Roller Girl Gang looking for teaching space in Leeds

Leeds teachers and avid roller skaters Mel Blackwood, right, and Len Laird, set up 'Roller Girl Gang' in 2015. Picture : Jonathan Gawthorpe
Leeds teachers and avid roller skaters Mel Blackwood, right, and Len Laird, set up 'Roller Girl Gang' in 2015. Picture : Jonathan Gawthorpe
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A supply teacher is hoping to skate into a different career direction with her roller skating business in Leeds.

Mel Blackwood, who along with her business partner Len Laird runs Roller Girl Gang, is hoping to secure teaching space to enable them to put on more lessons in the city.

The British Roller Sports Federation qualified instructors opened a pop-up shop at the Leeds Corn Exchange a year ago, having run lessons since 2015.

Ms Blackwood says that while she would love to have a permanent retail space, the priority is to find teaching space.

She told The Yorkshire Post: “Our priority at the moment is to find a teaching space. At the moment we’re teaching out of sports halls, which we really love.

“However, we are limited in how much we can deliver by the time they’ve got available.”

The idea for the retail space came after the duo were constantly being asked about the best equipment for roller skating.

“We’re in a position where we have used a lot of different types of equipment ourselves that we felt we were able to give some good advice,” Ms Blackwood said.

The retail business has been going for two years and Ms Blackwood would love to have a permanent shop, whether that is joint with a teaching space or a separate site.

Ms Blackwood said: “We really love the Corn Exchange and we feel that the other businesses at the Corn Exchange compliment ours.

“We would love to stay there and we’d love to have a permanent shop premises but at the moment we can’t afford to.

“We’re trying out lots of different ideas at the moment but we would love to stay at the Corn Exchange for as long as they wants us there.”

Currently, Roller Girl Gang is just Ms Blackwood and Ms Laird. Ms Blackwood said: “We have no staff. It’s just the two directors, Len and myself. We don’t take a wage. We’ve still got day jobs.”

The dream is to, at some point, run Roller Girl Gang full-time, says Ms Blackwood.

She added: “I’d love to be a roller skate teacher full-time. We’re looking for funding to be able to take classes into school because there are a lot of lessons that could be learnt such as resilience, cooperation, collaboration and caring for your kit.

“Children would really benefit from those but it’s potentially expensive. We would like to support schools by finding some funding so that it could partially or fully funded.”

Ms Blackwood first put on skates ten years ago. She believes that its not too late for adults to take up the sport.

“I signed up to do a roller derby because that was the only skating available in Leeds at the time,” she said. “Len and I met at the roller derby. We put skates on and found that it was really liberating. It’s a very mindful activity.”

Leeds Corn Exchange was acquired by real estate developer Rushbond in 2017.

The building was re-opened in November 2008 as a boutique shopping centre for independent retailers.

Adam Warner, centre manager for Leeds Corn Exchange, said: “Roller Girl Gang was the first pop-up shop we accepted which has proven to be a successful model ever since.

“The Rushbond team and I have seen how important flexibility is to independent businesses and our ‘try before you buy’ model has worked well for a few firms now.”