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Community Spotlight: Alex Darknell

On the 13th of August, 2020 at 05:05am, Alex Darknell began his ambitious journey of skateboarding from ‘Ideal Skateshop’ in Digbeth, Birmingham to Victoria Park (aka Raemers Skatepark), London. This was in aid of the Ben Raemers Foundation which was founded in 2019, following the death of British-born skateboarder, Ben Raemers. Before Alex began this journey, we were able to get him into Open Lens Studios to tell us a bit more about his plans. Check out our 1 in 1 Million interview with Alex in the video below.

Since Alex was last in our studio, he has completed his ‘Push for Change’ as well as hosting various additional community-based events. Recently, we got in contact with Alex to catch us up with what he has been up to over the past few months and to tell us what is in store for him in 2022. Here is what he had to say...

Since we caught up with you just before your ‘Push for Change’, can you tell us how it went? How much did you raise? How long did it take? And are there any particularly memorable moments from your skate?

Firstly, it's a pleasure to have an opportunity to work with you all at Open Lens once again, so a BIG Thank you for having me back haha! The ‘Push for change’ went surprisingly well! The Skate was completed after three days of skating in total and we managed to raise a whopping £2800 for The Ben Raemers Foundation! When I first came up with the idea of skating to London, my original goal was to try and raise £500 so I was blown away when we beat that target less than 24 hours after announcing it!

The skate itself was honestly one of the best experiences of my life! I just love skateboarding so to spend three days skating from morning till night was a dream! Although the aches, pains, and many blisters weren’t so dreamy… As far as difficult moments, I hit a broken slab after about the first 30 minutes of starting the journey and smacked my head pretty hard but yeah, I couldn't just call it quits after half an hour aha! The journey in total seemed a lot easier than expected although the second day was pretty difficult as the already very long 43-mile skate from Daventry to Dunstable got even longer after a road closure led to an extra 5-mile detour to get around it, that day was pretty hard on the Ol legs and feet. Even with all the minor difficulties though it was pretty hard to not enjoy the journey, skating is just so fun, and knowing it's all working towards helping such a great cause made it all worth it.

It's hard to pick just one memorable moment as there were so many great parts of the journey. I got chased by cows at one point which was a good laugh and also pretty scary aha! I got pulled over at one point for skating down one of Britain's most fatal roads, fortunately, the police didn’t charge me and instead acted as a support vehicle for the remainder of the road which was a pretty mad experience. ( Shout out to Milton Keynes Police force! ) I think it was just great to just skate through a bunch of different places, I passed through so many different towns and cities and some of the long country roads were so amazing to skate, it was such an incredible experience. If anyone out there is reading this and thinking of doing something unique and fun I'd say just go out and do it! You won’t regret it!

What have you been doing since completing your ‘Push For Change’? Have you continued to do charitable work?

Since completing my skate to London I’ve just been trying to enjoy things again without the pressure of knowing I need to complete the heavy task of skating over 100 miles aha. I have spent far too much time in the pub celebrating it for starters but mainly I’ve just been out skating a bunch. It’s also been nice to just go out and skate again without having to worry about injuring myself before the trip, as that was always in the back of my mind before completing the skate. The last thing you want to do is injure yourself a week before skating to London and let everyone down, so it was like a weight lifted once the skate was done. Other than that I’ve been teaching skate lessons at the local indoor park ‘Just Ramps’ that’s been really fun. Being able to help people with their Skateboarding journey has been wicked to see and all the money that is made from the lessons has been going to different charities each month so it's also great knowing that it is doing some good outside of skateboarding too!

What is in store for you in 2022? Have you got any projects or events in preparation?

I'm hoping to have a very busy and productive year in 2022. I've had a goal since I started skating to put out a full video part of me just having fun on my skateboard and trying to push myself a bit so I’m excited to work on that alongside all my friends. I'm also continuing to run weekly skate lessons at Just Ramps, so I’m always hyped to see more people get started skating and see them progress. That's always so rad to see and hopefully, that allows me to keep giving back to causes outside of skateboarding. I feel like I’m overloading with goals here aha but another thing I'd like to be able to achieve is being able to get a real good quality skatepark built in my local area of West Bromwich. Since the Olympics last year skating has only grown in popularity and skating is at an all-time high right now and I feel it's only fair that our local council understands that we don’t have suitable facilities to progress our passion. Here in West Bromwich, we are burdened with a handful of outdated and simply run down old skateparks that simply are inadequate when trying to progress our sport, personally, I think we deserve better than that, and I’m hoping we can get something worked out and hopefully create something that will keep people happy, healthy and passionate about skating and other extreme sports for years to come.

I would say the main project I’m focused on at the moment is getting my Charity ‘The Stay Gold Campaign’ up and running and officially launched. It’s something I’ve been working on for over two years now and it’s all to try and provide hope and support for those who are struggling with their mental health and to try and end this stigma surrounding mental illness. The aim is to offer support and raise awareness through workshops, social events, and providing free resources that we will be sending out to all different settings such as Schools, Universities, different workplaces, pubs, nightclubs, etc. I believe that everybody and anybody has the change and I’m hoping we can help a lot of people and change this stigma surrounding mental illness through The Stay Gold Campaign. It's been a long process and a lot harder than I originally thought but I’m so excited to launch the campaign and to show everyone all the amazing things we’ve been working on. We’re hoping to have an official launch date within the next few months and I can not wait!

Another thing that is in the planning process is the follow-up from the ‘Push For Change’ from last year. Once I completed the skate I had a lot of people getting in touch to find out whether it would be a yearly thing or if it was a one-off sort of deal but the response and support I’ve had just showed that there would be a great interest in setting something up the following year. So after having a bit of time to think about it all, I concluded that if we have an opportunity to raise more awareness and money for such a great charitable cause, I would be silly not to do so. So the plan is to make the ‘Push for change 2’ Bigger and better for 2022 and I’ve got something really incredible planned for it. Again, I can’t wait to announce it, and hopefully, we can raise a lot more awareness and funds for such an incredible cause.

Final words.

I'd like to take a moment of this article to speak about what led me to skate from Birmingham to London and being involved with a lot of this charity work and that is the topic of mental health.

We all have mental health, and sadly 1 in 4 of us will suffer from a mental illness in our lives. Often people have this stigma about mental illness that people go crazy and they get locked up in these strange hospitals and it almost can feel that you're less of a person for having this illness. All of which is so absurd. It doesn’t make you crazy. It doesn’t make you less of a man or a woman. It doesn’t mean you are weak. A mental illness does not define anybody, it is not a full stop in anybody’s story and it certainly does not make you any less of an amazing person. There is always hope, and I've seen through my own experiences of anxiety and depression and working within mental health services that even when it feels like the world's crumbling there is support out there and things can improve. There is always hope. I think it's important that we all play our part in this battle against the stigma surrounding mental health. We need to check in on our friends, normalise talking about mental health issues, we need to get help and support when we need it without the worry of feeling out of place or strange. We need change. If anybody is reading this and is struggling at the moment please speak up and get the help, support, and guidance you may need through either going to your GP or going through one of the mental health charities available online or even just speaking with your friends and family. There is always hope.

I'd lastly like to say a huge thank you to The Ben Raemers foundation for all the amazing work they do for mental health within skateboarding. I am only a product of the people around me so I would also like to thank my Mom, Dad, and the rest of the family. Kris and Zip at Ideal skate shop for all they do for skateboarding in Birmingham. The kind folks over at Just Ramps as well as all my skate students. Jon, Si, Daz, and the rest of the Tea boys. Big thank you to the Kefir King Danny B! Big up the Ant, Cloth and all the Wolftown dudes and all the Lads and lasses from down Walsall especially Henry, Rich, Reece, Julo, Savva, Dave, Bayz, Char, Toby, and Frank for their constant love and support. Of course, a massive thank you to Open Lens for allowing me to be on their platform and always showing support! And a massive thank you to everybody who’s been a part of the journey and allowed me to believe I can achieve all of these things. Wouldn’t be possible without you! Biggest of Love!

Stay Gold. x


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