As someone who has never felt the need to jump out of a perfectly good aeroplane, when the opportunity presented itself I considered it….for all of 2 seconds, then (pardon the pun) my flight instinct kicked in and I declined gracefully. The same thing happened with bungee jumping. My brain just couldn’t process the scenario in way that would result in me dangling head first over a ravine. I clearly have a rational adversity to leaping of stuff. I’d just like to point out I did go hang-gliding (And whilst that did involve running off a cliff edge I was attached to a perfectly good set of wings, apparent this was a calculated risk my brain was prepared to let me take.) Unfortunately, that was the beginning and end of my dare devil career and that was fine, except for not doing white water rafting. I love being on the water just not so keen being thrown in to it, however it still bothered me that I had lost my nerve to go rafting, so when rumours of the White Water Centre being built in Lea Valley Park for the 2012 Olympics I had mixed feelings about it. On the one hand I would have the opportunity to rectify my cowardice and conquer a fear at last, in a controlled environment, with calculated risks that my brain could rationalise and, on the other hand I would have to overcome a fear!
My Intrigue and apprehension about the proposed centre was echoed amongst the local communities, but for very different reasons. With concerns such as developing within an existing open space, perceptions of loss of use of that space, disruption during the build sustainability as an affordable amenity to the public. I could understand some of their concerns having visited a few former Olympic host cities such as Barcelona and Los Angeles and seen what had happened, not just to some of sporting venues but to some of the public spaces developed in relation to the Olympics. The contrast in the quality of public spaces across the cities was of no surprise, after all wealth and poverty juxtaposed is an inevitable characteristic of a city. On the whole some cities were transformed for the better. (Further reading – http://thisbigcity.net/olympic-cities-urban-legacies-from-three-decades-of-the-olympic-games/)
However, after the athletes, the world’s press and the funding had long gone the less prestigious sites, particularly smaller, less central public parks and landscapes were now suffering from extensive neglect. The publicity around the condition of many 2004 Athens Olympic sites did not help to reassure people that developments such as the white water centre would survive in the long term.
However, Four years on from the London 2012 Olympic Games the White Water Centre, run and maintained by Lea Valley Park appears to be thriving. As one of a few facilities in the UK the Olympic team train at the centre and International competitions are held at this venue but it’s the level of public use and contribution to the local area that has surprised me.
With a wide range of activities from canoe courses to one off rafting experiences, the centre draws people in from all over the country. Having now visited on many occasions (one of which was to face the fear and raft the rapids) it is evident that is not just the water based activities that make this venue so popular. I’m not sure what the water sport version of après ski is but the alfresco ‘Terrace Bar’ with its live music, BBQ and tree top views of the park is proving really popular as a local venue for those wanting a more relaxed experience. There is a diverse age range visiting the centre from toddlers playing in the sand pit whilst parents relax at the café, Dog walkers making use of the footpath links to the wider park to the retired seventy -something canoeist racing down the rapids and everyone else in between. It would seem that the uniqueness and diversity of the centre’s facilities and the location at Lea Valley Park will continue to contribute to the success of this outer city Olympic venue that will hopefully remain a legacy for to the local and wider community.
Below is a list of some fascinating images of post legacy olympic sites, have a look for yourselves – you will be amazed!