Before Thunder Park I had been supporting the growth and development of urban sports in Northern Ireland for ten years.
I want people to understand that Thunder Park isn’t a skatepark. Thunder Park is an action sports academy, and the next level platform for personal development.
Essentially, there are ten different things that can be done in the one space, including self exploration, personal development, meet friends, get active.
You can be four years old, or you can be fifty-four years old and get very similar things out of the activities that you can do here.
Quite a lot of the youngsters who come here are quite introverted. And what we do is give them a creative space.
BMXing makes me feel alive. Nothing I have ever done to date gives me the send of freedom, empowerment and confidence that I get out of BMXing. This is my way of displaying my craft, my culture and my identity as a person.
Story by Bout Yeh photographers Belfast
I got a bike for my ninth birthday. Straight away,I learnt two tricks in the driveway, and that was me hooked. And that’s well over two decades ago.
Once I got into BMX it was my first reason to meet the other side of the community. Mum let me cycle down to Ormeau Park when I was eleven, where I met two other young fella’s the same age as me, with names that I’d never heard of. Manus and Emmet. And I thought, that’s strange.
I met my best friend and best at Ormeau Park. He did a 360 on a chrome GT BMX with an Adidas baseball cap on, on his own. And I went over to speak to him, and we’ve been besties ever since.
We’ve been all over Europe together.
I had done a really good BMX trick, and a BMXer friend and I went out to Thompson’s Garage Club, Belfast to celebrate. And I bumped into a girl and I was full of the confidence and the Joys of Spring, because I felt amazing that I’d done something I wanted to do for a long time. And that confidence carried across into a conversation that convinced the girl to like me enough to marry me.
In 2005 I formed a charity with a group of other gentleman, and the sole goal was to achieve permanent facilities and we did it. We created Bridges Urban Sports Park, Belfast, took us seven years, and hundreds and thousands of hours of consultation and Labour to get to the point that it getting started to be developed.
I had to leave a career as an engineer at Bombardier to make sure the project got realised. Because there were so many planning meetings that had to be signed off, and we had to be there for the project to move forward.
So, it was either stay on in Bombardier and build a career and own a bloody house on the M3, by now. Or else make sure that facility came to fruition. And at that time, I cared more about the sport than I did about money. And I still feel that way.
That project brought success and recognition for BMX sport in Northern Ireland like never before. Very soon after that Carrickfergus Town Council, Northern Ireland, said ‘that’s working well, and we want a similar facility in our Borough’.
We gave them the know-how to set up an event, educate the local community and build support. We’re also consulting with Banbridge Council on a similar venture.
Matt Gillespie (Captain Matt)
Thunder Action Sports, Bangor, N. Ireland
Photos: Bout Yeh photographers Belfast