The Old Vicarage is home to Division 24 – Wakefield’s only skateboard shop, the longest standing store of its kind in Yorkshire and, after 16 years of trading, one of the city’s oldest independent businesses.
Owner Wayne Miller began skateboarding in 1987, his first skateboard was “a cheap Chinese copy” as no retailer catered to the niche market in Wakefield; shops in Doncaster and Manchester were the closest point of call. It was only after Wayne’s brother, Dave, got a job at Argos Sports that proper skateboarding equipment became available in Wakefield due to his persistence.
Whilst on holiday in February 2001 the Miller brothers discussed opening a skateboard store. Dave would own the business but continue to work in the music industry while Wayne, happy to leave the motor trade, would run the day-to-day. Within two weeks the brothers opened shop under the original title of ‘Boardriders’ at 24 Zetland Street.
Serendipitously, skateboarding experienced a boom in the early 2000s. After Tony Hawk achieved mainstream sports super stardom a successful video game series followed and skateboards became an essential item for teenagers worldwide. “Usually on your first year of business you pretty much fail or break even. It’s very rare that you’ll make money and get lucky but that’s what happened. Skating kicked off and we turned out £120,000 in the first year,” says Wayne adding that the shop hasn’t seen that amount of turnover since.
Four years later Wakefield’s skateboarding community had thinned. With Dave wishing to move on, Wayne took over full ownership and rebranded the shop as ‘Division 24’: “I’d got that used to doing the job for almost five years and loved it” he says. “It wouldn’t have happened for me without him and it wouldn’t have happened for him without me.”
Wayne prioritised securing a skateboarding facility in Wakefield to improve sales and nurture the skateboarding community for years to come. With Jed Capper, of the Westmoreland Centre, and likeminded figures a skatepark committee was founded. For three years Wayne attended every council meeting.
Thornes Park shortly after completion. Photos: Gravity Skateparks.
On May 31st 2009, Wakefield’s £330, 000 skatepark opened next to Thornes Park Athletic Stadium. “If there was still no skatepark to this day, I would have shut down years ago because the scene was that bleak in the 2003-5 era,” says Wayne. He assures the facility has positive effects almost ten years later, keeping kids out of trouble and breeding skateboarding talent within the city.
Shop rider Paul ‘Wapo’ Watson at Thornes Park.
James O’Malley, Wayne Miller & Ben Powell at Thornes Park, summer 2015.
Ben Powell, a Wakefield resident, editor of Sidewalk Magazine and skateboarder of 30 years who was a fellow member of the skatepark committee commends Wayne: “His deep involvement in the local scene benefits everyone in the area,” and explains running a skateboard shop is an act of love and cultural necessity not motivated by financial gain.
Division 24’s loyal clientele understands this: “They’re there for you as much as you’re there for them and care about people on a personal level,” explains George Lindley, a 23 year-old science technician. “Owning one local skate shop isn’t going to make you millions. I’ve got the utmost respect for anyone who gives all their time and money to keeping a shop running which keeps my local scene alive. It makes absolutely no sense to not return that loyalty by denying them business and buying from a larger online company.”
Jamie Hayward and Jon Wilson – Division 24 customers since day one.
As a magazine editor, Mr Powell observes the repercussions of the online shift for both skate media and stores like Division 24. “Buying online might save the consumer money but this saving comes at the cost of being detached from a larger community. This is a global phenomenon and exists in all subcultures, not just skateboarding.”
“The farther away the individual participants of any particular subculture feel from a larger community the more isolated they become. Subcultures thrive on inclusion and proactivity – this is impossible if people’s connection to a larger world is primarily via a URL.”
Wayne says the online marketplace is complicated as advertising to compete with larger stores is expensive and feels unnecessary anyway due to his smaller stock levels. Change within Wakefield has also presented difficulties and the development of Trinity Walk “almost killed us. It killed some shops in The Old Vicarage because it got so bad,” because the site sat derelict for years. Although uptake did improve after its completion, he reports a member of the council’s rates department informed him there are over 300 empty shops in town. “As a kid you didn’t see one empty shop and if you did there was a waiting list to get it and someone in it within a week.”
Wayne believes that skateboarding is at another peak in popularity – pointing out that mainstream clothing retailers frequently rip off skateboarding designs and fashions while established sports brands like Nike have skateboarding sub-brands. Although these sports brands generate the majority of revenue for many shops Wayne has never entered into business with them due to a notoriety for imposing large orders: “I’m not into that. I want to choose what I want to pick, not what they want me to have. That dictatorship has done a lot of shops in.”
Another controversial subject is skateboarding’s inclusion in the 2020 Olympic Games as participants regard skateboarding as a subculture rather than sport. Although uninterested in competitive aspects he considers the Olympics could help shops as increased funding for facilities would produce more skateboarders – reiterating the outcome of Thornes Skatepark’s construction. While there is an underlying concern that regular sports retailers may want a slice of the pie, Wayne feels: “We’re the only industry I know of that protect what we have,” adding: “I’ve had years of people trying to open skate shops in Wakefield but distributors [who import products from the USA and Europe] usually have a rule where they won’t supply another shop within a ten-mile radius unless you’re in a major city.”
Image courtesy of Division 24. Below right: Wayne and his son, Toby.
Unfortunately, 2017 has been the shop’s toughest year with a drop in turnover feeling foreign after experiencing annual growth since 2005. Work also impacts on family life: “It’s really hard because I work six days a week, I don’t earn a great deal of money and I’d love to spend more time with my boy,” but Wayne is elated at his son’s interest in skateboarding. “Maybe its only a matter of time. If he sticks with it he can be a part of it – if he wants to be.”
He talks about a small team of shop representatives with a similar fatherly pride: “I’ve seen these kids grow up from having snotty noses to getting photographs in magazines,” whereas, long-time customers are an extension of this family mentality who sit and chat for hours in the same manner which a nephew would to his favourite uncle.
Modestly, he wonders how Division 24 has earned this level of respect: “People say ‘It wouldn’t have happened without you,’ and it would have – I’m just a shop. I didn’t come up to you with a skateboard and say ‘Start skating mate!’” He describes Division 24’s tenth anniversary, in 2015, as a heart-warming celebration which saw masses of skateboarders gather at Thornes Park.
Tenth anniversary celebrations.
Whatever the future holds, Wayne maintains a love for skateboarding and his shop: “I could earn a hell of a lot more money if I got a ‘proper job’ but I just love it. I never ever get up and think, ‘Oh, I’ve got work today.’ Not once in sixteen years of doing it.”
Words by Farran Golding. Black and white photography by Brendan Harrap and colour photography by George Reid. Logos and graphics provided by Division 24. All other images are property of their respective owners as credited.
The Old Vicarage, 24 Zetland Street, Wakefield, WF1 1QT