Olympic Park boss reflects on 'incredibly difficult' year

Lyn Garner, chief executive of the London Legacy Development Corporation.

Lyn Garner, chief executive of the London Legacy Development Corporation. - Credit: LLDC

Lyn Garner, the chief executive of the London Legacy Development Corporation, on how things have changed at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

This year had been incredibly difficult for everybody, LLDC included.

We’ve had to close our venues, cancel events and find new ways of working – but if there is a positive that has come out of Covid, it is the strength of relationships that we have built up over the years with local community groups and local businesses.

A bleak start to a year that has revealed the very best in community spirit, collaboration and resolve.

Working to support local community groups, businesses and institutions have coordinated their efforts to relieve the worst impacts of lockdown.

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There are too many groups to mention but the examples here reflect a wide and strong base of community activity.

Based at Here East, Badu Sports, a local sports enterprise refocused its work to support the most vulnerable local people. More than 2,000 food boxes were delivered, a support line staffed and its trainers offered more than 14 weeks of online physical activity for youngsters.

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Bikeworks, based across the River Lea at the Lee Valley VeloPark, changed its business model too. Its team continued the all ability cycling sessions taking isolated people out on their side-by-side bikes, giving them exercise and company. The group managed 18,000 deliveries helping collect and deliver samples for NHS Imperial Covid tests.

Two wheels good, two legs better – at least at Good Gym. Some 356 runners managed to take part in 490 separate missions to support isolated older people and undertook 2,197 good deeds.

While events like the Great Get Together had to be cancelled, new solutions were devised for other activity.

East Summer School helps to forge links between the East Bank partners with the wider community. It provides free, quality activities across a range of subjects including fashion, engineering, dance and natural history delivered by the East Bank partners and other local groups.

This year’s three-week long event moved online with more than 250 young people from the four local boroughs.

The one constant through all the upheaval and change this year is Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.

Whatever’s going on in the outside world, those 560 acres of parkland and venues provide the platform for everything LLDC does. But as events were cancelled or postponed, venues closed and the public in lockdown, the Park took on a new significance.

It became a lifeline for local people, especially those who didn’t have their own gardens or outside space. It became a place to escape the enclosed spaces of home, to get fresh air, exercise or simply to enjoy nature.

That was made possible by the teams who look after the park each day: cutting the grass, emptying the bins, checking equipment, maintaining the buildings by reducing pool and building temperatures and bringing them back up again, and keeping a watchful eye over visitors against a backdrop of continuously changing national guidelines.

 The venues are open once again and events are set to return in 2021 with the Rugby League Wheelchair World Cup and Road to Tokyo boxing at the Copper Box Arena, international swimming at the London Aquatics Centre, and football and athletics at London Stadium. And with them will come the crowds, adding to the 1.5 million visitors who came during March and November this year.

These events and the people they attract are all vital to London’s economic recovery but we must never lose sight of the value that parks and green spaces play in supporting local people through good times and bad.

The park’s Green Flag Award is testament to the efforts made by staff and volunteers, not just to making the park look good, but engaging with local people and their organisations. And having the park voted as one of the Top 10 parks and green spaces in the whole country shows the strength of the bonds created.

We look forward to 2021 and what is to come with life hopefully returning to some sort of ‘normal’ and our work continuing with more new homes being built and occupied and the Good Growth Hub coming to life.  

Working with local businesses in the creative, cultural and fashion sectors, local young people will get the chance, through the Good Growth Hub, to take part in a wide-ranging programme including internships that pay London living wage, skills boot camps, a freelance academy and much more and this will open doors into sectors that have long been closed to them.

It has been a very hard year but work already well underway promises to deliver so much in the years to come.

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