when news of The Base’s closure hit Facebook on Wednesday (March 11), parents were every bit as gutted as Mrs Cooper. The not-for-profit skate centre offered their children a safe, productive outlet, and now they have to make do without.

"My 13 year old daughter was in tears when she heard the news,” said Bognor Regis resident Paul Boniface, whose children have been using the centre since 2013.

The Base skatepark

"They’re building more and more houses and there’s less and less for kids to do. Our children and young people are being hit by the biggest mental health crisis ever and they need places like The Base to build confidence, keep fit, make friends, have fun and feel part of a community.”

Alongside provision for young people, The Base also provided state-of-the-art training facilities for a community of champions and professional athletes, many of whom have used the centre since they were children.

"It's just a shame, we’re a family here, and there’s such a big community. Hundreds of thousands of people have come here, travelled from all over the country to use this amazing facility and it’s a shame to see it go,” said world champion scooter rider Jordan Clark.

"Without this place, I’d have nowhere to practice safely,” added professional rider Jamie Addison. The 20 year old, from Eastbourne, has used The Base since he was twelve and said its bespoke facilities helped him develop as a young rider: “The foam pit and the resi-ramps are things we don’t have back where I live, and they’re really big for confidence.”

Even so, it’s not the end for The Base. The skate centre is on the hunt for a new facility, and, though a suitable venue is yet to emerge, Mr Cooke is resolutely optimistic.

“I've got multiple feelers out that are in different positions and which might potentially look into. The ultimate goal for us is to find a piece of land, build our own facility and mortgage ourselves, save ourselves a huge amount of money by building at a fraction of a cost of purchasing a unit like the one we’re in,” he said.

"That’s a big ask, don't get me wrong. but the last few days have proven there is more than a big enough community behind it.”

Whatever happens, the skate park has friends in the right places. Cllr David Edwards (con) helped fight for the park back in 2013, and visited on its last day to make his support felt.

“I can remember when Janina came to present to us, initially at the Town Council and then at the District Council. She had a vision and a dream and she was passionate about it, but the council in their wisdom had recommended we refuse it, but the way she came across to us as councillors tipped it in her favour,” he said.

"She’s been proven right. Over the last few years, hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world have walked through those doors. It's a sanctuary. It’s a place where anybody can come, it’s safe and people can do what they love, and they’re good at it. There are multiple world champions, European champions, medallists at all levels train here.

"So seeing it close is really really sad. Unfortunately it’s a victim of the times, and I just really hope it can be reborn.”

Rebirth is exactly Mr Cooke’s plan. As difficult as things might be right now, he doesn’t see a future without The Base in it: "We’ve been battered and bruised for a long time now, keeping the company going during the pandemic, so the closure was a difficult pill to swallow to begin with. But when I pressed that share button on Facebook and saw the size of the community behind us, it spurred me on even more. We’re coming back and we’re coming back ten times stronger. I don’t think we’ve got a choice and I don’t think the community would want it any other way.”

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