After the Games have gone
Paul Burbidge looks at the infrastructure, sporting and other legacies of Dorset hosting the Olympic regatta
Published in July ’11
The prospect of traffic chaos, disruption to local businesses and residents, and a black hole in the nation’s finances are just some of the things that have caused the people of London and Dorset to welcome the 2012 Olympic Games with a note of caution.
In twelve months, though, the people of Weymouth and Portland will be given the chance of a lifetime – the opportunity to witness the world’s greatest sailors battling for an Olympic gold medal. Twenty years ago, had one told the residents of these towns that part of the 30th Olympiad would take place on their doorstep, they would have probably laughed themselves into Weymouth Bay. The dream, though, is now a reality and Dorset is staging one of the few events where Britannia rules.
However, the Olympic Games are about more than putting one country in the spotlight for a few weeks, and handing out some gold, silver and bronze medals. Years before the event, organisers must demonstrate that there will be something in it for the locals after the athletes, officials and fans return home. So it is perhaps overdue to ask what kind of legacy – in terms of infrastructure, sport and a wider legacy – the Olympics will have left Dorset?
The infrastructure component of the legacy comprises both projects that are required and designed for the Olympic year and those which were, for the sake of civic pride – and avoiding having roadworks being the predominant story of the Olympics – pushed to being completed in time for 2012.
After sixty years of waiting, a public inquiry and months of construction, the most visible big infrastructure project, the £89 million, 4.5-mile Weymouth Relief Road, opened to traffic on 17 March at 2.44pm. There is no doubt that it is far safer than its predecessor, which is in the process of being adapted to provide a cycleway, footpath and farm access. The famous hairpin used to be the stuff of nightmares for motorists, both for those forced to brake hard while descending the perilously steep drop into Weymouth to avoid slowing traffic, and those forced to trundle in second gear behind slow-moving vehicles trying to crawl out of Upwey.
The heavy landscaping that paved the way for the new road has smoothed out the Ridgeway which guards Weymouth and Portland and has made getting there a far more pleasant experience for residents, tourists, commuters and hauliers alike. While the road into Weymouth is still a single carriageway, the outbound section has two lanes on the climb back towards Dorchester, which should help to keep traffic moving.
In terms of sporting infrastructure, the Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy really is something the county can be proud of. It has the distinction of having been the first venue completed for the Games and, when one considers the billions of pounds being spent elsewhere to bring the sporting showcase to the UK, the £15 million that WPNSA cost to build and develop to Olympic standard seems like small change.
WPNSA initially cost £8 million and was jointly funded by the Sports England Lottery Fund, the South West Regional Development Agency (SWRDA) and local authorities, before being opened in June 2005 by the Princess Royal. After the Olympics were handed to London a month later, a further £7 million was invested. The additional work included significant marine civil engineering works to reclaim part of the harbour, new slipways, pontoons, berths and breakwater. It was largely financed by the publicly-funded Olympic Delivery Authority, with a small contribution by the SWRDA.
The academy has already won huge acclaim. It was nominated for the 2010 Sports Venue of the Year, but accolades will mean little to the wider Dorset community, unless the WPNSA does its bit to serve them.
This is where the Chesil Trust’s ‘Sail for a Fiver’ initiative comes in. In a bid to ensure that sailing is not just a sport for the elite, the charity has stepped forward to subsidise sailing classes for schoolchildren. The Trust contributes £15 per head to the cost of a £25 session, with WPNSA partners, Laser, adding a fiver. This allows youngsters between 10 and 11 to experience the sport for the cost of a cinema ticket.
Around 1600 youngsters a year have so far availed themselves of the opportunity and Weymouth and Portland’s community sailing club also allows youngsters bitten by the bug to come back every Tuesday and Thursday, borrowing a boat if needed.
With Olympic hopefuls Andrew Simpson, Nick Dempsey, Annie Lush and Lucy and Kate Macgregor all living in the county, there is no shortage of stars for Dorset youngsters to emulate, if they yearn to learn and make their mark at the next Olympic games in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.
The Other Sports
While mainstream sports such as football, tennis and boxing all feature on the Olympic programme, London 2012 will give some of the more obscure disciplines their moment in the television spotlight.
It’s fair to say sports like taekwondo, fencing, canoeing and shooting rarely enjoy any exposure beyond the Olympics. Even sailing and cycling – sports where
Great Britain has frequently dominated the medal rostrum over recent years – are almost always bulldozed off the back pages of national newspapers by the juggernaut that is Premier League football.
But there is one initiative that is seeking to ignite interest across the whole spectrum of Olympic events and, with a bit of luck, it could also raise a fortune for Poole-based charity Diverse Abilities Plus.
The Gold Challenge has been set up to encourage individuals and groups to gain sponsorship for trying anywhere between five and thirty Olympic disciplines. They must receive at least three hours coaching or complete one endurance event, if they opt for a marathon or triathlon in order to qualify for the scheme. All sports must be completed in 2012, so the fundraising will continue long after the world’s elite have sailed out of Portland Harbour.
Diverse Abilities Plus is the only regional charity in the country to benefit from Gold Challenge sponsoprship. Founded in 1955, by Phyllis Edwards, it has grown to help people with physical and learning difficulties of all ages, as well as their carers. As a group set up to enrich the lives of those they support, encouraging the people of Dorset to get involved in new sports and, at the same time, to raise money for Diverse Abilities Plus was a natural progression for the charity’s chief executive Mark Powell.
He said: ‘The Olympics and Paralympics do a lot for people with disabilities and sometimes that’s forgotten in the razzmatazz of the whole event. The reality is the Olympics campaign is expected to leave a legacy. This means that, through the Olympics, charities around the country will benefit and, as the only regional charity, we hope that everyone around here will support us.’
In theory, less athletic participants could take part in one sport if they joined forces with four others to form a team. With thirty sports to choose from, Powell believes there is something for everyone.
‘There isn’t anybody who can’t do at least five of the thirty,’ he said. ‘There’s shooting and table tennis. I was wondering where I might do shooting, but it turns out there are at least three clubs in the immediate area. If you do it as a team, you don’t have to do five sports. Quite frankly, it’s fun, and we want everybody to have fun while they are supporting us. We’re going to do thirty as an organisation as are three companies that we know of.
‘The idea is you raise £50 per sport that you do. So if you do five, then that’s £250 as an individual. But if you did it as part of a team, then that’s £50 if you just do one.
It’s not a huge amount to ask an individual to get
in sponsorship. What we want is to have 100 teams of four. We want around 400 people to participate and if we get £50 a head, then that’s a significant amount of money for a charity like us.’
With the credit crunch biting and charities like Diverse Abilities Plus facing an uphill struggle to grow as state funding dwindles, Powell admits the Gold Challenge will play a huge part in helping them offer services to more of those in need for years to come.
He said: ‘We offer lifetime partnerships. If you join any of our services as a youngster, we want to try and make sure we are here for you throughout the whole of your life. That’s a big thing to achieve and if we make that promise to people, we’ve got to make sure we’re here in fifty years’ time. We owe it to the people we support to find every way we can to survive as a charity.’
As fundraising initiatives go, they do not come much more innovative than the Gold Challenge. It is clear that London 2012 will bring far more than a new road into Weymouth and Portland and a sailing academy for a select few elite athletes. If the Olympics showcase our county to the world and persuade hundreds of Dorset sportsmen and women both young and old to try a new discipline, surely a few weeks of travel chaos is a small price to pay?