Legacy of London 2012 Olympic Games lives on in Yorkshire

It’s aims are in the name but how has Sheffield Olympic Legacy Park progressed in the aftermath of the London 2012 Games? Laura Drysdale reports.

“It was always the plan that the legacy left by the [London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic] Games should last a lifetime”, then Primer Minister David Cameron wrote in a report in 2013.

Site director David Hobson at Sheffield Olympic Legacy Park.

Site director David Hobson at Sheffield Olympic Legacy Park.

The aim was captured in ‘inspire a generation’, which became somewhat of a slogan for the Games, which were surrounded by talk of economic growth and regeneration and the development of a nation inspired by sport and healthy living.

Six years on, Yorkshire is delivering a lasting legacy, says former sports minister Richard Caborn, who is project lead for the Sheffield Olympic Legacy Park.

When complete, the multi-million pound park, which is being developed on the site of the former Don Valley Stadium, will offer “world-class sports, education, health and leisure facilities”, its bosses say. It is home to a school, technical college, running routes and a 3G pitch, with plans in the pipeline for research centres, a community arena, a hotel and laboratories.

“One of the unique offers in the London bid was to deliver an Olympic legacy on health and wellbeing through the four themes of sport, economy, local community and sustainability,” Richard says.

The park is being developed.

The park is being developed.

“Sheffield has taken this on board and is the only city in the UK that has delivered this part of the legacy thanks to many institutions working together.”

The city lost Don Valley sports stadium, where Olympic champion Dame Jessica Ennis-Hill trained in 2013 when it was closed and demolished in a cost-cutting move.

“Richard saw this as an opportunity one year after the Olympics to perhaps deliver some of those [legacy] promises that were made back in 2005, and that’s why we decided to go down this route” explains David Hobson, site director for the legacy park.

In 2014, Legacy Park Ltd, a not-for-profit organisation made up of Sheffield City Council, Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust and Sheffield Hallam University, was founded to deliver the scheme, which its bosses say had involved £42m of public sector investment to this June.

The first milestone for the park was the opening of Oasis Academy Don Valley in 2015, a school for 1,200 pupils aged four to 16.

A year later, a University Technical College (UTC) opened its doors on site for 13 to 19-year-olds. Specialising in sport science, health sciences, and computing and data analysis, it works with more than 70 employers and the city’s two universities.

Last year saw the completion of outdoor training facilities, running routes and cycle paths, as well as a 3G pitch.

Sheffield Eagles have used the latter since March, when the rugby league club, formerly based at Don Valley Stadium, returned to the city after more than four years without a permanent home, having played as far away as Wakefield.

But it hasn’t been plain sailing, and in July the club’s board of directors claimed costs were “strangling the club and its future existence”.

Last month, a planning application for a £5m 3,900-capacity ‘grandstand’ stadium with conferencing and office space to be built on the west side of the 3G pitch was submitted.

It will host Sheffield United Women Football Club and the Eagles, who said they were in talks with parties involved with the site and were hopeful to be accommodated in the long term “with an agreement that is financially viable”.

The latest development to get underway at the park is an Advanced Wellbeing Research Centre, which will look at how people can be supported to ‘move more’.

It will be integrated with Sheffield’s National Centre for Sport and Exercise Medicine, an Olympic legacy project, which includes the development of physical activity pathways within the NHS.

An orthopaedic and rehabilitation research centre is planned by 2025, as well as a centre for child health technology, a hotel, offices and laboratories.

The park also takes in the English Institute of Sport Sheffield (EISS), where elite sportspeople including boxer Anthony Joshua and members of the GB Paralympic wheelchair basketball team train, iceSheffield, and the DSA Sheffield Arena - all established prior to its conception.

Those using the park’s sports facilities, including professionals, Olympic and Paralympic athletes, amateur competitors, schoolchildren and members of the community will have the chance to take part in research and development projects at the site.

The park will be “one of the world’s best research centres for health and wellbeing through physical activity,” says Richard.

It is predicted that every £1 of public investment in the site will generate around £14.50 towards the economy by 2042 and more than 3,000 jobs are expected to have been created by that time.

“Economic regeneration is a key priority,” says David, who was born and bred in the city. With a focus on health and wellbeing, one aim for the park is to create “high value” jobs for Sheffield City Region, he says.

“In addition, and just as important, is giving the local community opportunities for sport, education, jobs and a better lifestyle.”

“I think it has made phenomenal progress in light of the knocking down of Don Valley Stadium so soon after the Olympic Games,” says Yuri Matischen, chairman of the Sheffield Sharks and director of Park Community Arena Ltd which also hopes to build a sports on the site, in Attercliffe, next year.

A financial and funding plan for the facility, which will be the home of the Sharks basketball club as well as being used by community clubs, is being finalised.

The park will offer the opportunity for people of all sporting abilities to brush alongside each other, Yuri says, helping to “inspire children from some of the most underprivileged areas”.

“I really do think that we are going to inspire young people in the most deprived areas to do extraordinary things. Real, ordinary people are going to get the opportunity to rub alongside people that are extraordinary, and I think that in time, that will create the kind of legacy that the Olympics should create.”

There is no doubt that there have been big changes to the site over the past four years, though plans make it clear the development still has some way to go. But what does the man who headed the successful London 2012 bid - Lord Sebastian Coe - make of things?

“Sheffield understands the power of sport,” says the former track and field athlete who used to live in the city.

“Not just at elite level, but as a way to engage local communities, and has used it in an exemplary way which should be seen as a template for so many other cities not just in the UK but around the world.”