RIP ROM? Zach Shaw & Clint Vancliff reflect on the closing of an iconic park | Ride UK BMX

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RIP ROM? Zach Shaw & Clint Vancliff reflect on the closing of an iconic park

The legendary ROM Skatepark in Essex has closed its doors.  After 41 years of service and despite Heritage Listed Status, this unique park unfortunately cannot remain open.  That’s what we wrote on our Instagram a few weeks back, and although we were waiting to hear some news about the park’s future, none has come yet.

This is following a press release on the official Rom Skatepark website, which says that it was forced to close after insurance and business rates were increased dramatically while attendance (and revenue) dropped.

We’ve since spoken to regular locals Clint Vancliff and Zach Shaw to get their thoughts on the situation, and we’ve all searched the archives for some fine imagery from over the years.

Photo above – Del Shepherd jumping the pool, Ride to Glory 2014. Photo: Robin Pearson

Zach Shaw, master of the pool. Photo: Kay Clauberg

“Honestly there is no way to sugar coat it.  We all know the history and we all love that place, it’s part of who I am and has played a monumental part in shaping my life, to see it end this way is devastating and ultimately it was unnecessary.

“I lost count of the amount of times I had to dodge dog shit or fox shit in bowls or basically anywhere in the park and then get crappy comments from the management because I asked them to clear it up.

“There are genuinely less than a handful of parks like this in the world and ROM sits at the very top of that rare tree for design and usability”

“It had been run down to such an extent that no one wanted to go there and to cap it all off they changed the session times and doubled the prices as well as introducing a yearly ‘membership’ fee, this had a knock on effect. The people who had been going and supporting the park felt that they were being ripped off so they just stopped going.

“I have hope that it can be saved and reshaped/rebuilt management and business wise, so that future generations can enjoy learning to ride their bikes, skateboards or any other wheeled device as there are genuinely less than a handful of parks like this in the world and ROM sits at the very top of that rare tree for design and usability.”

–Zach Shaw

Billy Mills. Photo: Clint Vancliff
Tom Milham in the Performance Bowl. Photo: Clint Vancliff
Ben Wallace, over tooth. Photo: Robin Pearson
Check the double jumpbox in the background. Photo: Clint Vancliff

Q&A with photographer Clint Vancliff

– When did you first ride at Rom?

Middle of 2001.  Ride UK had a skatepark directory in the mag at the time that said helmets weren’t compulsory.  On my first visit I overshot going through the Moguls and hit my head pretty hard, I bought a helmet before the next ride, haha.

– What’s the scene been like over the years?

The scene at Rom has been pretty awesome over the years to be fair and I doubt there has been another like it elsewhere.  It has brought people together from all walks of life and it has never mattered if you rode, skated, inlined or scootered.  At the end of the day we were all there to hang out, ride the park and have a beer or 2 (over 18s of course and not while riding, that’s how you lose your front teeth.)

I bumped into Billy Mills and Matt Paine pretty much straight away while riding around Elm Park and soon found ourselves together at Rom most weekends and after school, when Wednesday night late sessions were introduced.  We’d look up to the older locals like Ian Stokes, Rich Shaw, Ross Stokes, Bobby Stoner, Big Tone, Trigg etc but as the years rolled by we’d find ourselves being the older locals who the newer generation of kids would look up to when coming for a ride and asking for tips on how to do things.

Clint’s son Kye learning the ropes. Photo: Clint Vancliff

For me, the peak was when I worked there with Ian and Matt between 2004 & 2006, just being a tea-boy and park cleaner.

Every weekend was busy in the summer, there would be queues outside the door before opening, but Sunday was like church.  The 10-2 session on the Sunday became known as the Old School session where people were coming back again since the 80s to meet up with old friends, show off old bikes (never ride them of course) or bring their kids down to show them where they grew up and getting them into riding, Super Bike Dan and Billy Purcell being the prime example of that.

“There was no social media back then so Rom sessions were the best way to catch up with people and see each other ride”

The 2-6 session would then bring the real sessions and those from further out and would be known to us by the area they came from.  For example, you had the Southend guys, the Basildon guys, Harold Hill guys, B&Q Crew (they rode the car park often), the Cyclone / Bicycle Union guys which was always a treat when they visited back then, I’d love a photo shoot with Scott in the Snake and Pool.  There was no social media back then so it was the only way to catch up with people and see each other ride.

Seeing as Fearless Ramps was out the back there would always be new little ramps showing up that we’d put in various locations to make new lines or gaps to jump.  There would be jersey barriers on the banks, sub boxes, many different launch ramps for doing step ups or step downs into or out of the banks. 

The most famous ‘ghetto ramp’ was a small flat bank Jimmy Rushmore put on one of the banks and extended higher to give us what we now know as ‘Elvis’ because ‘Elvis has left the building’ was sprayed onto it, haha.

Matt Paine, downwhip. Photo: Clint Vancliff
Jimmy Rushmore. Photo: Clint Vancliff
Billy Purcell, griz in the moguls. Photo: Robin Pearson
Matt Priest, footjam to fakie in the performance bowl. Photo: Robin Pearson
Mega scene at Rom Jam 2006. Photo: Clint Vancliff
Bruza, Rom Jam 2006. Photo: Clint Vancliff
The big move. Billy Mills sending it over the pool. Photo: Clint Vancliff

– Which is your favourite bowl or ramp?

Of the concrete it has to be the Moguls. Endless lines and the closest thing to a small set of trails at the park.

From the various wooden ramps put in the park it has to be the 50p hip-Volcano set up we had. That also had many lines to it and connected to the reservoir really well. That would be the first thing I’d put back in if I could build anything new.

The Moguls. Photo: Robin Pearson

– What’s the craziest thing you’ve seen there?

Too much has happened over the years but when people were jumping into the Cardrome from the Back Hip was nuts (I missed Scott Malyon whip it as I was looking elsewhere).

Jay Miron peg grinding the Bullet at full speed with Ti pegs making a lot of sparks.

Edwin riding the set of dirt jumps we had one time was cool.

One Rom Jam, one of the Bruza brothers aired the Performance and landed in the crowd, I don’t think he had got the hang of curved quarters before that, haha.

More recently would be Darren jumping into the Performance from the top of the ski slope (below) or Bill jumping the Pool (above.)

Darren van Wyk sending it! Photo: Clint Vancliff

– When you think back to a good Rom session, what comes to mind?

A big ol’ train and going as fast and high as possible without any aches that age brings.

– Do you think there’s a future for the park?

I think it will reopen again and will bring a resurgence of visitors back again after realising what it’s like to not have Rom available.  I’m guilty of taking it for granted as I haven’t even managed to get a ride in over there this year, plus I was shooting photos at a wedding on the day of the jam.

“Without Rom, I wouldn’t be who I am now”

I will be straight back down with my son Kye if it opens again and I’m sure many of the other locals will be bringing their kids too.

– Any final words?

Just a big thanks to Big and Little John for keeping the park open and maintained all this time.  Without it, like many, I wouldn’t be who I am now or know most of my closest friends I have gained from Rom.  I’m sure things will be figured out and sessions in full swing again soon.

Bill Purcell, down for life. Photo: Robin Pearson


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