Mourning the loss of Bristo Square: The birthplace of Scottish skateboarding

A monument to a social scene to be lost forever


We’ve all spent a lunch break watching the skateboarders of Bristo Square attempt tricks — but this is soon to be a distant memory.

Now the uni plans on redeveloping the site into an amphitheatre around a new glass entrance to McEwan hall.

We went to talk to some of the skaters enjoying their last sessions on Bristo Square before it’s gone for good.

Bristo Square

First we chatted to three mates, veteran skaters, who have been on the scene for decades.

Meet middle-aged Rennie, a skater in the square since 1988 — he describes the redevelopment as “a very sad time for Scottish street skaters”.

“People from all over Britain come to Bristo Square to practice, it’s the only place you can go in Edinburgh to street skate without getting kicked out.”

Although Rennie is saddened by the news, he is thankful to the uni for letting them practice there for so long.

“There’s been an annual ‘street jam’ and party with a few hundred people, and they could have just got the police to tell us to stop.

“They could have had it fenced off, or made it private too.”

Rennie, Neil and Benjie: Bristo Square veterans

Rennie, Neil and Benjie: Bristo Square veterans

PhD student Neil, who has been coming to Bristo since the early 90s, says: “It’s a missed opportunity by the university. They could have included the skateboarders in their plans, combining the user groups.

“Perhaps the university was a bit narrow-minded with its approach.

“They didn’t even consider skateboarding. It seemed a little bit from their plans as though they were purposely going out of their way to prevent it.”

They all have a rose-tinted view of their grey skate park, and are happy to talk at length about their years spent here — they even pull out their cameras to show their photos of previous sessions.

Television director Benjie has used Bristo since 1989. He describes the square as a “monument to a social scene”.

“Having skateboarders here encourages students to use it. If they came through and it was just alcoholics in the corner drinking, then they may be more weary of hanging out here.

“Skateboarding keeps kids off drugs, and teaches them the value of perseverance.”

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Neil adds: “There isn’t really the same kind of place in Glasgow, or Aberdeen: it’s the best place in Scotland for street skating.

“It’s quite unique in terms of global skateboarding. The combination of a street space like this, with a scene and everything going along with it.

“[The uni] have let us use it and we should be thankful we’ve been allowed to for this time, but there’s not been much public information about the changes.”

The loss of Bristo Square means the skaters will have to relocate to Saughton Skatepark.

Rennie explained there are different types of skate boarding, and street skating cannot be practiced in purpose built park.

“You have to be more creative with a place on the street, as opposed to one pre-built for skating, which makes it a breeding ground for creativity.”

Benjie - "the end of an era"

The end of an era

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Younger skaters also use the square and are friendly with the older guys. One of them, Toby, sees Benjie’s broken board and offers him his own to practice on.

Ben and Branden, Toby’s mates, practice in the square every day and are “heartbroken” by the loss of it.

Toby describes Bristo Square as “an iconic place to skate.”

He calls it “the heart of Scottish skateboarding”.

Branden, Ben and Toby

Branden, Ben and Toby

Bristo Square is much more than just the forecourt to McEwan Hall.

It’s a small niche in modern Scottish culture. It’s a reminder the university isn’t just for students, but a big part of Edinburgh’s social and cultural scene.

And it’s being redeveloped and going to be lost forever.