The Thunderdome comes to Oldham – No this is not some nightmarish, apocalyptic future, it’s the Rainy City Roller Girls! Founded in October 2008, we have recently taken over the former Riley’s Pool Hall/Butterflies night club on King Street, Oldham. Anyone familiar with the old venue will get a bit of a shock when they see the place. Gone are the pool tables, the dance floor has disappeared and the old DJ booth is on the other side of the room cleverly disguised as a tuck shop.
The building started life as The Grand Theatre, opening in December 1908. It was radically altered in 1937 by Gaumont Super Cinemas and became the Astoria Theatre, and it was then that the Beatles made a number of appearances there. In the late 1960s the building was once again transformed, this time into a bowling alley. The stage was removed and it looked as though it would never again play host to a live band. In the years since, the building was a nightclub and a pool hall, before sadly spending many years vacant and looking sorry for itself. However, when an application for demolition was turned down, the grand old theatre found itself up for lease.
Originally training in Middleton, in early 2011 we found ourselves looking for a new venue. In the words of Morgue–Anna “ We loved the sports hall we were using, but as we improved as a team, and grew in numbers, the skaters got faster and the impacts harder, and we started to find the walls a little too close for comfort. When our new skater program kicked off we just had more girls than we could safely accommodate.
So what is a Manchester sports team doing renovating a building in Oldham? Expensive rentals for training grounds and venues within the city, drove us further afield. It’s surprisingly hard to find a sports venue that will host a roller derby bout. Nervous about the potential damage to their shiny floors, most venues we approached refused us, or expected unrealistic compensation for their cooperation, which wasn’t ideal for a team that is funded purely by skater subs. Even as an emerging sport aimed at women we found the mainstream sporting industries unwilling to help us out.
The search for a home venue was long, but thanks to Maddy Nuff, who holds a keen eye for commercial property, we were able to secure a deal with the owners of the disused King Street venue.
She said “I have so many favourite memories of the whole process. I think the most exciting moment was my first venture into the old building on a cold winter’s eve with the Landlord. Just me, him and a couple of torches making our way up the stairs. When I took my first look at the space, I thought, ‘Cha’ting this is it, this is the space’.”
You need a lot of space for a roller derby track, plus spectator area, and the top floor of this place had plenty.
Well, it would once we’d made a few alterations. So after waving goodbye to the old Middleton venue on the 6th of June, the Rainies entered the building en masse and swiftly took to work with sledgehammers, removing most of the interior walls and fixed furnishings. It’s amazing how much work a couple of scores of roller girls can do in a short space of time, and the initial stage of the renovations was perhaps the most exciting and enjoyable. Or at least that’s what the joy on their grinning faces showed, as the girls took easily to the demolition work.
“Ripping down the walls together was immensely satisfying work” Carmen ‘Ave a Go said. “Watching Maddy Nuff literally kick a wall to pieces without the aid of a mallet was a fond memory for me. And joining in the big cheer as various walls came down!”
Skips. Lots of skips were needed next, as we had to clear gargantuan amounts of rubble, wood, metal and other materials from the building. Luckily, we were able to reuse or recycle much of it, and some friendly companies agreed to take away some of the reusable material.
Elle Loco said: “I didn’t have any DIY skills prior to this, just a willingness to give it a go, and the strength to cart wood and radiators around – thus leading to Maddy now calling me “She-Hulk”.
Herding Roller Girls
A couple of weeks into the project, it was becoming apparent that we needed to get better at planning the work rota and scheduling. We were relying on each skater putting in effort in their spare time, and trusting them to turn up regularly. Like any large, long term project, life gets in the way and we struggled to get enough people to help out.
We were amazed and humbled by the strength and efforts put in by friends and family during these times. People who wouldn’t directly benefit from the new venue were giving up their spare time to come and work with us; work that was pretty hard, and unpleasant at times.Spouses, partners, friends, parents and siblings all declared themselves willing to muck in.
When we finished each day, we were dirty, sweaty and exhausted, and had sore hands from hammering. People came to help us, and it made the world of difference.
“One of the best things about the experience was getting to know people I didn’t know very well in the league better because we ended up spending so much time chiselling, hammering, painting and sweeping together,” said Carmen ‘Ave a Go.
After the initial demolition, extensive holes in the walls and ceiling needed to be repaired, and the whole room was painted. New lighting was installed, and a ramp from what was to be the home changing area was built from some of the wood, making a great feature for that all-important entrance!
The girls worked in shifts to painstakingly and lovingly grind, plane, repair, sweep, mop, and hoover the vast concrete floorspace.
This stage took a long time, as we could only afford to hire one scarifying machine, which Oona Bomber claimed as her own; she appeared to enjoy the monotonous hum, and wearing the earphones.
We needed 4 people to work with the machine, one to steer it, one to administer water to the ground, and two to sweep and collect the dust thrown up by the noisy beast.
We worked in shifts in order to maximise the time we had with the machine, and we went over the enormous floor several times to get it as smooth as possible.
Finally, the time came to declare the surface officially flat – we could now apply the sealant paint to make the surface suitable for skating.
The Grand Opening
We planned an opening party and first ever intra-league bout to celebrate our new home on the 17th of September 2011. This was the first of many events we have planned for the Thunderdome, and marked the start of what we hope to be a new era for roller derby in the North-west.
Elle Loco said: “When we had the opening party, I felt such excitement when I walked in at 2:30pm. I had a huge grin on my face as with all the decorations, and merchandise tables set up, it looked far more presentable than I had ever imagined it would.”
Vision for the Future
Having our own training and bouting venue in Oldham is just amazing for our league, but we hope to create more than that. Somewhere for people to come, skate every discipline, and encourage sports and activity in Oldham. We still have lots to do to get the venue looking good, but she’s getting there, and we hope to make the space available for other activities.
It hasn’t been an easy ride, and we certainly met with a few hiccups along the way, which meant an already stretched budget didn’t go as far as we would have liked. Apart from a few specialist bits we did everything ourselves, funded by our subs and takings from matches. So what’s on the Roller Girls Xmas list:
- A new ceiling at the “bar” end of the room. Much of the heat escapes through the spaces and holes here.
- Signage for the exterior of the building.
- Proper seating for our spectators – it’s a little rough and ready.
- A second set of loos.
- A purple disco ball – just because…