‘Our Olympics’: an introduction

Waltham Forest was, of course, one of the ‘Olympic Boroughs’, and LBWF predictably milked that fact for all it was worth. From the ‘Big Six’ events (handily organised by the Manchester based Co-operative Event Management), to the outburst of civic pride that greeted the arrival of the torch, to the constant harping on ‘legacy’, no opportunity was missed to spread the message that the Town Hall brigade deserved out gratitude.

Yet behind the scenes, it was a rather different story. A LBWF scrutiny committee report, published just a year before the Games opened, referred to ‘the perceived lack of local progress being made in maximising the potential and benefits that could be accrued from having one of the biggest sporting events in living memory being hosted on our doorstep’ and ‘some degree of member disquiet on the issue’. LBWF’s Olympic Team remained tiny, a handful of overworked officers trying to cover all the bases. An expensive ‘Head of 2012′, recruited by a firm with links to the then Chief Executive, Roger Taylor, hardly had his feet under the table when he disappeared in a puff of smoke, and was last heard of suing the council, with the support of Doreen Lawrence, for running a ‘white executive network’. Money to fund the necessarily borough-wide Olympic effort, as previously described, was surreptitiously syphoned off the Better Neighbourhoods Initiative, a programme that was supposed to be targeted only at the most deprived wards. And all that was before the first starting gun had been fired.

And as to ‘the legacy’, it was endlessly spoken about, before, during, and after, for sure, but remains much harder to pin down. The example of Drapers Field seems indicative. LBWF did a deal to lease this park in Leyton to the Olympic authorities for the duration – something that was entirely sensible. By late 2014, the park was back in use, and much improved. That looked like a clear win. But lack of transparency over the finances undermined the overall impact of the transformation that had occurred. LBWF had been in receipt of rent, naturally, but it was unclear whether all of that really had been spent on the park, or some diverted elsewhere, perhaps used to embellish pet projects that had little to do with either sport or health. And then of course there was Worknet, another prime component off LBWF ‘legacy’, but one which, as an earlier post has noted, drastically underachieved and is now thought of as an embarrassment.

Anyway, that is by way of an introduction to the next three posts, which examined further aspects of ‘Our Olympics’ in some detail, digging beneath the surface to round out the picture of what really went on