Tilly Yoyo – The “accidental skateboarder” who lights up The Grove D.I.Y.

Words – Tom Critchley Photos – Alastair Gleeson

The Grove DIY first started growing amongst the Covid Pandemic in the carpark of an abandoned pub in Dulwich, London. The spot is fast becoming one of the most active and recognisable DIY spots in London, and amongst the crew of crusty skateboarders, the self-confessed Accidental Skateboarder can be seen sweeping the floor and setting up lights for daily evening sessions. I wanted to know why someone who is a self-confessed unassuming skateboarder devoted her time and effort to this DIY space, and what she thought made The Grove so special…

Shall I tell you my legal name? Or just go with Tilly? Hmmm… let’s stick with Tilly, I like to consciously avoid disclosing anything personal online. So yeah, I will go with just Tilly… Tilly Yoyo.

I work in the IT industry as a software tester. I’m not a geek but I’m a geek-whisperer! A long time ago I was working on graphics for Gameboy even before Gameboy Colours came in, and after production they needed someone to test so I was asked to test it. I didn’t set out to be a software tester, it just sort of happened. The job found me!

I was born in Japan and moved here as a student and then got a sponsorship for a work permit. It was a chain of very lucky circumstances that led me to have a residency visa and then permanent residency status after ten years. A very long process! 

So I first met you at The Grove DIY in Dulwich. How did that happen? When did you start going to The Grove? 

Isaac Guard, he is the vector! I don’t really know him personally so he was more of a “skatepark colleague.” I met him in a quite intense situation and it is related to how I first started helping out The Grove a bit.

I started skating Peckham Skatepark on my own and didn’t really know anyone or get involved and Isaac was skating there but I wasn’t really paying too much attention. All of that changed one sunny morning in September 2018. I was skating there minding my own business, pushing around gently and then all of a sudden I heard quite angry yelling in the park. There was a couple of middle aged gym people inside the skatepark spreading their equipment all over and an argument erupted between them and Isaac.

Generally, I live quite a tame life and witnessing the confrontation up close was quite an intense experience for me, I was quite startled by it, but I was also impressed with how he stood up to them and made his point. 

That was the first time I came across the ‘skater attitude’ because I didn’t know anything about skate culture and didn’t expect anything that intense.

I don’t think he remembers that incident so clearly because I think he has probably had more serious incidents here and there but from my personal perspective that’s how I met him and it left quite an impression on me!

After that we were ‘skatepark colleagues’ and then lockdown came in and the Peckham Skatepark was closed off. When it ended I went back to the park and he was there handing out SE15SK8 stickers to people so I picked one up and from there I duly online stalked to find out who they were. 

Before I got involved in The Grove I was watching just vanilla youtube skate videos and channels and that was the only thing I knew about skateboarding, but then I got an SE15SK8 sticker and I stumbled on The Grove DIY from the SE15SK8 videos.

Through The Grove DIY Instagram I learned more about the context from which the project was built, and since the pandemic I’ve been working from home so was always in the area and wanted to support everyone’s effort, so from then on I started bringing my broom and lights to The Grove, and I guess from there you could say the rest is history…

Well actually on that moment we are going to go back before then, I feel like I missed an important question. I love the idea about the confrontation and how they can be exhilarating from daily routine, but want to know why did you start skateboarding in the first place? 

That is purely out of my ignorance. I quit my previous sports in April 2018 and was looking for an alternative but didn’t like team sports and wanted some calorie burn. At the time I was snowboarding and heard pro snowboarders are good skaters and that is the only reason I wanted to give it a go.

I wanted to do a solo activity, something I can practice on my own. I looked at skateboarding from a purely functional view point but it turns out there is quite a distinctive, strong sense of culture and when I started to realise what it means to be a skateboarder it was slightly daunting for me! I always felt like I am outside of skate culture and I am still learning the culture and community.

It is not the standard hobby someone of my profile would pick up but I just thought to myself “it’s not a crime to try it!” As long as I am not upsetting anyone I am going to try it and yeah… that is how I got into skateboarding. I am the accidental skateboarder!

Well, you say you feel like the outsider but from what I see at The Grove you are very much interwoven into the fabric of what makes The Grove such a successful DIY spot. Earlier you said “the rest of my involvement with The Grove is history”, what did you mean by that?

Meaning that by now the resident skaters know what I’m doing in the spot. I bet initially they were a bit sniffy about my activity but that’s expected given that I came from nowhere. 

The funny thing is I never intended to skate at The Grove. I knew the spot was peppered with lots of pebbles which I’m not a big fan of due to my limited ability. So I went without my board for my first visit just to check out what everyone was on about.

I think most people know me now as the crazy woman with the broom at the spot. And the person who brings the most important thing during the winter months… the lights!

My parents used to take me to a snow resort every year throughout my childhood and for as long as I can remember the resort had floodlights every evening. Those long opening hours probably influenced me. So as soon as I heard that the Grove is likely to survive beyond August 2020, my immediate thought was “whats gonna happen in winter?” and by September I started buying some lights.

It started with a few lights just for my own benefit because my work is 9-5 so I have no flexibility to skate in daylight hours in winter. But I realised the lights are also benefitting other people so I decided to bulk up the number. I’m lucky enough to have means to do this so why not?

During the winter months a fair number of teen skaters hung around in The Grove almost like it was their den. Given the pandemic I’d rather wanted to see them being outside in the fresh air, and that’s why I brought in the lights even if the surface was not ideal for skating. I just felt they should have a place like The Grove (with me as a rudimental security), and my God they were there come rain or shine in freezing temperature throughout winter evenings! They may have not built The Grove but they spend longer hours in the spot than older skaters. The Grove matters to the youths in more than one way.

I saw the gap between the building and maintenance; from my perspective if you want to prolong the life of The Grove you have to win the hearts and minds of the locals even though they are not skaters. At first I wanted to make it nicer for me to skate but since I realised The Grove might actually survive for some time I was determined to be on the charm offensive because I want to shore up the legitimacy of the spot by making it as good as it can be. There is a political motive to my involvement, for me there is two options: do nothing and let the place just exist or tidy up in case there is a chance to get the place going longer, then I would always do extra. Even if the place closes at least I can say I did my best.

Wow, I love that. If only the average skateboarder had that mentality! 

No! You see, this is the gap that I spotted. Skaters aren’t exactly famous for their tidiness right? (laughs) Then I am at the opposite end of the spectrum: “there’s rubbish, some pebbles, overgrown vegetation? That all needs to be addressed.”

That sounds like the mentality of the accidental skateboarder.

Exactly, I am acutely aware that I came from a different place than the people who visit The Grove, I know that and I am not going to impose anything onto them. But what I can do is look at things from an unconventional perspective and help The Grove keep on going. I never tell people to tidy up, I’m not there to tell them how to live their lives… That’s how they are and that’s how I am and we accept that.

So a mixture of personal reasons: for your own skateboarding to improve and to protect the longevity of The Grove? That suggests you recognise some kind of importance of The Grove. I would like to know what makes The Grove different say, compared to other skateparks? 

(laughing) Well actually I used to sweep Peckham Skatepark too! But with The Grove it is different, it is precarious and not guaranteed to be there forever. It is a poignant, feel good story in the backdrop of a devasting global pandemic. A group of young skaters with naked desire to skate made it happen… it’s magical! 

Whatever I do is an after thought from the skaters who actually started to build there. I think that’s why I don’t want to take any credit, I wouldn’t be there unless people had started building. I’m sort of just tying up some loose ends of what people had already started off, just to try and help things stay there as long as possible. 

The twist is, The Grove would not have happened if it wasn’t for the lockdown. It is a strange situation if you understand? It could not have happened should there be no pandemic. It is really intertwined with the whole situation. The Grove is the embodiment of the unbridled positive energy that skaters possess. It is sticking the proverbial two fingers up at the situation and to keep on skating, and that really lifted my spirits and that’s why I want to support them because I respect what they started off.

Thank you Tilly <3

2 thoughts on “

  1. T says:

    This was amazing. The Grove and its locals are the best!

  2. Riya says:

    Loved this! I’m yet to skate the grove but I’ve been following it online all year and Tilly just gave me another reason to love it. What a great community

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