diamond geezer

 Wednesday, July 04, 2012

London 2012  Around the Olympic Park
  3) Hackney Marshes to Leyton High Road
  15 more photographs here; map here

Alongside Ruckholt Road, London 2012 have spent millions building a sporting venue that won't host a single event during the Olympics. It's Eton Manor, the venue for wheelchair tennis during the Paralympics, built across land that formerly housed a long-standing sports club. After the Games the two Olympic hockey pitches will be relocated here, to create a combined tennis and hockey centre for legacy public use. For now it's a stack of grandstands best viewed from within rather than without. Something's not finished, because there were 100-or-so workers in yellow tabards milling around the entrance at the weekend, most probably on a lunchbreak.

Across the road, beside the entrance to New Spitalfields Market, the gardeners have spelt out a good luck message to Team GB in white bricks across a flowerbed. It's debatable how many of our athletes will ever see it, but it's a nice human touch from the community rather than yet more off-the-shelf bunting from LOCOG. The traffic is relentless. It used to be possible to turn right and pass along Temple Mills Lane to circumnavigate the Olympic Park, but that's been closed off past the bus garage since January last year, and won't reopen before next Easter. Diversion ahoy, through the middle of Leyton, so we'll not reach the other end of Temple Mills Lane for another five paragraphs.

Someone's expecting significant Games-related pedestrian footfall over the railway, from northeast London to the Park, so workmen are busy doubling up the southern footbridge. The new span is a modern design, with barriers splayed out like a pair of fins, leading to a freshly planted slope of shrubs and flowers. Here stands a tall and very thin metal sculpture, resembling a shiny hypodermic needle puncturing the sky, although that's not presumably what it's supposed to symbolise.

We're now halfway round the Olympic Park as we start to turn and head back south. The next road is the main vehicular entrance to a giant Asda and the Leyton Mills Retail Park. Through the railings is a patch of well-tended allotments (these survived, others weren't so lucky). Asda's car park is green and pleasant too, in places, with a scattering of ponds amongst the fresh-mown grass. Stand by the 24 hour petrol station and the Velodrome's curved roof is clearly seen, if not especially close. To escape, walk along the narrow footpath in front of the row of retail sheds. B&Q's up first, then Currys/PC World, with Next next. Most visitors are piling heavy stuff into the boots of their cars, but some have arrived on foot and are carrying rather less. Pedestrian access isn't great, but contractors appear to be adding some non-zig-zag steps (at last!) beyond TK Maxx, which can only help in the unspoken battle against nearby Westfield.

Much of Leyton High Road close to the tube station is a right mess at the moment. Waltham Forest council is giving the area an urgent "Streetscape" facelift before the Games, which has been underway since April and clearly isn't finished yet. Several pavements are half-repaved, on both sides of the road, and barriered off while work completes. It's hard enough squeezing past people here at the best of times, and temporarily even harder still. Don't think of pausing on the bridge over the Central line to admire the view of the Olympic Park, great though the view is, because people will only curse. Residents in neighbouring streets have already been fortunate, offered approximately a thousand pounds each from council funds to repaint their frontages and refresh their front gardens. It's all so that spectators walking this way think nice thoughts about Leyton, rather than what they might think if they wandered a parallel thoroughfare a few streets back. It may be a deception, but the collective results look upliftingly positive.

Enough money has been thrown at the parade of shops by Warren Road to make an impressively big visual difference. Nine shops have been repainted, each in a different colour, and their fa├žades brightened and rebranded as if this were SW1, not E10. But reality kicks in to the south of the station, where the usual accumulation of kebab shops, salons and fried chicken dispensaries holds court. One shop has been reworked into the Madrasah Al-Tawhid mosque, just two windows wide, complete with golden minaret at former upstairs-flat level. Another unit is filled by a lowbrow cafe called "Olympic Coffee", whose continued existence I take as convincing evidence that LOCOG's legal growlings about protected trademarks have been all bark and no bite.

Diverting off the main drag, the Victorian terraces round Westdown Road back down to the railway, not quite adjacent to the Olympic Park. But Drapers Field, the next greenspace along, is close enough to have been completely swallowed up. This used to be the local public recreation ground until it was appropriated back in January to create an "Operations Support Area" for the Olympic Village. Where there used to be hard and soft sports pitches, now there's a very big white marquee which is being used to store supplies for the Olympic Village. It's full of bed linen, towels, soap and shampoos (honest, it is), as if someone took all the storage cupboards from a chain of hotels and stuck them in a single tent. At the foot of the embankment is an "Access control point", through which cleaning staff with appropriate security clearance gain entrance. Someone's got to change the athletes' beds, someone's got to scrub their showers, so for many this hidden gateway in the backstreets of Leyton is their passport to welcome temporary employment.

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