Peckham: where BMX stars are made

The BMX club in this deprived area of south London has produced one champion after another, and its success is celebrated in a new documentary, 1 Way Up

Peckham teenagers have picked up a bad reputation in recent years – fuelled by regular reports of gang-related violence, the 2011 riots, and absurd gestures such as MP Harriet Harman wearing a stab vest to tour the area in 2008. But now they're getting a reputation of a different kind. In the past decade, the deprived south London district has produced a string of national, British and even world BMX champions, male and female – all thanks to one grassroots club: Peckham BMX. The club's improbable story is told in a new documentary, 1 Way Up, which has its premiere tomorrow (in Peckham, of course).

"We've changed the face of youth round here," says CK Flash, the club's founder. Well built, deep-voiced, hair clipped into a millimetre-perfect fade, Flash is something of a local legend. He raced himself as a child, before becoming a renowned radio DJ, breaking acts such as Dizzee Rascal, Wiley and Miss Dynamite. In 2004, he was asked to help set up a demonstration race on an overgrown patch of wasteland in Peckham. With a strimmer, a handful of riders and some hard-won council funds, he set about creating a modest track. "When it was dark in winter, I went to B&Q and bought decorating lights," says Flash. "I ran the wire from somebody's house across the road."

Flash's almost military approach to training started to get results. "Sunday mornings, you'd have to be at CK's house at 8am," says Quillan Isidore, who joined a year later. "He was always taking us to different tracks. We were training in the gym. If you turned up late, it was 50 pressups. And every time you made an excuse, that was 10 more pressups." Within a year, he was national champion. In 2012, he became world champion in the 16-year-old category. He and his teammate Tre Whyte are two of the top four riders in the country, vying for a place at the next Olympics. The club now has more than 100 regular members and a new, state-of-the-art track, four times the size. "When we opened it last year, I started crying on stage," says Flash.

It's a tough sport, though, and a dangerous one. Isidore's hopes of defending his world title were dashed by a crash last May. He broke both ankles and a wrist, and it took eight months to recover. He also broke his collarbone two weeks ago, but brushes that off as a minor injury. "Everyone knows you're going to crash. If you don't, you're just foolish."

It's not just about the sport, says Flash. The new track is just across the road from the notorious Aylesbury housing estate, and the club reaches out to local schools and youth groups – appealing to kids who might well be drawn into gangs. "We take a lot of kids off the street by doing what we do," says Flash. "Even if they're not into BMX, they're gonna get some type of education. That's what it's about foremost. Forget the track, forget BMX, we're about life skills and your attitude. Without those, you're not going to go anywhere."


Steve Rose

The GuardianTramp

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