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Andre Seidel & Tim Nokes of Campus

"At the root of it is our love for skateboarding. When things are tough you can get your board and go for a run in that park. This is ultimately what we set out to do, to find somewhere to skate."

When I was a younger man, I had a brief dalliance with the sport of skateboarding. It probably only lasted a couple of summers, ending quite abruptly when I finally landed a trick I’d been trying to do for ages, before immediately falling backwards off the board and breaking my wrist. It was in that moment that I realised this particular sport wasn’t for me. But despite my career being a short one, it instilled in me a respect for the discipline of skateboarding that remains to this day.

You see, skateboarding is really hard for two main reasons. Firstly, it’s very technical; try doing the smallest jump (or Ollie) and you’ll see it’s a movement made up of a series of submovements that require perfect balance, timing and weight distribution. Secondly, it’s potentially very painful. If you’ve ever met a serious skateboarder, chances are their list of injuries is almost as long as their list of achievements. So to get good at skateboarding requires commitment, discipline, perseverance and fearlessness. It’s for those reasons that it’s both addictive and character building.

Tim Nokes and Andre Seidel know this only too well. Lifelong skateboarders and trained youth workers, they independently recognised the potential skateboarding has to provide direction, confidence and a sense of belonging to the lives of young people and set out to harness its power to that end. But it wasn’t until they finally met each other that the pieces of the puzzle fell into place and Campus was born.

Based in Bristol, Campus is a not for profit organisation running two indoor parks, skate shops and a cafe with the aim of using ‘the positive energy and influence of skateboarding to engage with children and young people’. We met up with Tim and Andre at the Campus Pool park for a coffee in their newly opened cafe, The Daily Grind.

Tim & Andre from Campus

Can you give us a bit of background on Campus and the work you do here?

T: Before we started Campus I was working as a youth worker in an area not very far from here. The local youth club wasn’t open on Saturday’s but the kids wanted it to be so that they could go skateboarding there. I helped them find a pot of money to facilitate the setting up of a Saturday only skatepark with portable ramps in the sports hall of the youth centre, but I always wanted to turn it into a permanent indoor park.

I met Andre through skateboarding, and together we made plans to create Campus. I had started something but didn’t really know how to take it forward, and until then couldn’t ever find anyone who was as dedicated or had the same level of motivation or faith that it would work.

A: I was studying for a youth work degree at the time, writing my dissertation on how to use skatepark based activities to engage young people. A mutual friend of ours was like ‘Oh my friend Tim is doing this’, so I went along to see what he was doing and it just worked, we got on really well.

T: Yeah, it was really good timing because I was at a point where either something needed to happen or it was just going to stay the same and then eventually die.

A: At first we got a management committee together and tried to run a skate club from the youth centre, but then we were out having a beer and we thought – what are we doing here? why don’t we just open a skatepark? Also we had the foresight to recognise that with the change in government at that time, youth centres weren’t going to be the same. There were stories on the grapevine about how the youth work degree I was getting didn’t actually mean anything because no one was going to employ youth workers anymore. We just needed to do it.  

We found out that there was an old college that had just been decommissioned down the road from my house. The site was being run by a group of guardians who happened to be community focused, so we were like ‘we love the community, and we know how to bring loads of the community in here’. They were interested so they gave us their old painting and decorating warehouse. We were able to somehow negotiate a ridiculous rent of like £50 a month for a year or something.

T: [laughing] No it was £350 a month! But that included everything as well, there were no other costs, no utility bills. At that point we were doing everything with our own money as well. We invested a couple of grand each out of our own pockets and that £4,000 became our budget to kick this thing off.

There were stepping stones from then to getting to where we are now. We went from the youth centre to essentially a legal squat that was managed. That gave us the flexibility to be full time without the commitment of signing a five year lease and paying £2,000 a month just for rent. Three months after we opened we officially became an incorporated organisation.

A: It must be said, we had a really weird and amazing mix of people helping us at that time. For example we had Young Bristol who were giving us all their policies and procedures info, but then also we had a guy called Guthrie who had a mini ramp which he had asked if he could store with us and let us use. To build it ourselves would have cost us thousands. That mini ramp essentially became the centre of the skatepark.

T: There was a good amount of luck in there too, but it’s about knowing how to take it and what to do with it when something lucky does comes along.

A: After a year, the lease on the property ended and we had to find somewhere else. I heard about this place [Campus Pool] in the paper and put in an expression of interest to take it on. In the meantime we found out about another youth centre that was becoming available so we put an expression of interest in there too. We ended up getting both of them, probably because we already had a years worth of accounts, we were already incorporated and we had already formed a structure.

T: We had just weeks left on our lease before we were going to be kicked out and didn’t have another place to go. We had our application with South Gloucestershire Council for the process of the other youth centre being considered and I think it came through just two weeks before we were due to actually have no premises at all. We closed the old place and one month later we opened the doors at the new one. We were only out of business for a month.

A: It was seamless, honestly it was unreal.

Does the youth work aspect of Campus come from the fact that skateboarding in itself is such a positive thing to do, or is there another angle to it?

A: The ultimate goal is to provide not only a safe environment for young people but a space where we can work and develop relationships. A place where young people can come to us with problems and we can signpost them to different places. Before we can do that effectively we have to provide a business model that generates income and becomes self sustaining.

T: Weirdly, as far as youth work is concerned, the plan is to come full circle back to where we were in the first year, when we were subcontracted to deliver work for Young Bristol whilst simultaneously generating our own work. At one point we had about 20 hours a week of paid delivery. Back then we had a much lower level of experience, but because there was some money out there and schools were open to it, we got the work. We haven’t been able to return there because in the six years since, all of the funding has completely dried up.

A: Schools these days are operating on deficit budgets to the point where it makes more sense for them to employ an engagement worker for a year than to subcontract us at £150 for 4 hours to deliver more effective, targeted work with young people. The good thing is that because we’re not reliant on that funding, we are still providing a basic level of youth work for young people who come here.

That young person who is in there now skating used to go to the skate club we had. We’ve known him for ten years. He has a place here where he is welcomed, safe and able to do what he wants to do. He’s encouraged and supported, sometimes quite physically like when he doesn’t have shoes we’ll go into the back and get him a pair of sneakers and even a board or whatever. We are still providing that safe space for young people here, but in terms of the targeted work we need to push a bit further.

T: All the volunteering opportunities go out to young people and we are setting up internship programmes too. We’ve offered five apprenticeships so far. Out of the five, two went into full time positions with us, whereas the other three went into work elsewhere. We have got a validated route for developing young people but we don’t have the capacity to do much more because of the funding.

A: The aim is that in a year or two, or however long it takes, we won’t be reliant on funding to deliver youth work. We will be generating an income on sales of coffee or clothing and that money will employ people to deliver targeted youth work.

"In hindsight, when I thought we were going through a hard time, I now realise it probably wasn’t that bad. It would take something much bigger to unsettle me now because each time you overcome something you learn."

What does success look like to you?

A: A similar question that people ask us is ‘When will you feel like you have got there?’ And the reality is I don’t think we will ever feel like we have. We never celebrate anything it’s ridiculous, but we don’t. I think when you are entrepreneurial or when you are thinking about making something, you never quite get there.

T: I think about it in terms of a feeling of success rather than looking at the rewards of success. I feel successful when, on a Saturday I turn up for lunch with my little boy Wes, and I walk into a busy building with loads of stuff happening and nobody knows who I am. Wes has a good time and I have a good meal and I can see that staff are not staring at their phones and they are actually working and engaging with customers. I guess it will be successful when on any given day I can turn up at any time and it doesn’t need me to turn the key in the door.

What challenges do you see in the future?

A: Currently we have got a really good deal with the council for this building and with our business rates, but I think all the cuts are finally trickling down and councils are taking away a lot of that leeway so the discretionary rates relief that we get will probably go next year. That will create quite a big dent for us in our monthly overheads.

T: Come this next financial year we will have an increase in our overheads of somewhere around £1,600 a month.

A: It’s something we foresaw years ago. We have been building up to it, so if we can overcome that successfully then we are at a point where I think we have cracked it. We will be sustainable on a level where nothing else is going to be thrown at us, we are just going to be able to work and then capitalise on that. I think that is going to be a great feeling.

T: There are always other, more long term threats but they don’t really worry me. They could be around trends and what young people do with their time for example.

Skateboarding is going to be in the 2020 Olympics so that could have a really positive effect, but I also think you might see the corporates get involved and try to monetise something that we have done for a passion. Maybe an Olympic training centre opens up down the road and blows us out of the water. These are things that if I wanted to delve into my paranoid world I would think about, but I choose not to.

A: I think the nice thing for us though is that, at this point, we have diversified enough that even if that was going to happen we would still be ok. We are sat here outside the coffee shop which is great and actually today that’s going to be our biggest earner, that’s amazing. Whatever happens with the skatepark or the skate shop, we have got this other business so all of our eggs aren’t in the same basket.

"There was a good amount of luck in there too, but it’s about knowing how to take it and what to do with it when something lucky does comes along."

What characteristic do you most admire in other people?

T: For me it would probably be honesty and actually doing what you say you’re going to do. It’s about integrity, people know that if they volunteer for us they will get back in kind, but also they want to do it because it’s a decent and honest organisation. They know that I’m not buying a Porsche off the back of their volunteering.

A: I admire the opposite of apathy, if you are going to do something then really do it and do it proactively. I’m looking for someone to be a go-getter really.

When it’s tough, what keeps you motivated?

A: I think, for us, at the root of it is our love for skateboarding. When things are tough you can get your board and go for a run in that park. This is ultimately what we set out to do, to find somewhere to skate. It’s a good moment in time to not think about anything else.

T: The longer we do this the less the bad days affect me, there is almost no such thing as a bad day. It can be a bad period, a bit of time where things just aren’t going very well, but the longer you manage to keep it going and make it successful the easier those periods get.

In hindsight, when I thought we were going through a hard time, I now realise it probably wasn’t that bad. It would take something much bigger to unsettle me now because each time you overcome something you learn.

A: If we are going through a bad period I still like coming here because I am working to end that.

What’s the best piece of advice you have ever received and what piece of advice would you give to your 21 year old self?

A: I would tell myself to travel more. Sometimes I think about all those guys who are just travelling around. God that would be fun wouldn’t it?

T: What I would tell myself as a 21 year old is to not be so scathing of business. You don’t know anything and there are people in business who are good. We are all doing it for our own reasons. I had this ridiculous mindset where I thought that if you’re not passionate about something you shouldn’t be doing it. If you’re making Biros then you had better be passionate about Biros otherwise what are you doing? You’re just trying to make money. Actually that’s really scathing and negative and it makes no sense. I would tell myself to pay attention to business and learn about it because that is what you are going to end up doing.

A: Business wise the best advice from me would be to just do it. Someone might have a great idea but they are constantly waiting for the right time to act. It doesn’t work like that, there is never going to be a right time, you just need to do it and then once you’re in it you will realise that when you started was the right time.

What couldn’t you live without?

T: I would really struggle if I couldn’t actually skateboard. It sounds really silly but it’s such a good mind clearer and leveller. Little and often works so well for me in my day to day routine.

A: I’m surprisingly efficient, I don’t think I have one thing that I really can’t live without. I love skateboarding, so that would be tough.

T: My business is far more diverse than me. I have work, skateboarding, family, friends, there is not really many other facets so to take one away would be a massive loss.

"Someone might have a great idea but they are constantly waiting for the right time to act. It doesn’t work like that, there is never going to be a right time, you just need to do it and then once you’re in it you will realise that when you started was the right time."

Campus

The Campus Pool
Whitchurch Rd
Bishopsworth
Bristol, BS13 7RW

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