It’s a grey afternoon on Circus Road. The threat of rain is in the air, and the tea bag is bobbing around my polystyrene cup like a poor swimmer struggling to catch a breath. It’s a drab setting, but fortunately I have some company that are anything but. Sat on painted picnic benches on the side of the road, I’m chatting with four young women that go by the names of Van Hayley, LabWrath, Racey and The Mighty Mighty Bash.
Now I know what you’re thinking, I’ve met up with four characters from Wacky Races, brought to life by some Hanna-Barbera experiment and a fortuitously timed lightning bolt. You’re not far off. These are the alter egos of Hayley, Joey, Danielle and Ash, skaters from Brighton’s roller derby team the Brighton Rockers.
Having set up in Brighton, we’ve been out meeting some of the unique groups from around the city and celebrating what makes them special. We met up with the skaters to hear about their love of derby.
“It is pretty dangerous” Hayley casually explains “everyone has had at least a minor injury or two. And everyone knows a few horror stories.” As a bit of a roller rookie, they’re getting me up to speed on the basics, and the dangers. “There’s one person on each side that can score points by lapping the other team, so you want to help yours get round while stopping theirs. You can’t trip or anything, but it gets pretty physical.”
The stories of sprains, bruises and broken bones doesn’t paint a pretty picture (perhaps more of a Picasso with limbs pointing in various directions). “It can be rough, but it doesn’t really put us off. When someone gets injured that’s when the community side of things really comes out, everyone gets a lot of support. The community isn’t just a local thing either, it’s a global derby community.”
“Everyone is really friendly… if anyone was being a bitch they’d
quickly get found out.”
Roller Derby has been around since the 1930’s, but has seen a huge international revival in the 21st century. The expansion has come predominantly through thousands of all-female amateur teams, with leagues and competitions now organised all over the world. The rapid expansion has been largely attributed to social networks, the new digital platforms allowing communities to develop, spread and communicate far quicker than before.
“It’s pretty rare to have a sport that’s nearly all female, a contact sport like ours anyway. And everyone is really friendly as well. It’s quite close knit and you see everyone regularly, so if anyone was being a bitch they’d quickly get found out.”
However, roller derby isn’t just about skating, breaking bones and being nice to each other. The amateur make-up of the sport means all the organisation and admin is picked up by the skaters as well, adding even more weight to the sense of community. As Danielle tells us, without official bodies or associations to rely on, the skaters manage it all themselves.
“The thing about derby is that it’s a real DIY culture, we have to sort out everything. We organise the games, book the venues, the announcer, the PA system. We do the accounting and the admin. There’s no league body that sorts it out. We share out the responsibilities and do it all ourselves. It’s much harder work than other sports, but you get a greater sense of ownership. You want to put on a show for the people coming. You’re much more invested.”
I’m starting to view them all in a different light. Wacky Races was way off the mark. Combining pace and power with event management and clerical skills, these ladies are a badass crew of racing administrators.
“It’s that shared responsibility that’s key to making it all work.”
Such a heady cocktail of abilities is essential for bringing it all together, but it would be made a lot easier if they could find a proper home in the city they represent. Danielle explains how all the venues in Brighton are either too small, too expensive, or don’t have the right floor “We keep waiting for this magical venue to appear in Brighton, but we’ve had no luck so far.” Although the Rockers train in Brighton, they currently play all their home games in Haywards Heath.
Despite the headaches and the injuries, they all still love it. And with a big mix of backgrounds and other interests, they all learn a lot from each other.
“Most of the girls will do some other activities or exercise and then bring those skills into derby. Some are really strong, some have great footwork. they each have different skills and help to teach each other. Like the organising, the coaching is shared, so a few people will take it in turns. It’s that shared responsibility that’s key to making it all work.”
If you’re as impressed with their commitment and bravery as we are, you should join us at their next match. Derby is a self-reliant community, empowered by a digital platform, building success through shared responsibility and collective support. Sounds oddly reminiscent of a new insurance model you might have heard of recently? Only way tougher. And fewer men.
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We’re meeting the splendidly unique communities from around Brighton to celebrate what makes them special. If you’re part of a group, club, team or collective and would like to be featured, please drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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