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Newsletter, July 2011 (Issue 184)

Touring the Olympic Sites


This was the perfect day out for a society like ours. All the fascinating issues of area regeneration, architecture, housing, landscaping, transport and history were brought vividly to our attention in addition to the obvious sporting interests.

For the last two or three years we've been able to see from the train passing through Stratford station the gradual progress, but it's been hard to appreciate it accurately. The vast steel frame near the station I'd assumed was the multi-storey car park, until it became 'Westfield Stratford City' shopping centre - it's not only 'exit through the gift shop' but 'entrance' too! And from the train it's hard to see the velodrome, basketball arena and other venues.

So it was a pleasure that our coach took us round the far side for a closer look at these and the Olympic village itself which will house competitors in single rooms and then be converted into flats, including some with three or four bedrooms, for permanent homes. Add in a large academy and a polyclinic and it will create the legacy of a small town. (Our guide, Carol, thought the emphasis on 'legacy' was the salient factor in London's successful bid for the games.) While here, we also heard that this huge polluted area, which had included West Ham's hundred year old council tip, had been cleaned in 'soil hospitals' so that 93% of the spoil could be re-used on site. Thirty-nine electricity pylons have had to be removed as well!

We then drove past the completed velodrome (the most handsome of the structures at present) and the media centre for 20,000 journalists and its multi-storey car park, the only car park on site, because spectators will arrive by public transport. (Stratford is already a great hub for mainline trains, the Underground and buses.) Then to the large viewing platform quite close to the main stadium. Some of us would have liked to be even closer but the whole area is still a building site and will look very different in a year's time when grassed over and with its 2,000 mature trees planted. The stadium is simple and functional. Our guide. probably a proud Eastender, was indignant that a certain North London football club had wanted to take it over, rather than the local boys, West Ham - this is after all the Borough of Newham!

The aquatics centre was something of a shock. What had been an elegant swooping building seen from the train is now flanked on both sides by steep raked seating. But that is temporary extra seating which will be removed after the Games, so that ever after we.ll be able to admire Zaha Hadid's unique structure.

After lunch at the Railway Tavern, where they are entertaining a coach party every day now, the coach took us along West Ham's multi-cultural Green Street, past the Excel Centre which will house seven Olympic sports, and down to the Thames. We crossed on the Woolwich Ferry, an unexpected if short voyage! Touring around Woolwich many of us were amazed at the vast area of historic military buildings. The Olympic shooting will take place at the Royal Artillery Barracks. Tea at Woolwich Arsenal (23 Listed buildings here!) was welcome - and surprising when young soldiers in uniform removed the trays. Nearby is the Woolwich Heritage Museum close to a building allegedly by Hawksmoor - and well worth a visit.

Our guide was brilliant, our organiser Barbara Barker deserves much credit for coping with us - and with the 100+ original applicants. Those who will be lucky to go in October are in for a great treat.

Neil Salmon

    Front cover of issue 184 Cover, issue 184

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