The Cann Hall and Betongpark Ltd Interview with Daryl Nobbs

Daryl Nobbs, August 2020.

All photography by Sam Elstub.

Yes Daryl, introduce yourself for us please!

Yes mate! So I’m a skateboarder of twenty years, and I have been working with skateparks for about ten of those years. As you remember (laughs), I did the whole ‘sponsored skater’ thing for some years. I feel incredibly privileged to have experienced that, and even more lucky that I found a way to transition - pun intended - into something so creative and intrinsic to skateboarding.

I’ve done everything from cleaning tools and making the tea, to pouring concrete, to detailed design work. I got into skateparks just by doing it for fun; over the years I was involved in various DIY spots, eventually managing to make a ‘real’ job out of it. Right now, I run Betongpark Limited here in the UK, which basically means I’m cleaning tools and making tea, pouring concrete and doing designs…just with way more paperwork (laughs).

Can you tell us about the history of Betongpark Ltd? When and where was it founded, who has been involved over the years?

So Betongpark was originally founded in Oslo, Norway by the two biggest and baddest Norwegians ever - Kasper Helle and Øyvind Hammer. I met Kasper and Hammer right when they were starting out, and what was supposed to be a two week work trip to Norway turned into eight years of living and working all over Scandinavia. Having worked all over Europe before, it was incredible to see how Scandinavian designers and councils combine skateable spaces with public life, and how more broadly accepting of skateboarding they are. This has had a huge influence on our design approach as a company.

A lot of people have come and gone over the years out in Norway, but for the UK it's a smaller team and we are very proud to say that we keep it 100% skater owned and run, from the team in the office to the crew on site. All too often in the UK, parks are built without enough consideration for space between obstacles, or the site team don't skate themselves, which leads to lazy finishes. We're trying to change this, one park at a time.

Give us a rundown on the various parks and builds you’ve worked on with Betongpark Ltd…

There would be far too many to list them all here; we must be well into the hundreds now internationally. Some obvious favourites would be the oversized Tasta skatepark in Stavanger, Norway, as well as a park we completed last year in Sandnes where we created an entirely red plaza with some amazing sculptural features, as part of an insane development created by Space Group. That said, it’s not always the biggest, most extravagant projects that stand out the most; we have been lucky enough to work closely with some amazing and passionate scenes. Cann Hall in Waltham Forrest, London, was amazing for that. We worked with such an awesome crew of locals with some awesome ideas, who also really understood our approach to design.

Personally though, it will always be the grassroots projects that matter the most. We were lucky enough to work with Dave Watson and the June Store guys down in Leigh on Sea last summer, extending and reimagining their old park. A totally different project we are stoked to be involved in is City Mill Skate, which is like an academic and design based version of community DIY where all demographics of the local scene are helping to design skate spots at the Olympic Park, which are small scale skateable sculptures that blend into the streetscape.

Oh, and in case you’ve been living under a rock, we have been also involved in a little project called HACKNEY FUCKING BUMPS (laughs). Hackney Bumps has been important for so many reasons; it has been one of the most monumental community DIY initiatives ever, whilst also laying out a blueprint for how we can preserve and restore our historical parks and spots. To be involved since day one at the bumps has been a pleasure and an honour. Side note: new stuff coming up at The Bumps real soon…!

Daryl sends up a stalefish at The Bumps.

I’m assuming COVID impacted your operation; how different was 2020 to the year you had planned?

It did, naturally, with its obvious downfalls, but at the same time I think we were able to draw a lot of positives from it. The world learnt a lot about local community as well as the value of public spaces and parks, and even as skaters who are already completely immersed in these environments, we began to find so much more value in the spaces right outside our own front doors.

We’ve always allowed Betongpark to grow organically, and all the surrounding effects of COVID definitely helped to guide our path. When I first moved back to the UK and started setting up Betongpark Limited, I was listening to a talk at Pushing Boarders, where I met sitting next to me a young landscape architect dying to get into skatepark design. That young landscape architect turned out to be the ultimate ripper and my main man Dom Alden. For those of you who don’t know, Dom is responsible for some of the raddest terrain getting created out there right now. Similarly, when COVID happened, it made The Bumps rebirth possible. The bumps rebirth saw the most amazing coming together of skaters in East London – where, in turn, we met our second absolutely awesome super-stylish-landscape-architect-skater, Sam Elstub. On top of that we began to piece together an incredible crew of new skatepark builders. I love how organically the whole thing has come together; the entire Betongpark family has fallen into place purely through being passionate people who love what they do. All real skaters, no bullshit. The final piece to the puzzle fell into place recently when we were honoured to be joined by Stuart Maclure, who amongst other insane accolades had recently finished up the restoration project with Long Live Southbank. This brought us full circle, as Stu is also one of the cofounders of Pushing Boarders, where I had originally met Dom.

I know I have gone off on a total tangent here, but I guess the point is you can always find opportunity, even in adversity. The world has been a crazy and tough place in a lot of ways the for the last eighteen months, so it makes me super grateful and proud that we’ve been able to draw some positives from it all.

When did you first hear about the prospect of a skatepark being included at Cann Hall Park?

So we actually didn’t hear about the project that long before the formalities began. By chance - or not by chance, depending how you look at it - all of the work we had been doing with The Bumps connected us to a person who connected us to a person who told us they had heard Cann Hall was looking to get rebuilt. It’s right around the corner from us in East London, so naturally we reached out to the local skaters and got involved. I can’t express how grateful I am to James and Josh and all of the crew over there for trusting us with their park. It was an absolute pleasure to work with them all, and it really felt like we were working towards a shared vision. Plus, it's dope to build something close enough to your house you will actually be able to skate it (laughs).

Talk us through the design please. There are definite Nordic elements in there that link back to your previous builds. From where did you draw inspiration for this one?

When we designed Cann Hall, it was important for us to stay true to Betongpark’s Scandinavian roots. This is who we are, and this is what we do. We steer clear of the generic box ticking, overcrowded and poorly conceived parks that are oh so common right now, instead focusing on the beauty in functionality and clean, defined form, as well as the broader use of the space. This all creates an environment that is actually pleasant to spend time in – not just ‘practise’ in. We paired our company's ethos with local heritage and the surrounding skate scene. The defining yellow band that runs throughout the park is a reference to local draughtsman Harry Beck’s London tube map, and around the yellow band we basically just designed a bunch of perfect stuff to watch Josh (Cox) and Korahn (Gayle) destroy on Instagram everyday (laughs).

The tilted volcano is actually an exact replica of a park we built in Oslo which is frequented by the wizard Didrik Gallaso. Naturally, we would never look to replicate any element of our designs, but when the local users showed us a picture of that element without realising it was ours, it felt like a perfect romance of marrying our two incredible cities together.

To break it down, the park feels simple, yet it is not boring. There are a plethora of obstacles in a pretty limited area, yet it feels spacious. It appears clean, yet there are some really unique sculptural elements in there. For us, one perfectly dimensioned ledge with ample space is eternally greater than three poorly designed elements crammed too close together. That’s our opinion at least.

Plus, its got a long, yellow slappy kerb!

When did the build at Cann Hall officially start? And whom did you have working on the job with you?

The site got set up just before Christmas, and we started work right after the holidays. The project actually went super fast, with the majority of the work getting done in a month, which was rad considering the weather was grim! The crew on Cann Hall was absolutely amazing. I somehow managed to coerce my day one homie Mr Felix Parker to come back on with us; me and Felix basically started building DIY together about ten years ago and have worked together on and off ever since. Stockwell ripper Ewen Bower joined us, despite constantly grumbling about being in East London (laughs). Old Cann Hall local Sam Neil came in to help us concrete, and what made me immensely proud was to draft in Nick Tombs and Rich Maskey – two of the driving forces behind Hackney Bumps. Nick and Rich are the ultimate success story of the positive affects of community led DIY projects, plus they are just two of the raddest dudes who aren’t jaded from ten years of freezing their asses building off in a muddy field (laughs).

Give us a couple of memorable stories from the build please. I can imagine working on a park in East London throughout winter created a handful of unique situations, haha.

To be honest I was expecting a little more weirdness from the locals! Thankfully there wasn’t any break-ins or whatnot. I think the best thing we saw from local nutters was a roadman getting towed down the street on rollerblades at full speed by a Rottweiler (laughs). The weather was pretty brutal to us, though. Pouring floors in the winter is always going to be painful, but I think I got a record shift in at Cann Hall. We poured a floor on Thursday morning, which ended up being an all-nighter, which ran straight into Friday's pour, which I then stayed with until about 3:30am that night. I then went back in on the Saturday morning and worked the whole day getting it finished. That sucked! But I do have to give the biggest of shout outs to Josh Cox for coming by that Saturday and helping out, as well as bringing the necessary case of Holsten! We wouldn’t have made it without you, bro!

As the build got close to completion, did you have much of a problem with too eager people hopping the fence to have a session?

The build itself was actually so chill, but I guess the winter weather helped with that. The problem was once the park was finished, skateparks were still technically closed according to government guidelines. This meant the council asked us to leave the fence up – and then naturally people were sneaking in. I can’t blame 'em, and to be honest, I don’t think the council were too concerned either. There’s no greater compliment on a project than people’s eagerness to enjoy it! I doubt they have the same issue when they’re building a new swing set.

What were the best and worst aspects of the Cann Hall build?

100% the worst aspect was the weather, but to be honest, when you’re working with such an awesome group of humans, even that will struggle to beat you down. I think the highlight for me will have to be when I had an email from the council telling me they had received compliments from the public for Joni Mitchell being blared out of the speaker (laughs). Real hesh, us lot….

What’s next on the agenda for Betongpark Ltd? I see you’ve been testing some zero emissions equipment whilst working on the Forest Row restoration; can you tell us a bit about that?

A lot! Right now we are working flat out with the Norwegian side of the business; we are building in three locations over there, as well designing an enormous transition based park in the centre of Oslo, which will be a real prestigious project for us. As well as that we are currently finishing up an extension to the legendary oddity that is Forest Row skatepark in East Sussex, which should be finished by the time this interview goes out. After that, we are going to build some new stuff down at the bumps, and we have a few more exciting projects in the pipeline!

The zero emissions stuff has been something we have been building up for a long time. It´s no secret that concrete as a material is a nightmare when it comes to carbon and climate change, but it is also without a doubt the only real option for skatepark construction. Granted, we are only using a fraction of concrete compared to the rest of the construction industry, but it’s something we are extremely passionate about being at the forefront of tackling. We are young, we are intrinsically linked with future generations simply by the nature of what we do, and as a company we are agile enough to really make changes. In our opinion, the industry as a whole could be doing more in this area.

There are a lot of techniques we are already using to help this, such as using a lot of state of the art equipment that basically eradicates the use of petrol engines on site. We are following our supply chains more closely, and even our studio and workshop are renewably powered now. This ethos is carried through all of our work, through design and construction, as well as the end product. We put a lot of consideration into how our designs can actually better the environment they are in once built, considering things like suitable planting and encouraging biodiversity.

On top of this we are constantly looking for ways we can be better and asking ourselves ‘how we can work towards zero waste?’. There are some amazing tricks we are working on with this, both from an environmental and skate perspective, such as investing in electric fleet vehicles, and even working with experimental alternatives to concrete made from mining waste. We are far from perfect just yet, but I am stoked to share our journey as we try and navigate our way towards being better, in the hope that it will inspire others to do the same.

I could go on about this for forever, but I passionately believe it is insane and irresponsible to do what we do without any consideration for the negative impacts. The construction industry can be so slow to make changes, and skatepark construction is no exception. People need to step up and take responsibility!

Any final words, of people you’d like to thank?

Support skaters building skateparks! Seriously, do your homework. A couple of skaters working in the office of a company is rad, but that doesn’t add up to much when the guys on site couldn’t care less about the end result. We talk about it all the time when it comes to skateshops and brands, but it needs to be the case when it comes to skateparks, too.

I want to thank the wonderful humans at Cann Hall for trusting us with their project, the entire Betongpark crew over in Norway for leading the way, and the entire extended Betongpark family here in the UK. We are so much more than just the guys in the office or the guys on site; thanks to the amazing people around us.

On top of the Betongpark family I want to thank everyone I have ever had the honour of working alongside over the years, all the guys doing it right. Massive shout out to the incredible FSR boys down in Denmark, the homies at Bryggeriet in Sweden, the producers of some of the coolest parks in the world, Yamato Living Ramps in Germany, and of course my man Mark at Hood Skateparks over the pond. Also, I want to thank my dad, the legend Mr Pete Nobbs for coming in and picking up coping or tying rebar when we are coming up short (laughs). Big up!

Skaters - in order of appearance.

Josh Cox

Arthur Derrien

Dom Alden

Ewen Bower

Daryl Nobbs

Umar Muhammad

Sol Dhariwal

Dexter Harrison

Rich Maskey

Nuno Silva

Aurora Bullock

Filmers: Rich Maskey and Jackson Davis

Music: Hackney Bumps - The Band. Tom Fuller, Sam Charlton and Rich Maskey