As well as being an essential part of Community life, sport plays a huge role in the happiness, fitness and overall wellbeing of people of all ages across the country.
This is why sport and physical activity shouldn’t ever be at risk, but many ice skaters find their sport under threat due to the closure of local rinks.
Communities often fight hard to reverse these decisions. Take the Parents at Grimsby Ice Rink, who recently managed to bring their local rink back from the brink by taking the facility under private ownership, following a year of tireless fundraising and planning.
For some however, the fight is still ongoing. In October 2016, skaters on the Isle of Wight arrived at Ryde Arena, the island’s only ice rink, to find the doors locked and bolted. The rink had been closed by bailiffs sent in by its leaseholder, AEW - an Investment Management Company.
Shortly after, residents formed Ryde Arena Community Action Group (RACAG). The Group composed of passionate skaters, parents, Ryde Arena employees and all who used the facility regularly before its closure. They had one aim: to raise awareness through their stories and ultimately resurrect the sport of ice skating on the Isle of Wight.
RACAG quickly secured the support of its Ward Councillors, the Isle of Wight Council and newly elected MP, Bob Seeley. In February the Group successfully listed Ryde Arena as an ‘Asset of Community Value’ and staged a protest outside the London offices of AEW.
Approximately 40 individuals, including 21 skaters aged 7 years upwards, took part in the protest, performing a flash mob on the pavement outside the building on Jermyn St. The protest contributed to the Group’s plan of triggering a ‘Community Asset’ clause, which paused the commercial sale of the arena, allowing the Group to get an independent valuation of the facility.
They subsequently enlisted the support of Caroline Lucas, the local Co-Leader of the Green Party. Caroline backed RACAG’s campaign to reclaim the rink publicly, stating: “The disgraceful actions of this investment company are inflicting misery on the Isle of Wight.
“Not only have 30 jobs been lost, but the thousands of islanders who use the rink have been locked out of a facility that’s crucial to their well-being.
“This company only cares about making profit – and seemingly isn’t concerned by the impacts of its decision.
“It’s outrageous that children are now having to wake up in the early hours to travel to mainland venues to train.
“AEW must reverse their disastrous decision and immediately commit to reopening the rink.”
AEW’s response to the Community’s interest in the Arena was to market it for £3.5 million, a figure more than three times the price they originally bought it for and one the local community argued was unrealistically high. However, in September the IOW Council passed a motion denying access across its land for the purposes of redevelopment, to AEW or any successor to its interest in the building until such time as the Arena is reopened and fully occupied.
Protests and demonstration events continue to drum up support for the cause, the ‘Ring around the Rink’ where the Community joined hands and surrounded the Arena was particularly poignant for the community, as was skaters practicing off-ice in the parking area of the abandoned rink.
Most recently, on October the 7th, the Group organised a 12km memory walk to mark one year since the Community lost its Ice rink.
Today the fight to reclaim the rink, which has left holes in so many lives on the island, continues. RACAG member and parent of two young skaters, Nichola Roe, said: “As well as being a member of the Group, I’m also Treasurer for Wight Ice Leisure Ltd – the charity we set up to help process funds and donations for our future rink and its skaters.
“My two daughters have been skating now for just over two and a half years, it has been very difficult for us to manage the last year without a home rink.
“Growing up, I skated in Liverpool for two years myself. Upsettingly, this rink also closed and I was left with no other option but to hang up my skates.
“I remember being utterly devastated. My parents at the time were going through a bitter divorce and I was caught up in the middle of it. Ice skating was my passion and my release - it was heart-breaking for me to lose it. It seems dramatic, but it took a long time for me to recover from the rink’s closure.
“I understand how much the role sport has to play in the lives of young people, so I appreciate the loss of Ryde Arena and its consequences to the Community all the more.
“Fortunately, our skating coach, Terri Smith, found a way for her Figure and Synchronized skaters to continue to train. We now get up at 2:45am on Sundays to take our children to Gosport Ice Rink for 5am, and the midweek session my daughter goes to after school, doesn’t see her home until almost 9:30pm.
“It’s hard work for all of us but what’s remarkable is the sheer determination and dedication of those children still skating. They have passion and a real drive to continue, despite the terribly early mornings and late nights.
“We, as their parents, guardians and supporters are working hard to keep their dreams alive. After a year-long battle we are hoping this story will have a happy ending – and soon!”
In addition to residents of the Isle of Wight, Councillors and local MP, RACAG have seen huge levels of support from businesses and local organisations.
Nichola, along with other members of the Group have been actively fundraising throughout the Community to support both the future rink and to help with travel expenses for those training on the mainland.
In the past few months more than £2000 has been raised through donations from Rotary and Lions Clubs, other local ventures and individuals wishing to support the skating community.
Robina Marshall, parent and RACAG member, added: “Over the years Ryde Arena has made a very positive difference in our community, particularly in the lives of young people.
“Toddlers, the elderly and the disabled who all used the Arena, have also been affected by the its closure, having a knock-on effect to the social life and well-being of the whole Island.
“As well as playing a big part in Islanders’ health, Ryde Arena also raised funds for local charities and was used regularly by a variety of schools – the loss of this facility has been tragic.
“All of the political parties on the Isle of Wight are united in supporting us. Our local Councillors and MP are supporting our goal to restore the rink to the Community.
“Although it has been a year since the doors were unexpectedly locked, we are still as determined as ever to keep fighting to get our rink back. We won’t stop seeking a solution which gets our remarkable skaters and hockey players back on the ice in the Isle of Wight once again.”
The Ryde Arena Community Action Group are another amazing example of just how much sport means to communities far and wide, and how far they’re willing to go to preserve it.
To help the group, you can make a donation by contacting Nichola Roe at RACAG.