Remember the Olympics and Paralympics on Woolwich Common?
The big shooting halls are starting to come down this week. Hey, some idiot’s already pulled up the cycle path across there, long before Circular Way reopens. But the common’s felt different for the past few weeks anyway – bleaker, sadder.
The north side of Woolwich Common is a terrific piece of wild land, a real slice of the country in the city. But the rest of it’s always felt sad and neglected to me. It deserves to be treated better than being part of a miserable rat-run between Charlton and Plumstead.
Yet the Olympics showed that so much more could be done with the common. There’s a whole chunk of land the Army keeps to itself, which the Games used too (it made a terrific archery venue during the Paralympics, too) – is it time they gave it up, and allowed it to be used for sport?
The transformation of Ha Ha Road from sad rat-run to a parade of food stalls was most striking for me. Last year, at a community meeting about the On Blackheath festival, a woman piped up: “Why don’t you put it on Woolwich Common instead?” I wrote this off as some NIMBY nonsense, but seeing how well Woolwich Common worked as an small-capacity Olympic venue… why couldn’t it hold some kind of community festival?
As before, all the attention will be on Greenwich Park, but there’ll also have to be a bit of work – and a lot of tree-planting – to go before the common’s ship-shape again. But once the grass is growing again, and it’s starting to look green once more, is it time to think of a new future for Woolwich Common?
The latest communiques from NOGOE, the always open-minded opponents of the Olympics in Greenwich Park. If they’re trying to work out why nobody’s listening to their claims that the rebuilding of the Blackheath gates (and the remodelling of an iffy junction) is “Olympic vandalism”, then these might provide an answer…
9pm update: I’ve tidied the original, mobile-uploaded, post up and swapped the image for a one showing four of this morning’s tweets from the NOGOE account, run by activist Rachel “Indigo” Mawhood, who sent me this charming missive last summer. Most have since been deleted, but not before they were widely seen, and also captured by tweeter @pekingspring.
NOGOE’s patrons include historian Dr David Starkey, who who caused outrage following last summer’s London riots when he said “the whites have become black”, author Blake Morrison and recently-appointed Supreme Court judge Lord Sumption.
Over the past few months, neighbours have watched in puzzlement as the Olympic venue on Woolwich Common has risen from the ground. The huge structures will play host to shooting and Paralympic archery events between July and September, with Olympics organisers taking over much of the common. On Saturday, groups of neighbours, from Charlton and Woolwich, were among the first to see inside the arenas.
While the ructions over Greenwich Park have hogged the limelight, the works taking place in Woolwich are much more complex. Construction is almost complete on the two arenas on the common, with the Olympic Delivery Authority about to hand over the keys to organisers LOCOG. Work is also continuing on another, open air, shooting range inside Woolwich Barracks itself, with huge nets being erected to protect the public from stray shots – and to make it easier to clean up.
The biggest white structure – which at 26 metres high, dominates views from Charlton House and the slopes of Shooters Hill – is the finals hall. Its distinctive design – with two fabric skins built around a steel structure – helps ventilation and allows the temperature to stay constant. The pushed-out rings stop the skin from flapping. This is where the first medals of London 2012 will be won – around 11am on 28 July 2012, in the women’s 10 metre air rifle contest.
This hall will play host to the 10 metre, 25 metre and 50 metre air rifle finals. The three concrete strips on the synthetic turf mark each distance. The other ranges will at least partly be open to the elements – shooting manager Peter Underhill says “We don’t want quiet, we want noise”, adding that dealing with the elements is part of the skill of shooting. But the finals hall is inside for the benefit of television. At the centre left of the photo above, you may just be able to see where a target has been fixed to the wall.
Above you can just about see the top of the structure (in white), where the scoreboard will go.
Here’s where the 2,800 spectators will sit – entering via the “hobbit holes” at the bottom, looking down at the action below. Up to 4,000 spectators will be on the common at any one time, with organisers creating a “plaza” for them at the entrance at the Woolwich end of Ha Ha Road, which will be closed for the Games. Shuttle buses will run from Woolwich Arsenal station. Repository Road, through the barracks, will be closed while events are on, from 9am-6pm. Athletes will enter the site via Charlton Park Lane.
Next to the finals hall is the hall for the rapid fire pistol competition.
This can accomodate 800 spectators, but here the targets are open to the elements – although it’s only really possible to appreciate this if you move up close…
Once again, spectators will enter via “hobbit holes” at the back. As with Greenwich Park during the summer, there will be a test event at Woolwich – the ISSF Shooting World Cup – from 17-29 April, with 700 athletes putting the facilities through their paces.
Once the test events are done, the venue opens for training on 16 July – the same day as the Olympic Park. After the Paralympics are over, the aim is for Woolwich Common to be fully returned to the public from March 2013. A number of trees have been felled to accommodate the construction site, with the Olympic Delivery Authority pledging to plant one and half new trees for every one that has been taken down.
Clearly there’ll be some disruption with road closures across the common. If you’re a bus user, here’s some maps of what TfL has planned for Woolwich Common and Queen Elizabeth Hospital during games time – these haven’t been officially confirmed yet, but were sent out to local councils some time ago.
While Greenwich has definitely hogged the limelight, Woolwich’s role in next year’s games will come to the forefront soon. After a terrible year in SE18, many locals will be hoping the arrival of thousands of athletes and spectators will give the place a desperately-needed lift in 2012.
For all the hue and cry over Greenwich Park and the Olympics, there’s very little notice being taken of what’s going on at Woolwich Common, venue for the 2012 shooting and wheelchair archery events. Of all London’s Olympic sites, Woolwich Common is undergoing the most dramatic changes of anywhere outside the Olympic Park itself. You have to go up close to really appreciate the size of what’s being erected…
The first thing I thought after taking my first look for a few weeks – hadn’t I seen the design on the vents somewhere before?
The second thing… it’s huge!
You’ll see a token bit of branding has appeared on the quieter (Ha Ha Road) side of the site, but what’s happening will remain a mystery to anyone passing by on the South Circular. You can see it from as a far away as Charlton House, looming over the skyline.
While there’s been an outcry over possible damage to Greenwich Park – now looking in good shape following July’s test events – the scale of the work at Woolwich slipped through unnoticed. About half the common is out of bounds, and a small part has been covered in tarmac for a disabled car park. “It’s Woolwich grass, nobody’s bothered about that,” one local complained when imploring me to take a look.
Across Ha Ha Road, screens are being erected while the frontage of the Royal Artillery Barracks is being spruced up. While there’s worries on just how many people can be squeezed into Greenwich Park for the equestrian events, the real visible Olympic action is currently happening further east.
Speaking of squeezing people into Greenwich, we’ll hopefully find out more about plans for SE London’s road and transport networks during 2012 at an exhibition at Devonport House between Thursday and Sunday. Some local bus routes will change during the Olympics – one will see the 486 diverted at Charlton Park (presumably to steer it away from Woolwich Common), others will see extra double-deckers put on the 108 and 129 with changes around North Greenwich. We’ll find out more, hopefully, on Thursday.
The Olympic shooting venue on Woolwich Common is fast taking shape, with the distinctive holes in the side of the temporary structures.
The venue will have to be finished by the spring, with a test event, the ISSF World Cup, planned for 18-28 April. But one thing’s still missing from the site…
Sadly, there’s still no indication to passers-by that this is going to be an Olympic venue. Is the Olympic Delivery Authority – which is constructing this rather than LOCOG – ashamed of Woolwich or something? They’ve had four months to dress the battleship grey hoardings, or at least put the odd sign up. Instead, for many, what’s going on is a mystery. (And one which has shut off a very handy cycle lane.)
I took these photos the evening before the riots, but somehow they seem a little more timely now. Particularly with the events of last week, it’d be good to see the ODA get off its backside and start making this place something Woolwich can shout about. It needs it at the moment.
If you live near or travel over Woolwich Common a lot, you’ll be getting used to the sight above before long. Work’s already started on getting the common and the nearby Royal Artillery Barracks set to host the shooting events in next summer’s Olympics and Paralympics. There’s more in this newsletter which apparently has been delivered to the common’s “closest neighbours”. Three indoor firing ranges and one outdoor range are being constructed on the common, while 50 trees are being taken down to make room (with a promise that they’ll be replaced by 75 trees once the games are over.)
Ha Ha Road, which crosses the common, will be closed while the Olympics are on – not much fun for anyone who needs to access Queen Elizabeth Hospital, or is travelling on a bus through that area. Circular Way – a long-closed road now used as a cycle route – will be closed until December 2012 to make room for the works on the common.
Apparently there was a “drop-in session in Woolwich Town Centre” in February – I don’t remember any publicity for this. It certainly didn’t get a mention in Greenwich Council’s propaganda weekly, Greenwich Time, which surely exists to promote such events. I’m sure a lot of people might have wanted to find out some more. If you know better, please let me know.
Now – why haven’t the above images, and the alterations to the common been publicised as widely as possible? Again, this is the kind of thing Greenwich Council publishes a newspaper for, isn’t it? Indeed, what are Greenwich’s plans for the reinstatement of the common after summer 2012? But it’s also the job of LOCOG to tell us about their ideas, not just land it on local residents as a fait accompli.
Meanwhile, some details about this summer’s test event in Greenwich Park – yet to be passed by Greenwich’s planning board – have appeared on the Friends of Greenwich Park website following a meeting of the Local Societies Consultative Group. However, at present, minutes of this meeting are not publicly available.
A bit of time on your hands? Sun shining? Have a blog that needs livening up? Time to put on some walking shoes, grab the camera, and head out for a walk. Over the next few weeks, I’m going to be walking the Capital Ring, which runs in a loop right around (roughly) inner London. Officially, it starts at Woolwich, but since it passes a few minutes from my home in Charlton, that’s where I started, and it’s where I’ll finish.
It’s not the first time I’ve walked along this route – a few years ago I followed its south-east London incarnation as the Green Chain Walk, covering a stretch from Charlton to Crystal Palace in a single, summer Sunday. So this first stretch was on largely familiar territory, but, on the whole, it was a pleasure to renew my acquaintance.
Like in Charlton Park, for example. I’m no more than 10 minutes walk away from there, but I rarely visit – this is what happens when you live on a steep hill. Jacobean Charlton House is a amazing building and its immediate surroundings make for a beautiful little park that’s a a bit of a secret if you don’t know the area. Charlton Park itself is no great shakes, but as a place to stretch your legs it does the job. The old running track I knew from primary school sports days has now been ripped up and replaced with some open-air gym stuff which was getting a decent workout from holidaying youngsters.
A short walk through quiet residential streets takes you to its poor relation, Hornfair Park – from there, there’s a passage through a fence and onto Woolwich Common, long associated with the military and now subject to the din of the South Circular and ambulances heading to and from Queen Elizabeth Hospital, a privately funded hospital which has since proved to be a financial disaster. Close by is the world’s most misleadingly-named housing development, Greenwich Heights, former army flats redeveloped just before the last property boom started and promoted with maps which managed to miss off the word “Woolwich” from where the place was.
Were it not for the noise, Woolwich Common, with its bushes and butterflies, would feel miles from the city. But just over the hedge is the old Royal Military Academy – now being turned into housing for the well-off – and dodging the South Circular’s awful drivers is necessary to reach the slopes of Shooters Hill and its woods – Castlewood, Jackwood, and Oxleas Woods. Ah, and here comes some mud.
These ancient woods were nearly partially destroyed by Margaret Thatcher’s government, which wanted to drive a motorway through them. The plans were headed off two decades ago, but there’s the suspicion that these woods could do with some more care – Severndroog Castle, a 17th century folly closed by Greenwich Council in 1988, looks in an awful state, although lottery funds have been made available for campaigners to restore it. The ornamental garden beyond it, meanwhile, is a graffiti-covered mess. Through the woods to the little cafe on Oxleas Meadow for an ice cream, and it hasn’t lost its charm in the few years since I’ve been there. “Ain’t got no vanilla!”
It is too misty today to take in the stunning view into Kent from the meadow, so it’s off into the woods again, across where a motorway junction could have been, and finally out into Eltham Park, bisected by a road development which did take place – the Rochester Way Relief Road of the mid-1980s.
Here we hit a patch of stately suburbia which, with a bit more love, could look like some forbidding private estate. Instead, it’s just Eltham. Crossing the Bexley Road takes you past the sports fields and stables of Butterfly Lane, and it’s right to Conduit Meadow and the conduit head behind Southend Crescent – again, looking like it’s seen better days, despite being a Grade II listed building.
The conduit head controlled the flow of water to Eltham Palace, 10 minutes’ walk away. Eltham Palace is one of two local attractions I’ve never set foot in (the other is the Old Royal Naval College) – set well off the beaten track, it always had restricted opening hours and never particularly sprung to mind as a place to visit.
But walking around here is always rewarding, because past here is King John’s Walk, through paddocks and stables and with a surprising view across London. I always think that here must be like how London’s suburbs were in the 1920s and 1930s – semis going up around rural land still in use. There’s a sign here indicating what can be seen here – including, oddly, a clear view of west London’s Trellick Tower – but, yup, it’s scrawled over with graffiti.
From here, it’s a quick stroll through the run-down Middle Park Estate, over the A20, and into Mottingham – and a complete change of scene, with big houses and leafy streets. Cricketer WG Grace lived in this street, Rio Ferdinand’s mum resides nearby. The walk has now crossed into the borough of Bromley – something that matters on these strolls, since Greenwich Council is pretty good at making sure its walks are signposted, a dedication not always shared by its neighbours. But the direction is clear enough as the walk turns left into a path between Eltham College‘s playing fields and a big paddock. The huge fences on either side keep you in your place.
And from here, the walk gets less exciting. Emerging in Marvels Lane, Grove Park, I find a man trying to walk to Grove Park station in completely the wrong direction. I attempt to put him straight, and then discover the reason why – one of the signs is pointing the wrong way. A few years back, I took a route through pretty Chinbrook Meadows to do this walk – the Capital Ring, though, now winds through tatty suburbia. The river Quaggy gurgles through an ugly concrete channel, a group of youths jeer at an older man they almost run over.
This bit isn’t much fun. Upon hitting Baring Road and its buses, I decide to call it a day – there’ll be better terrain to come. I’ll be picking this walk up again on Friday – you’re welcome to join me on Twitter or even AudioBoo if you fancy it. (Although I’m due to be in company then, so I’m not sure if that nonsense will be tolerated.) And if you live elsewhere on the Capital Ring and fancy a stroll – let me know, a tour guide might be handy.