Street art and basketball team up to make hoop dreams with the Orchard Park regeneration project in Southsea

Like all the best sports, basketball is easy to get into with minimum of kit and investment, but can take a lifetime to master.

Saturday, 8th May 2021, 6:00 am
Players at Orchard Park. Picture by Ollie Denny of Black Anchor Films

With a ball and a half-court you and your mates can shoot some hoops and make like you’re Michael Jordan or LeBron James.

As with any other urban area, there are courts dotted all over Portsmouth, but many have the distinct whiff of neglect hanging over them.

But a new project by Chain Net Apparel (CNA) and Form+Function aims to transform these spaces into community and sporting hubs that people can be proud of – reinvigorating the area by combining art and basketball, bringing not only health benefits, but also making the area safer.

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Billboards on Goldsmith Avenue as part of the Art Ads scheme, April 2020. Picture: Habibur Rahman

Focusing on Orchard Park on Goldsmith Avenue in Southsea, phase one of the project aims to rejuvenate the court to the industry standard, decorating it with a unique large-scale artwork, and improve the surrounds. Phase one was originally to include a permanent construction there to act as a hub for Chain Net Apparel and activities on the site.

However, on April 28, a fire destroyed Byngs Auto workshop right next to the park.

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Annabel Innes, the founder of Form+Function says: ‘The way phase one was configured, 50 per cent of the fundraising and the focus was on regenerating the basketball court and the immediate surrounding area – the walls for artwork, the basketball timeline, the new entrance to the park, new planters, stuff like that.

The Form+Function team, from left Jamie Wilds, Annabel Innes, Paula Lawes. Picture by Ollie Denny of Black Anchor Films

‘The other half was to create a sports hub on the slither of Byngs' land which directly adjoins the basketball court. We'd been talking to him since the beginning of the year about leasing this land, knocking a hole through the wall, putting a gate in so we could have direct, safe access.

‘Chain Net Apparel were going to have a permanent sports hub there in a 20ft shipping container so we could build relationships, have a real community presence, up the safety, so Craig could run basketball coaching sessions, workshops, tournaments, all that stuff.

‘That was a significant part of it, and that quite literally went up in flames on Wednesday.

‘It had an immediate effect, because it meant we couldn't fulfil 50 per cent of what we were going to do.’

Sonny and Reuben, Craig Hughes' sons, practising their games

The project has a fundraiser running on the online Crowdfunder platform which was originally set with a £60,000 target.

‘We had to go back and check all our funding and our funders, we have grants from Sports England but that's contingent on us reaching the full target, so we had to go back to them and say we can't guarantee we're going to make that 60 grand target, because half of what we were intending on doing has quite literally burnt to the ground.

‘Sport England and Crowdfunder were, thankfully, incredibly supportive – we had no contingency for a massive fire.

‘They've been really great, and we've agreed with them that we're going to focus on that bits that we are able to control – so we've cut our overall crowdfunding target in half to £30,000.

Chain Net Apparel founder Craig Hughes. Picture by Ollie Denny of Black Anchor Films

‘That still secures the Sports England funding and they also gave us another two weeks to get ourselves together and bounce back from this, so it's all been very positive.’

The hub is still part of future plans, as Annabel adds: ‘The basketball permanent hub is still a really important part of the project, however, given the circumstances, it's not something we can put a timescale on yet. We will do it. We just don't know when.

‘(Garage owner) Trevor Byng’s still really keen for us to have the land, but he's got other priorities right now.’

Craig Hughes the founder of CNA, is a life-long basketball player – he played for Solent and Southwest England in his younger days and now coaches the Portsmouth under-16 squad.

He set up the company in 2018 not just as a clothing brand, but also to promote the game through sponsoring events and fundraising initiatives.

He found that the opportunities he had as a youngster were no longer there, or not so easy to access.

The aftermath of the blaze at Byngs Autos in Goldsmith Avenue, Southsea. The fire happened on April 28, 2021. Picture: Habibur Rahman

‘When I was younger, I found it was easily accessible and there were always schemes and clinics going on, which is another reason for the court – I just wanted to let people who play there know that there are people out there who care about basketball, so if you aspire to play regularly, people know that the opportunities are out there.

‘I was noticing more and more,’ says Craig, ‘that especially in the US that courts which had art paintings on the surface just seemed to attract a wider crowd, so for the past two years, a few courts like that have started to appear in the UK, and as things were starting to grow with the T-shirt business, I thought it would be great to have something like that in the heart of Portsmouth.’

He met Annabel at the We Create Market in the former Debenhams site last September

Craig says: ‘We had a lot of similar goals and similar interests with regards to what we wanted to do as a community project, so we put our heads together and we've been working on this now since last September.

‘I think sometimes we give youngsters a bit of a hard time and assume that they're all sitting at home playing on their Xboxes or Playstations, but I coach on a Thursday evening and we get decent numbers.

‘The kids come back every week and sometimes they'll bring a friend. They do want to play basketball and they do want to take it seriously.

‘What I'm trying to do, working with the Portsmouth Basketball team and through the clothing company is providing opportunities for people, because at the moment the top end is the under-16s and after that I can't really offer them anything else.

‘They can still play, but that's as serious as it gets for them in Portsmouth. If they're good enough they can get into the Solent team and that can lead on to really good things, so I'm really trying to create something in Portsmouth where we don't necessarily need to send them to other places.’

For Annabel this project seemed to be a logical continuation of the Art Ads scheme she initiated which saw artists take over billboards along Goldsmith Avenue with uplifting messages during the lockdown.

‘This is an evolution of Art Ads, says Annabel, ‘because of the community support we had from both local residents and the trades community it became clear to me there was a need and a desire for more of that stuff.

‘I was starting to talk to people like Network Rail, Byngs, people who've got land or property at the top of Goldsmith Avenue to see if we could do something more permanent. Then I met Craig at the market and he was telling me about his plans to work on a court in Anchorage Park and it just seemed to all click into place.’

Annabel was already looking at Orchard Park and soon convinced Craig to move his plans there too.

‘The idea was that our powers combined with sport and art could be so much more powerful, and then the impact and our ability to deliver to the community would be much more cohesive.’

While the fire could have been a setback, the community has rallied around the project with people setting up their own mini-fundraisers for it, and the team are positive about its future.

Annabel adds: ‘We’ve had some great things set up in the last few days, and they’re nothing to do with us – it’s them wanting to get involved.

‘I’d also really like to thank James Wedge managing director of 2teck and Andrew Wood, managing director of Trainer Bubble for their contributions.

‘I don't want to speak too soon, but this could come back bigger, better, stronger.’

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The art side of the Orchard Park Project

The opening phase of the project will focus on the basketball, but the art side will develop behind it and come more into focus as things develop.

Annabel explains: ‘The fascinating thing about Art Ads was that the more I talked to people, the more I realised that there is a diverse creative network in Portsmouth, but it's not necessarily operating in a cohesive way.

‘You have these small pockets of artists working together and doing their thing, then you get the lone rangers working in their studios or their bedrooms, or their mums basement, but they're sitting on what's effectively a goldmine of really beautiful, creative diverse artwork in a lot of mediums, and they've never really had a platform to display them.

‘Art Ads gave them a platform to do that, and we wanted to continue doing that, so phase one focuses largely on the basketball and there will be creative elements associated with that, but phase two is really where we're going to focus on the local/national, and potentially international artist collaborations.

‘We're talking about doing an annual Orchard Park Paint Festival – a live mural and street art festival. There's been a lot of talk about that for ages in Portsmouth – why don't we have one? It doesn't make sense.

‘We have the talent here and we have the ability to pull that talent in. It needs someone to put it together and that's where Form+Function will very happily step in.’

Renowned Portsmouth designers I Love Dust will also be working on a timeline of basketball in the city, including the short-lived but hugely successful Portsmouth FC Basketball Club of the 1980s.

‘There’s all this fascinating history that I certainly had no idea about – Craig does, because he's in those circles, but there's so many people I've mentioned it to who've gone: “Really? I never knew that!” and are really interested it.’

And the community will also be heavily involved.

‘We have a lot of wall space surrounding two ends of the court and that will become a community wall where workshops and events that Form+Function host, the products of which will be displayed there.

‘We'll be engaging with lots of different community groups, and they can see their artwork displayed in their own community.

‘But until that happens we will have some artwork which may be done by “the usual suspects” because it's effective and we want to attract people.

‘It is genuinely popular, and people do associate it with Portsmouth – you see one of Fark's birds about, you know who's done it and where it's from.’

They have also been engaging with Portsmouth City Council with regards to its own regeneration plans.

‘One of the things that keeps coming up is that that area does attract quite a lot of anti-social behaviour, it does require a heightened police presence, they have problems with vandalism, drug use, etc.

‘We met with someone the other day who's a young dad and he said that his wife takes their two young children to Orchard Park, but she doesn't feel very safe there, and she'll always scout it out first to see if there are other young families in there and if there isn't anyone there, she won't go in.

‘A big part of one of our objectives is, if you increase activity and regular, safe positive activity within an area, then the knock-on effect on that on the safety in the community is proven and really impactful.

‘It's going to be bringing a lot of light and art and activity to a corner of the park that is really, at the moment, misused.’