Ever wanted to know how to set up a roller derby league that will still be going from strength to strength seven years later? Well, I did, so I spoke to Demi Lition, the founding member of the Kent Roller Girls as they celebrate the league’s 7th Birthday this weekend.
So, can you tell me a bit about the story of how Kent Roller Girls came to be? What made you decide to go for it in the first place and how many people turned up for the first practice?
I started skating in summer 2008 with Leeds Roller Dolls and moved back down south in late 2009. Stubbornness / stupidity meant that I refused to leave LRD and continued travelling back up every Sunday for a 2 hour practice so I could stay with my team! I managed around 6 months of the 500 mile round trip before I realised that I was just spending way too much time and money when I could just transfer to a closer league. Initially, I was going to transfer to London Rollergirls and started attending their sessions but realised quite quickly that I wouldn’t be able to make enough sessions to ever be able to skate for them, so starting a team in Kent was the only way to carry on playing.
In May 2010 I set up a Facebook group thinking that maybe within 6 months I would have enough interest to start looking at halls and I’d have a load of time to start figuring out how the hell you start a roller derby league! A couple of people had attempted starting leagues in Kent before but had never got past the “setting up a Facebook page” stage. Within 24 hours I had 400 likes and 30 people message me and it all became a little more urgent! Luckily the guys at The Pier Sports Centre in Herne Bay were on board with me hiring their hall for this crazy sport they’d never heard of and we managed to set a start date! The sports centre hosted a lot of skating events already and had their own skate shop along with tonnes of hire skates so we ended up in the best place possible!
The first session we had 17 people, possibly only 2 of which had been able to skate already. No one really had any idea of what roller derby was and I’d never done any sort of coaching before (or really spoken in front of groups of people before) but we all muddled along and people got hooked!
Obviously there’s not much in terms of money and funding out there for roller derby, so what do you think has enabled the league to keep going for the last seven years?
In the early days a lot of the hall hire came out of my own pocket (and the pockets of other people in the league) as our numbers were never consistent and we couldn’t always cover the cost of training. We held a lot of fundraisers in the early days to make sure that wasn’t a problem for too long (and to pay everyone back!) and that really helped us to keep going. These days its mostly monthly dues that are covering all costs and helping us grow the league. Continual recruitment and regular open days have really helped keep those numbers up!
We always have plans to grow the league though so we’re always looking to raise more through home games, merch sales, fundraisers and sponsorships. It’s a never-ending quest!
How important has it been for KRG to set up a rec league?
The formation of the Rec League has been crucial in keeping KRG running and bringing up new skaters into the main team. We used to have a fresh meat programme which put a very limited time period on when you had to pass your skills by and if you didn’t, you had to wait until the beginning of the next one. The Rec League lets everyone progress at their own pace and its less pressure then having to pass within a certain time. And if you have no interest in playing full roller derby and just fancy learning skating skills every so often, its there for you too!
Our Rec guys are the most enthusiastic, supportive group of people I have ever met and I love seeing their progress each week. They cheer on each other’s achievements, pick each other up when they’re down and are the best support system for each of our members. They’re all awesome!
What are you most proud of looking back over the last seven years of KRG?
This is always a difficult question, because there is just so much that we’ve achieved. Being promoted to Tier 2 in British Champs last year was amazing, and there have been a lot of games we have surprised people on. I do always look back at our first game and am amazed that we actually got to a place where we looked like we knew what we were doing! We were out there and we were playing roller derby!
Mostly I’m proud of the fact that we have managed to get 100s of people on skates! People who may not have ever thought about playing a team sport and who may not have exercised in years are taking this sport seriously and looking to be the best they can. And they’re doing a bloody ace job of it!
How do you think roller derby has changed in the years since KRG first began?
Ha! So much has changed! Roller derby is being considered as way more of a sport these days, less about the spectacle of girls in fishnets beating the crap out of each other. These skaters are athletes. They train harder than ever before and the level of derby and athleticism these days is incredible!
The rules have obviously changed a huge amount – no more minors, knee starts, poodling, two whistles (and trying to drag out that 2nd whistle) – and we all learned how to actually slow the game down instead of just whizzing around hoping to hit someone!
What would you like to see for the league in the next seven years?
Apart from world domination, that answer will always involve the word “Warehouse”! I would love for the league to have their own home. Somewhere we can base everything and skate whenever we like! I think it’s achievable within that time, but it’s just going to take a lot of hard graft!
Having our own home would mean we get to run a lot more beginners skate sessions and introduce so many more people to a life on 8 wheels!
If you would like to join Kent Roller Girls or possibly even buy us a warehouse then do drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow us on Facebook, just click here to get through to our page and give us a ‘like’ to stay updated or follow us on Instagram.