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Remembering the rink

Community project celebrates Durham's icy history

By Andy PottsPublished about a month ago 3 min read
Top Story - May 2024

If you were there, you’ll never forget it. For decades, Durham Ice Rink was at the heart of the city’s social life. From Friday night ice discos to crowds roaring on the Wasps every Sunday, not to mention a proud history of figure skating and speed skating, the riverside rink was the place to be.

Almost 30 years after the ice was taken up, and a decade after the ramshackle corrugated iron shed was finally demolished, those memories burn as bright as ever. And an exhibition telling the story enters its final days this week at the Dead Dog Gallery, just over the road from where the rink once stood.

The show, set up by CYAN CIC’s Lewis Hobson, has attracted record crowds to the gallery as former rink rats revel in some nostalgia and take the chance to show their kids what it was all about.

Best of all, the exhibition is very much a ground-up initiative, drawing on artefacts and memories from the community rather than trying to impose a narrative from above.

For Lewis, that was the key to making the project work. Too young to remember the rink himself, he started with family memories and watched the story take off from there – often in surprising directions.

A handmade tribute to hockey heroes.

“At first, what caught my interest was the hand-made stuff,” he said. “I think we’re losing sight of our ability to make stuff in the way that our parents or grandparents had to back in the day.

“I was fascinated by the badges and the handmade stuff, the scrapbooks and banners. People would have these things, but they didn’t imagine anyone else would be interested. I was like ‘mate, that’s definitely going in!’ So we got these scrapbooks that the young lasses were making about these really cool ice skaters. It says so much about the cult of celebrity around the players, how big the whole thing was, what is was like to be part of that dynamic. For me, that’s where the fun part is.”

One of the most exciting finds was a clutch of trophies won by the Wasps during peak of their powers in British Ice Hockey. Long thought to be lost, they were found in a garage, battered and faded, and are on display at the gallery. For Lewis, that sense of lost and found is what the exhibition is all about.

Some of the Wasps' trophies. There are plans to have them properly cleaned up after years of neglect.

Meanwhile, after opening night and, later, a visit from Olympic figure skating champions Torvill & Dean, more memories emerged. “We had a few local figure skating people come along, and they were keen to tell us how it wasn’t just about the Wasps,” Lewis said. “Durham was sending champions all over in the figure skating as well. They had one notoriously fierce teacher. Everybody talks about how she was really scary, but she used to train these national champions.

“We’d love to have more about that.”

And while the exhibition closes on Friday, that’s not the end of the story. Filmmaker Carl Joyce is already working on a documentary film about the rink and the community it inspired.

“When we interviewed Lewis’s family, it was so emotional,” Carl said. “Sometimes they were in tears, explaining their memories. Every time we spoke to someone, you got this sense that we were unearthing a really significant story.

“It was a whole sense of the family, the community that grew up around the rink. Everyone knew each other, they made lifelong friends, met their future husbands or wives. That’s really special, and I think that’s why people have such strong, vivid memories. It was much more than just an ice rink.”

The ice may have melted away, but those memories live forever.

The Durham Ice Rink exhibition concludes at Dead Dog Gallery (Durham Sixth Form Centre) on May 16 and 17. The gallery is open 10am to 4pm each day. Admission free.

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About the Creator

Andy Potts

Community focused sports fan from Northeast England. Tends to root for the little guy. Look out for Talking Northeast, my new project coming soon.

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Comments (14)

  • Esala Gunathilake21 days ago

    Back to say congrats on your TS.

  • The Dani Writer23 days ago

    Whoa, that's some powerful memories! And whodathunkit, British Ice Hockey Teams! Way YES! Glad this was a top story!

  • Anna 29 days ago

    Congrats on Top Story! :)

  • Christy Munsonabout a month ago

    Great, moving story. Congratulations on Top Story! 🥳

  • Rachel Deemingabout a month ago

    I had a friend from Durham who, when I mentioned hockey on FB, told me that her nephew started at the Durham Wasps and went on to have a reasonably accomplished career in ice hockey. If I remember rightly, he went to Northern Ireland, but it was a long time ago and Janice is no longer here to ask. Not only was your article interesting but it reminded me of Janice and I thank you for that.

  • Andrea Corwin about a month ago

    Wonderful article! My dad took me to Chicago hockey games. Congratulations on TS.❣️🎉

  • JBazabout a month ago

    I relaly enjoyed reading about Hockey in Durham (England) we never rally hear its popularity there. As a Canadian we love to hear about hockey anywhere in the world. Congratulations

  • angela hepworthabout a month ago

    Great article! Congrats on TS!

  • Caroline Cravenabout a month ago

    Love your last line - wrapped the article up nicely.

  • Marie Wilsonabout a month ago

    I really enjoyed this article! Well written, informative, creative and moving. Congrats on TS!

  • Cathy holmesabout a month ago

    Good article. When I first started reading, I thought you were talking about Durham, Ontario, which is just east of Toronto. Nice to know it's another Durham, and they also had interest in hockey. It's a big deal around these parts, as you can imagine. Congrats on the TS.

  • Esala Gunathilakeabout a month ago

    A nice article from you! Keep up the good work.

  • Fascinating read for me, despite never having attended an ice hockey comp. The size of the building for the rink was huge. Love the last line: ‘ The ice may have melted away, but those memories live forever.’🤩 I used to attempt to play grass hockey… mostly in the rain, without tags… so we did plenty of uncontrolled ‘skating’! I mainly liked running up and down the field, trying to avoid the ball!🥹

  • Excellent article, been years since I attended an ice hockey match. Seen some great ones at Newcastle ARena and in Whitley Bay

Andy PottsWritten by Andy Potts

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