New skate park to be built at St Mary's Rec in Swanley after £250k raised thanks to BBC Apprentice contestant
Funds have been secured to construct a £250,000 Olympics-inspired skate park.
Skaters have long called for tired facilities at St Mary's Rec in Swanley to be upgraded, with uneven surfaces and rusty ramps preventing most from making full use of the park.
Project manager and former Apprentice star JD O'Brien discusses the project
Hundreds signed an online petition calling for an overhaul but it was only after businessman JD O'Brien, from East Peckham, near Tonbridge, got involved that things got rolling.
Prior to the pandemic, the dad-of-three set up Concrete Wave, a community interest company, with a view to helping the park achieve its potential.
JD, who appeared on series 12 of BBC's The Apprentice, also started a grassroots crowdfunder campaign to source funds to deliver a new mini ramp.
In October last year, he secured £150,000 in National Lottery funding, as well as additional funds from several sources including Swanley Town Council which has backed the scheme.
Now JD has been successful in finding the remaining funds needed and it's hoped when built the skate park, designed by leading UK company Maverick Industries, will inspire a new generation of skaters and BMX users.
When complete it will include a beginners' mini ramp for less experienced riders. It will also host regular competitions, include facilities for wheelchair users and host a "female-only" skating day.
The idea for the project first came about shortly after JD's return to the UK following a stint in Singapore.
"I moved to Sevenoaks having lived in Asia for the best part of a decade," JD explained. "When I moved back I really craved a bit of community. I was really looking for a good project.
"A friend of mine, Cllr Roddy Hogarth in Sevenoaks, and I would bat around ideas of what I could do and eventually he said he was running a Sevenoaks public realm arts project on the skate park.
"So I went and had a butchers and thought there is no point adding art to this, it needs a bit of a redo."
JD's efforts come after Skateboard GB's success at last summer's Tokyo Olympics.
The sport made its debut at the games in Japan and has seen a huge surge in appeal among youngsters.
JD explained: "There's just huge demand for it. I think when you dig into the world of skateboarding you see there is this huge community within skateboarding that supports each other.
"It's a really close-knit crew. I think that's really important at a time when community and sticking together is so important because it's very hard, in what some people might describe as a slightly divisive world these days."
The former Apprentice star hopes the skate park will foster greater community spirit and bring people together, both young and old.
But most importantly, he says he just wants to deliver a "really good facility" where children can go for free.
At a time when the country is facing a cost of living crisis, he believes it's as important as ever to be offering young people opportunities to both learn and play.
"In Swanley there are people, like everywhere, that are struggling with the cost of living crisis and all of that," he said.
"The idea is if we can get the community engagement right, if we can get the councils on board and developers it can become a really important project."
He added: "I'm now moving on to look at the courses we can deliver. I'm really keen to now look at possibly delivering holiday programmes for kids.
"What's really come into focus for me is how much people need the support having to work longer hours."
JD also believes the skate park can spark the wider regeneration of the rec and surrounding area which is among the most deprived in the district.
There are further plans to install a cafe, upgrade basketball and tennis courts and also introduce cycle and running tracks.
But the project has not been without its setbacks and the ex-city broker says he is delighted to finally be getting it over the line.
JD said: "I had it all kind of sorted out and then Covid hit and two of the funders I had spoken to immediately said no.
"I got quickly kind of flummoxed and had to change tact and it has taken me a year and a half to do it rather than six months."
With prices rising he says he constantly has to "be on the ball" to ensure the project remains deliverable.
"The prices are going up all the time so I have to be on the ball," he added. "You've got the beautiful Brexit, Covid and the cost of living and you have to duck and dive with this stuff."
If all goes to plan it's hoped the works will get under way this summer with an opening date set for the Autumn.
But JD is keen not to stop there and says his next project is to secure funds to build a cycling and running track in East Peckham, near where he lives.
"If I can get Swanley and East Peckham done in the next year – funding and built – I think I've done alright there.
"It's not just about the money, it's about pulling together and creating something special for the kids."