Our Story

Our inspiring and special story

This is the inspirational and touching story of the changing Redditch scene, from the birth of UK BMX, the great eighties boom and crash, through to the present day. Set against the backdrop of the Redditch racetrack and skatepark, it is a tale of hope and tragedy written by the man at the centre of it all, Steve Rooke. This is his story.

I started riding BMX in 1982 and when I say to riders these days that I’m from Redditch, they say, “Where’s that?” “14 miles south of Birmingham off the M42” I reply. Little do they know that once upon a time the goings-on in this town gave birth to the UK BMX scene, and for those who remember, this was a place every rider knew of where once the UK’s first official BMX track sat, now one of the country’s largest outdoor skateparks has evolved and the recreation of Redditch BMX track.

In the beginning

David Duffield marketing manager for Halfords was sent over to the USA from where he was based at the head office in Redditch to check out a popular new cycle sport called Bicycle Motocross – BMX. BMX Began in California USA in the late 60’s when young people would imitate their Motorcross heroes on their Swinn Stingray bikes building and riding tracks.

Next was to build a BMX track in Redditch opposite almost to the Halfords Head office in Icknield Street Drive Redditch and organise races. similar to what he saw in the states and to set up the first race, at first for local kids in the town. It was the first official track to be built in the UK but was soon followed by many more across the land. Regional and national races followed. Then the Americans came over for the first international race meeting, called the Anglo-American. BMX legends such as Harry Leary, Stu Thompson, Clint Miller and a 15-year-old Gary Ellis raced against the British underdogs such as Andy Ruffell, Tim March and locals Matt White, and Gary and Mark O’Conner. This day went down in history when British rider Tim March won a head-to-head against USA BMX legend Harry Leary..

The old Redditch track was once the meeting place for thousands of riders and those involved –there were lots of trade stands, even a double-decker bus for a control centre, and you couldn’t move for riders or even get to go on the track on a weekend. Sadly, that all gradually changed over time – the whole thing became a victim of its own success as the local residents complained about the PA system, the banging of the start gate – you name it, it was complained about. No more races. Riders went elsewhere and the Redditch Premiers BMX Club left the track and merged with Bromsgrove Comments. With no money to repair the track it became neglected, overgrown and just a winding dirt trail in a bumpy field. In the late Eighties, the popularity in the public eye died off and BMX went underground.

Last chance saloon

Sometimes in life when things have gone wrong before, you get a second chance to put things right again and I was given this chance by fate itself possibly. Over the years different groups of riders and skaters tried to get themselves a skatepark in this town. The usual story – nowhere to ride, having to travel, and all in a town that was once voted the most boring in the UK with a high youth population. We didn’t stand a chance, so we thought. Everything, if it happened for young people at all, never seemed to last very long in this town.

Moving through to the early 90s young people would turn to youth workers for help in sorting them a skatepark which would come to nothing. At the time the cash-strapped council never had any money to spare. In 1991 I helped the Council deliver the Arrow ValIey Youth Festival which included towing a UKBFA quatre pipe from the late Roy Winfield’s house to Redditch hoping this would raise awareness for such a facility as we were travelling to other towns such as Leamington Spa and Worcester who’s youth services provided such provision for young people. It was the most popular activity of the day attracting a large crowd. I was mainly into flatland at the time riding in the UKBFA nationals with my friend Jason Hewitt in the early 90s when, with a couple of other friends, we went for a week to Cornwall, eventually finding Mount Hawke. If you have been there it’s a village with a few hundred houses and a narrow, rough singletrack lane that leads to a gate and a huge skatepark in the middle of nowhere which was outdoors at the time. I was blown away trying to figure out how a village in the middle of nowhere could have this? There was now no excuse for not having one in Redditch.

Sometimes I used to go down the old run-down Redditch track, stand where the start gate was and remember what once was and the good times – the crowds, the race meetings, the jumping sessions, stacking the tyres up on the third berm to see who could clear the most – things that meant so much to us but that are only memories now.

Maybe it was the hand of fate. I made a decision to drive down a local estate just to turn around when I saw a new group of young BMXers in a town where I thought I was one of Redditch’s last three riders left. I stopped the car to speak to them, I showed them a few flatland tricks although one of them nicked my car keys because he thought I was a bit dodgy and was about to make off with their bikes. I asked them what’s happening in Redditch for BMX now, “Nothing” they replied. “We’ve been to the council,” they said “ – they’ve got no money and some youth worker turned us away when we asked if he could help get us some ramps.” Then I remembered what I saw at Mount Hawke and thought there’s no excuse – I said I would help them.

The Redditch Wheels Project

We started to get organised and set up Redditch Wheels Project as a steering group that included the young people, joined by riders Jason Hewitt and Dean Cantilo. I set up meetings with local councillors and officers, youth workers, local residents groups to raise awareness and the profile and convince them this will be a fantastic facility for young people. I go myself a reputation where there was money going in these community groups, I was there to get it. We were granted a night at the Redditch Youth House with the very young people who I had met with Skateboards, bikes and an empty sports hall. This was a huge learning curve and not having much of a clue at first I was passed from pillar to post trying to get a Skatepark. There was another guy in Redditch Pritt Kalsi who too was trying to get a Skatepark together. Pritt linked me up with Anthony Jones who I knew a little from Radlands who was having a similar problem in Birmingham and both joined the Redditch Wheels Project. Anthony recommended in the short term that building trails would be a solution while we campaigned for a skatepark. Trails were starting to blow up on the BMX scene in the mid 90’s and this would be a popular option. I too was travelling around and riding various dirt spots such as the Spinny in Kingswinford and Kidderminster. We went to the council with this idea and they granted us permission to build on the old BMX track. We built a good relationship with the council and show were legit, gained their trust and proved weren’t going anywhere. We secured a grant from my company charity – The Charles Henry Foyle Trust and a local plant firm Komatsu, and work started on the trails. I left Anthony to it. He was a builder by trade and I could work a shovel. The old bomb hole section of the track was converted into a tabletop to roll into an eight-foot fly-off to hip. An eight pack to a berm into more sections, a six-pack, big two-pack. Redditch BMX Track was now a dirt jumping and trails park of epic proportion. We raised the profile and need for a purpose-built Skatepark while we continued to raise funds ourselves.

Word soon spread and never since 1984 had this place seen so many riders. When you see a good new riding spot appear, so do new riders and new friends. Regulars at the trails were Martin and Steven Murray, Dale Holmes, Geth Shooter, Kerry and Scott Edgeworth, Chico Hooke and a whole new generation of locals appeared. Young people would head over from the local estates and get involved in digging jumps, they had a place now. In July 1997 we held our first BMX and Skate even with rollerblade and Skateboard Jam on the car park and a dirt jam at the trails. The following year we showcased an indoor event which over 300 attended. We built ramps inside while BMXers towed Inline skaters to hit the ramps at speed while the Pro Rider Mark Atkins was hitting massive backflips. This showcased it big time even being featured on TV. We were like “look this is what the youth need in this town and we are the right team to take this on – get behind this and support it- it works for young people!”

A mortal blow

All was going well when tragedy struck: Anthony Jones died of a heart attack in his sleep aged 30. Anthony was a good friend to many people, a good rider – he was a burly guy with a riding style to match and those who knew him will remember his big over flat 360s out of the bomb hole. He was a nice guy and well-liked. Things seemed to go downhill for us after that due to low morale and finding the shortfall in funding for the skatepark. It seemed that there was no light at the end of the tunnel. Everyone was like “I don’t think it’s going to happen let’s just spend what we have and build a mini ramp>”

Redditch Borough Council Comes Good

It was somehow meant to be that BMX would prevail at Redditch. The council had a restructure and were looking to put money into leisure which included selling off the land– they stumped up £100,000 to add to the £15,000 we raised ourselves. They said we had proved we weren’t going anywhere and were committed.

In the meantime, we had designed the skate park. It was1999 now and work started on the skatepark – first, a tarmac area that everybody thought was a new car park because it was months before any ramps started to appear. Nearly a year passed and the skatepark was finished at last. The council asked us to run it for them, and the Redditch Wheels Project became a charity and took on the running of the park. The open day followed and we held an open day attended by around 2,000 people and dedicated it to the memory of Anthony Jones who knew just before his passing we had the funds to build the Skatepark. He was as determined as I to see this through. A mural to his was created on the wallride so he could overlook the Skatepark.

This, to me, has been a mixture of triumph and tragedy, it’s been a struggle all the way but the end result was well worth it. I could not let BMX slip away in this town, the place where it all began in this country. Redditch Skatepark now sits proudly next to where the old BMX track once was. I would like to take this opportunity to thank Redditch Borough Council who are totally behind what we are doing, all the members of the Wheels Project and anyone who has ever helped in any way. We will never stop and the Redditch Wheel Project played a major role in the creation of the creation of the Redditch Floodlit BMX Track in 2010. The future off the back of the Olympics we plan to widen our facilities and build a Wheels Sports park of international significance.