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Protest at the offices of AEW UK

On Friday 24th February, a group of passionate and determined skaters representing Ryde Arena, travelled to London to stage a flashmob performance/protest against the closure of Ryde Arena outside the offices of AEW UK in London, accompanied by their parents and guardians as well as members of the Ryde Arena Community Action Group, James Wooven from the Isle of Wight County Press and live blogger Lyn Blackledge of After storm Dorris battered the country last week, we were blessed with a bright, clear and reasonably mild day for our protest! We did feel very lucky indeed.

The group travelled on a coach provided by Seaview Services at a reduced rate (the driver waived his fee) funded by Rob Hemper (RACAG committee member) via Wightlink who very kindly offered the crossings for free. Throughout the duration of Ryde Arena’s closure, Wightlink, who sponsor our teams, has been incredibly generous with their sponsored ferry travel discounts for all the teams continuing to skate on the mainland. During Friday’s crossing, the skaters invited the captain of their ferry to have his picture taken with them holding a banner thanking Wightlink for their continued support.

En route to our destination, Rob, a popular Island singer/songwriter sang protest songs he composed about the lockout accompanying himself on guitar while Lynn Blackledge provided a live feed of our adventure. Lunch, again organised by Rob and generously donated by The Solent Inn, Ryde, was provided for all the skaters and afterwards we were treated to wonderful home-made cakes baked by Rob’s own mum!

Arriving in London we were met by Terri Smith and another group of skaters who had travelled with her. Having arranged ourselves along the pavement outside the entrance to AEW’s offices, our demonstration began.

The Synchro and figure skaters raised awareness of our situation while entertaining passers-by, by performing their ‘British Championship’ flash mob which can be viewed on YouTube: Their dance was so compelling the traffic even stopped to watch and roses were handed out to the drivers to thank them for their support.

Junior ice hockey players, parents and figure skaters flanked both sides holding banners and placards in support. Rob played his guitar during intervals between more flash-mob performances and chanting, while the skaters took the opportunity to hand out red roses to passers-by and office workers coming from and going into the building. Each rose had a hand-written message from skaters attached to it; words conveying their feelings of loss (such as can be read in this blog) and about their ultimate hope to regain their rink.

This small, peaceful gesture of hope was in stark contrast to the appalling behaviour of AEW UK themselves, who refused to meet the skaters to receive their cards or hear their stories, instead actually calling the police to come and deal with these children dancing and giving out flowers. The somewhat bemused officers were most understanding, so much so that they offered to try and persuade a representative from AEW to come down and talk to us. Not unexpectedly, given their cowardly behaviour, nobody from AEW UK did. Indeed, no one from AEW dared to venture outside their offices the entire time we were there. But since it was clear there was interest from inside the building, the skaters moved their performance to the opposite side of the street so they could see us better. The atmosphere was very moving for the young skaters as so many passers-by expressed their support.

Our demonstration lasted just under an hour, after which time the coach took us to ‘Luminosity’ ice rink at Canary Wharf for a magnificent hour of skating (funded by RACAG members so the children would have a chance to enjoy some free time on the ice after so long) in the most awesome surroundings! The young skaters and several adults took to the ice with huge enthusiasm and excitement, the rink being almost as big as Ryde Arena and with a positively electric atmosphere (as well as a luminous floor!)

After skating we dashed off home, unfortunately missing our 8pm crossing by a hair and arriving back on the Island just after 11pm. It was a long day but the everyone felt it was worth it to try to make AEW UK and their London investors aware of the consequences of AEW's actions and how they have devastated the lives and dreams of so many real people. The children also enjoyed the trip, the performances and the skating. Most importantly, the protest was clearly a huge embarrassment for AEW UK who certainly didn’t see us coming!

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