Hackney wins gold for Olympic sporting legacy as the borough’s parent participation numbers hit record levels

Football on Hackney Marsh Pic: Ian Roberts

Football on Hackney Marsh Pic: Ian Roberts

Legacy was the big theme at the London Olympic Games, throughout the bidding process, grand building projects, sporting events and infrastructure adaptation. In Hackney the emphasis seems to have paid off.

Data shows that in the 15 months since the 2012 Olympics, the number of adults engaging in sport has increased. Also, the number of parents engaging in sport, with or without their kids has risen significantly.

In late November 2013, Sport England, the organisation responsible for distributing funding to elite athletes and funds for facilities to local authorities, released its seventh Active People Survey. Investigations into the number of people taking part in sport at least once a week in Hackney revealed some answers to the Olympic legacy question.

Katee Hui, founder of the Hackney Laces Football Club, says she noticed a significant increase in women and girls wanting to take part in sport immediately after the 2012 Games at her club.

“I’d never bought into any of that Olympic Legacy or opportunities stuff, but we did see quite a lot more people join in the period following the Olympics: September 2012 up until the New Year 2013,” says Hui.

But even the most well-meaning and well-off parents can often struggle with keeping healthy whilst devoting themselves to raising children and providing for them. At Hackney Laces childcare was an issue for the teenagers too.

“One thing we recognised pretty early on is that a lot of the teenagers would say to us that they can’t come because they’ve got to look after their younger siblings, and we always thought that was a really rubbish excuse. But actually, they do have to look after their siblings because their mums work shifts,” explained Hui.

Listening to an inspiring half-time team talk Pic: Hackney Laces

Listening to an inspiring half-time team talk Pic: Hackney Laces

The club came up with a simple solution: “We started offering a crèche. It’s worked really well for the women, because what ends up happening is people come to training for an hour and then people who have little siblings, cousins or children that need looking after, go into a separate part to train and a coach does loads of stuff with them. So we remove that barrier that a lot of women seem to have to getting into exercise.”

It appears that sports clubs have been able to adapt their practices to deal with the arrival of participants post London 2012 and to capitalise on the enthusiasm brought about by that golden summer.

Hackney council are pleased that their work before the Games is paying off and that the legacy of London 2012 is having a positive effect on the borough.

“I am glad to see what we worked to achieve in the run up to the Olympics, reflected in these figures. We wanted more than just a sporting legacy and are working to secure a long-term improvement to the health and activity levels of the borough,” says Councillor Rita Krishna, Cabinet Member for Children and Young People’s Services.

She added: “Hackney was the only borough in the country to have a fully inclusive inter-school sports event every year in the five years running up to the Olympics, and we are keeping that competition going and offering many opportunities for all our residents – adults, older people, children and young people – to get active.

“We have a popular Saturday morning cycling club that is going from strength to strength and a range of sport and leisure facilities including three swimming pools and a Lido. Almost a quarter of the borough is green space and we have 15 Green Flag parks, all of which are well used and valued by people in the borough.”

At weekends, Clissold Park is packed with active families Pic: Ewan Munro

At weekends, Clissold Park is packed with active families Pic: Ewan Munro

That expanse of green space is not going underused. Every weekend, if the sun dares to stay shining, Clissold Park is packed with families playing sport, having a kick about and enjoying the benefits of a healthy lifestyle.

“I think in terms of people being inspired to do more sport, absolutely it [London 2012] has had a legacy,” says Hui. But she still thinks there is work to be done, “They spoke about all the stuff being built and everyone is going to have access and things are going to be cheaper but I’ve never seen any of that, but I did see us getting loads more people. Even things like funding – you’d expect there to be funds opening up after the Games to increase participation, but we looked everywhere and didn’t seem to find any.”

Funding is being cut for the six Olympic sports that failed to deliver medals at the 2012 Games, but when sports with such massive grassroots popularity like Basketball are having funding withdrawn, questions are raised. The no compromise funding system that saw Team GB rise from 36th in the medal table at Atlanta in 1996, to third in 2012, has had a positive impact but funds must not be withdrawn from sports that people are regularly getting out and playing with their friends and families just because they don’t win medals.

“Participation increased and people were really inspired by it, but sadly the infrastructure necessary to sustain that interest wasn’t there,” says Hui.

And there lies the problem for the Olympic legacy. The positive increase seen in Hackney and the number of people turning up to Hackney Laces demonstrates an eagerness for people to engage in sport with their families. This cannot be allowed to disappear by constant cuts to funding or the glorious summer of London 2012 will fade into distant memories, and future generations will be frustrated that they cannot see the fruits of investment from a successful Olympic Games.

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