Shaun Dawson: London’s VeloPark is keeping the Olympics legacy promise

Shaun Dawson: London’s VeloPark is keeping the Olympics legacy promise

Almost ten years ago, on 14 March 2014, a sell-out crowd of 6,000 people filled the Lee Valley VeloPark for the first time since London 2012, marking its debut as an Olympics legacy venue.

Less than two years after the Games, the cycling competition centre where Team GB dominated the Olympic and Paralympic action had been transformed into an inclusive community-centered destination on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.

It remains the only place in the world to offer four Olympic cycling disciplines in one place: track in the award winning velodrome; BMX on a remodeled Olympic track; miles of challenging mountain bike trails; and a one-mile floodlit road circuit.

A fortnight later, the Lee Valley Regional Park Authority (LVRPA), of which I am chief executive, opened the venue’s doors to public cycling. It was the beginning of fulfilling our vision of broadening participation, with cyclists of all abilities, including complete beginners, using the four circuits.

This vision pre-dated the Games and even London’s bidding for them. The LVRPA, in partnership with cycling’s national governing body, had developed plans for a VeloPark back in 2003.

These were incorporated into the London bid and meant that when the city was awarded the Games in 2005, the LVRPA, which owned land in the Lee Valley and had decades of experience running complex sports venues, was a ready-made sports legacy partner.

The new VeloPark, a replacement for our much-loved Eastway Cycle Circuit was, along with our proposals for a centre for “white water” sports just north of London in Broxbourne, part of our vision for a “Zone of Sporting Excellence” in the Lee Valley, with world class venues drawing visitors from far and wide.

Following underwhelming legacies from previous Games, there was, understandably, a real concern about “white elephants”. Legacy was the key theme of London’s 2012 bid and we were able to spend the best part of a decade finessing business and operational plans to create community-focused but commercially-driven venues that would be viable far into the future.

We ensured that the creation of VeloPark, like that of the White Water Centre and our other legacy venue on the Olympic Park itself, the Lee Valley Hockey and Tennis Centre, followed a “build once” philosophy.

Plans for transforming the BMX track post-Games and for building the road and mountain bike courses, were designed in from the very beginning, ensuring that the centre would later be opened up to a wide catchment. These changes would have been prohibitively costly and most likely impossible if they hadn’t been planned from the start.

Over the past 10 years, millions of people have visited this iconic venue to spectate, attend commercial activities, or simply enjoy visiting a world class London 2012 venue centred on one of the world’s best velodromes.

Some 750,000 have cycled. Community access is at the heart of our programming, with 90 per cent of it reserved for communities, schools and clubs. Five thousand pupils and 11,000 club riders come to the VeloPark each year. There are also dedicated sessions for over 40s, female track cyclists, beginner BMX riders and toddlers using mini-balance bikes.

Over 4,000 people from community, disadvantaged and disability groups have taken part in a range of funded schemes at the venue over the past 10 years, and we partner with a British Cycling programme designed to tackle inequality in cycling and increase diversity in their talent pathway.

Major events are also part of the VeloPark’s DNA. It has hosted 18 international competitions over the past decade and is the only venue in the world to have held an Olympics, Paralympics, World Championship and Commonwealth Games in the same sport. We have given away 5,800 tickets to community groups, introducing wider audiences to the thrills of live cycling contests and inspiring future generations.

As part of our commitment to broadening participation, we’ll be celebrating our tenth anniversary of re-opening with a Community Open Day on 6 April, providing a chance to try cycling at heavily discounted prices.

In the summer, the Lee Valley Hockey and Tennis Centre, dubbed the “Wembley of English Hockey”, will also celebrate 10 years since re-opening this summer with the return of the prestigious international FIH Hockey Pro League on 1 and 2 June. The centre will then host its own Community Open Day on 23 June, with a range of sessions in both hockey and tennis. This milestone year for Lee Valley, coinciding with the Paris 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games, also includes activities at the White Water Centre.

As we look to the next 10 years, the legacy continues with a programme of investment and improvement to keep our existing venues in their prime and ensure they continue to serve the needs of the changing capital and wider region.

Lessons learned along the way are invaluable: the creation of our new £30 million, twin rink Lee Valley Ice Centre, which opened last summer, was informed by expertise gained during the past decade and has truly raised the bar in community sports facilities and environmental excellence.

Shaun Dawson is chief executive of the Lee Valley Regional Park Authority, the statutory body responsible for managing and developing the park. Support and its writers for just £5 a month of £50 a year and get things for your money too. Details HERE

Categories: Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *