I went to Sweden and got jealous of a bunch of 16 year olds. I was looking around Malmö’s Bryggeriet Gymnasium, a school with skating at the core of its syllabus. Even if the students didn’t spend each break, lunchtime, and PE lesson, in one of Europe’s best indoor skateparks, I’d still have been pretty jealous. Their photography and film studios are full of the latest photography and film tech equipment. They also have two school cafeterias, one doing coffee, sandwiches and cakes, and one doing DIY burritos.
I joined the lunch queue with the school’s Principal, Carl Lundgren, before sitting down with him to learn more about how Bryggeriet Gymnasium got started, and how it all works.
Going back to the very start, how did Bryggeriet first come about?
Four kids wanted to skate, and formed an association with support from the Malmö council. They were based in a building just down the road from here originally, with space for just a couple of ramps and a funbox. Then when the brewing company left this place, it was sitting here empty, so they just asked the council if they could move in and build a skate facility. That was the founding of Bryggeriet, in 1998.
So were the local council supportive from day one?
Absolutely, and they helped to fund the place from very early on. To finance the building and upkeep the park we started an employment scheme, so jobseekers could gain work experience working at the park, in the café, or on the building of the ramps, which meant that they received grants from the council.
After a couple of years of this they decided to expand that training into starting a school. So they applied to the Board of Education, and in 2006 we started Bryggeriet Gymnasium. In Sweden we have schools that act as academies for specific sports such as football or ice hockey, so we borrowed the idea and created one for skateboarding.
Aside from skating, what’s on the syllabus for students at Bryggeriet?
Aside from the sports side, the syllabus is focused on the arts, as photography and filming is a common expression of the culture in skating, and students can also learn design and park-building skills using architectural modelling programs. We also offer a course in illustration. All of these, as well as mathematics, social sciences, and all the compulsory Swedish subjects.
How many students do you have?
155 pupils and that’s as many as we can fit inside the building. But we’ve been saving money for a few years to be able to expand a little bit. In the meantime we’ve been investing in better facilities for the students like a state of the art photography and filming studio.
And how did you get involved with the school?
I came here in 2009 after seeing an ad in the newspaper. This is my best job ever. It’s completely different, but still we have the same goal as every school – to have as many students as we can applying to university and higher education.
Is it successful in that?
I think so. 28% of our students travel from Norway and Denmark. We have applications from the USA, Canada, Spain, Israel, all over. But unfortunately the lessons are taught in Swedish only. That’s something that we’d like to change in a couple of years maybe, and offer some courses in English too. But again, we’re limited in classroom space. That’s the one downside with having such a big skatepark attached to the school!
Clearly the school is a success, but I can imagine a lot of parents being skeptical about sending their children to ‘skate school’…
Yeah, sometimes we do have to convince the parents that, yes, this is for real and we’re a proper academic school. They don’t understand how we can base our curriculum around something like skating. But they have these schools for football and ice hockey – and skating matches the curriculum so much better than those sports in terms of the arts and creativity that it promotes.
Aside from skating, do you think Bryggeriet offers something that other schools don’t?
From the beginning, we’ve had students that are failing in regular compulsory school. Their first ten years of education were a failure. Not because they were failing, but the school was failing to engage with them. With the better results and more engaging courses they get here, it also builds their self-esteem and they leave perhaps with a brighter future.
The grades when they start here, to when they graduate, there’s an average of a 20% improvement. I’ve no doubt this improvement come from engaging with the student’s passion for skating.
And the online skate community seems to have embraced Bryggeriet too, which can only be good for the school’s reputation.
The school’s reputation has grown on the internet, and we’ve also had some very good skaters study here, which definitely helps to spread the word about the work we’re doing. We have old students come back to visit, it’s very much like a family here. They build up a great network of friends. One of our old students is Jakke Ovgren (the man behind most of Polar’s artwork), and now he’s collaborating with one of our current students on a separate photography project. Look out for that soon!
Words & Photos: Sam Butler