Businessman and restaurateur Neil Stevenson, who founded Transition Extreme Sports in Aberdeen, has died aged 57.
He led a £2.7 million fundraising campaign to establish the centre to give young people an outlet for adrenaline-fuelled sports such as skateboarding and climbing.
Neil, whose working life was spent in the oil industry, believed extreme sports could engage young people during their transition to adulthood.
It was during his time living in Houston, Texas, that Neil saw young people, including his sons Greg and Daniel, make use of outdoor skate parks.
On the family’s return to Aberdeen, he noticed, by contrast that teenagers were skating in streets around the city centre.
So in 2003-04, he took a year out from the oil industry to set up Transition Extreme Sports.
Aberdeen City Council provided £1.6 million of funding and the rest was raised by Neil and his family by gathering corporate donations and organising beach cleans and raffles.
Construction on the social enterprise’s home near the Beach Ballroom began in 2006 and it opened in 2007. In 2009, Neil was named Ernst & Young’s Scottish Entrepreneur of the Year for creating the facility.
He ran Transition Extreme Sports as chief executive officer for five or six years before stepping back but remained a board member until around three years ago.
Just before his death, Neil had been organising an exhibition tracing 50 years of skateboarding in the north-east and his son Daniel said this will still go ahead. Ross Blackadder, current CEO of Transition, said the exhibition, Slams and Aberdeen Bams, will serve as a tribute to Neil.
“My dad really came into his own when he retired aged 49. I don’t think he was completely at home in the oil industry but when he retired he could concentrate on music and art and his love of food,” said Daniel.
Neil and his wife Sheila also ran the Musa restaurant in Exchange Street for a number of years. The building had been a church, a banana ripening warehouse and a zoo in previous lives and the couple took it over in 2005 and transformed it.
They specialised in European food with Scottish influences, opened an art gallery on the upper floor and held open mic nights for artists. The business was sold to Brewdog about four years ago.
Neil Graham Stevenson was born in Kirk Brae, Cults, in 1964 and educated at Cults Primary School and then Cults Academy.
His father Alexander, who had been a Japanese prisoner of war, died when he was 14 and his mother, Ethel, when he was 18, while Neil was studying for a business degree at the then Robert Gordon Institute of Technology. Neil continued his studies while living alone at the family home.
Start of career
His first job was as a sales manager with DW Bearings in Falkirk before a move back to Aberdeen and a post as contracts manager with Bawden Drilling.
He met his future wife Sheila Hasson at Gabriel’s nightclub, Aberdeen, in 1987. Their first date was a meal at the Caledonian Hotel, Union Terrace. They lived together for some years before getting married in Banchory in 2001.
Neil spent a couple of years in the contracts department of Smedvig before taking up a post in Norway with Deutag. The family moved to Stavanger 27 years ago when Daniel was two months old and Greg was four and a half.
When Deutag merged with KCA to form KCA Deutag, the family moved back to Aberdeen. Neil was later appointed commercial director of the merged firm’s operations in Houston.
In 2013, when he retired from the oil industry, Neil and Sheila spent two years touring the UK and Europe in their campervan before returning to the UK in 2015 and setting up home near Kirriemuir. There he built a large tree house for his grandchildren, built a dry stane dyke and developed a vegetable garden.
A passionate music lover, his tastes ranged from The Smiths to Elvis Costello and Ian Dury. Neil ran half marathons, climbed munros and played tennis and golf.
In recent years, Neil worked with Greg and Daniel to help them find premises in Glasgow for their Two Bird Gym. The pair also set up Two Birds Drink and created a range of vitamin-enriched coffees and teas which they supply to outlets across Scotland.
A Transition spokesperson said: “Neil was a force of nature with big ideas and the courage to realise them.
“He opened the doors to Transition Extreme, driven by a belief that access to extreme sports would have a transformational impact on the lives of young people in the north-east.
“It is impossible to quantify Neil’s legacy. Through Transition Extreme, his vision and passion have touched thousands of people across Aberdeen and beyond.”
The family’s announcement can be read here.