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From Hackney to Herne Hill: campaign to save south London’s Olympic velodrome

Photo: futurebikes.com

Cyclists throughout London, bike shops, families, councillors and the local MP are joining forces to save the Herne Hill Velodrome, one of the best cycling tracks in the UK and the last remaining finals venue from the 1948 Olympic Games.

Located in Camberwell, Southwark, the track – one of only ten open-air cycling circuits in working order in the country – is used by everyone from local schools and kids’ clubs to professional racers and serious enthusiasts from across the London area and beyond.

Bill Wright of British Cycling told East London Lines: “There just isn’t anywhere else where we can do cycling with the proper facilities in south London. It’s a brilliant, traffic-free venue for kids to cycle.”  And it’s not just south Londoners who value the resource. North London clubs such as Hackney Cycling Club frequently use the facility. Philip Burnett of Mosquito Bikes in Essex Road explained that he himself used to race there frequently and now his 11-year-old son uses the Velodrome. “Lots of famous riders started there. It’s been the only place to go. And even with the [Olympic] track being built in Hackney, it shouldn’t just be about the elite, it should be about everyone having a go”.

The problem is that, Bill Wright explained, the venue is underfunded and deteriorating, and desperately in need of refurbishment but cannot get the investment it needs unless landlords Dulwich Estate renew their  lease, something Dulwich Estate is reluctant to do. The Estate, which also owns the land of some of the area’s prestigious private schools such as Dulwich College and Alleyns, is legally required to get the best return on its investment for benefactors. However, it also has a commitment to community upkeep.

Hillary Peachey, a southeast London parent, is behind the launch of Save Herne Hill Velodrome campaign, representing local residents and cycling clubs. The aim of the campaign is to find a way to secure the future of the site and make it a viable long-term facility for all, including local residents and schools. Ms Peachey points out that the new Olympic cycle track being built in Stratford for the 2012 Olympic games will only be open to athletes for the foreseeable future, whereas Herne Hill is a facility that is used by all communities in the area, from professional cyclists to local schools. She told East London Lines that more than 2,000 people have already signed up to the campaign to save the velodrome.

The campaign has the support of West Norwood MP Tessa Jowell, a former Olympics minister, told South London Press: “The whole cycling world is getting behind the scandal that is the wasted opportunity that is the Herne Hill Velodrome. I am more hopeful that Southwark council and the Dulwich Estate will be spurred on by the enormous number of local residents who are supporting this campaign”.

Ms Peachey says, “It seems shameful that, with 2012 approaching, London cannot even sustain the facilities it has. That is why we are calling on Londoners as a whole to save this precious resource.”

The Campaign kicks off with a public meeting at Dulwich College at 7.30 pm on Wednesday 6 October. Londoners are can also register their support on www.savethevelodrome.com

On the website, Ms Peachey emphasies: “We are going to find a viable, sustainable and environmentally sensitive solution. The only given is that it must be cycling-led, inclusive and work for the entire community.”

To stay open, the Velodrome will need corporate and private funding, together with volunteer support. The campaigners are hopeful of getting it. “Cycling is one of the most popular sports in the country. If we pull together, we can save this amazing place for future generations,” says Ms Peachey.

Writing in The Guardian in September, Richard Williams said a revival of the Velodrome’s fortunes would be “the perfect legacy of the 1948 Austerity Games”, continuing: “It was here that Reg Harris won the silver medal in the 1,000m sprint at the 1948 Games. Ten years later [Fausto] Coppi attracted a crowd of 12,000 on his only appearance in Britain. It is also the place where the young Bradley Wiggins, destined to become a triple Olympic champion, cut his teeth as a competitor, and among the 500 local children who still use the track on Saturday mornings, under the supervision of the Vélo Club de Londres, are the Harrises and Wigginses of the future.”

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