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
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.