Manchester

The Arcadia: A century of roller-skating in Levenshulme

Alf and Derek
Image caption Alf Scott (left, front row) and Derek Colton (second left, back row) with the Manchester Monarchs team in the 1950s

After 63 years of roller-skating, Alf Scott's retirement should be a day of celebration at the Arcadia.

The 83-year-old's appearance as referee at the International Roller Hockey Tournament in Manchester this weekend will be his last.

But any party plans have been somewhat muted by news that the council is to demolish the 100-year-old roller rink in Levenshulme.

"It's not just the memories," said Mr Scott who lives in Glossop. "I'm scared the kids are going to have nowhere to go."

His concern for the city's next generation of roller-skaters echoes a similar fear the Arcadia 'family' will be destroyed when the building is replaced by a new leisure centre.

Image caption The Arcadia was closed for a brief period in the 1950s before becoming a cash & carry in the 1960s

Paul Colton is chairman of the Manchester Roller Hockey Club and has been a key figure in the Arcadia community for almost four decades.

His father Derek played hockey with Mr Scott for years and the two were very close.

"It was heartbreaking for me when Derek died," Mr Scott said.

"We played hockey together for a long, long time and got to travel all over the place together."

Following in his father's footsteps, Mr Colton started skating at just 16 months and is devoted to the sport and the Arcadia family.

"Paul has been irreplaceable to the Arcadia," Mr Scott said. "It wouldn't be here if it wasn't for him. He put his heart and soul into that place."

Ashes scattered

The affection for this slightly shabby, green building which has stood on the same site on Yew Tree Avenue since 1910 is clear.

Heather Lawler is club secretary at the Arcadia and grew up skating at the rink.

Image caption Charlie Chaplin went against the Arcadia hockey team

"It's exactly the same now as I remember it growing up," she said.

"I used to skate there as a child and my three children skate there now."

However for Ms Lawler, like many others, the Arcadia represents much more than skating.

Her father Graham Woodhead volunteered there for ten years and she remembers him handing out skates to children from his wheelchair.

"The Arcadia gave him a sense of purpose," she said. "He dedicated the last part of his life to the place."

When Mr Woodhead became ill with lung cancer he continued volunteering and was there until the week before he died.

For his funeral, children from the Arcadia donned their skates to give him a hockey-themed send off.

His ashes were placed in the brickwork at the rink and scattered around the skate room by his grandson Aiden who is leading the Save the Arcadia campaign.

"This is where he belongs," said Ms Lawler.

Film inspiration

A delve into the history books reveals that Charlie Chaplin played roller hockey there soon after it opened.

A playbill from the time records the Hollywood star took part in a hockey match at the Arcadia while starring at the nearby King's Theatre in Longsight.

Image caption Charlie Chaplin played roller hockey at the Arcadia

Many Arcadia fans still believe his visit was the inspiration for one of Chaplin's earliest Hollywood films, The Rink.

Built originally as a roller rink, World War I interrupted the growing trend for roller-skating and the building was transformed into a cinema shortly after.

Mr Scott remembers going to the movies there as a teenager in the 1940s.

"I would go courting there. The screen used to shake when steam trains went past."

In the 1960s, the Arcadia was reinvented once more and became a cash and carry warehouse.

But roller-skating finally returned in 1975 when the Men's Roller Hockey Club officially took control of the building, adding barriers, the correct rink markings and plastic windows.

Ever since the rink has thrived as a roller hockey centre and is one of the largest roller hockey clubs in the UK.

Leader of the Arcadia Roller Derby, Sharon Mooks grew up in nearby Longsight and has been helping out for 21 years.

"The list of first-evers achieved by the Arcadia is huge" she said.

"They include hosting the first UK international tournament in 1983, producing the first UK amateur roller hockey player to turn professional and founding the first men's roller derby team in 2009."

Since 1999, the Arcadia has been run entirely by volunteers with more than 100 people who regularly help out.

Ms Mooks said: "We're a family and we won't be split up.

"The Arcadia is built on old-fashioned values of community spirit that just don't exist anymore."

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