Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park has changed since London 2012, a site cut off from the world around it, to a green space with people walking, cycling and boating through it, with the noise of traffic and construction. In short, it’s become part of London. At the A12 end of the Park, the Copper Box, Lee Valley VeloPark and Lee Valley Hockey and Tennis Centre form a sporting triangle that’s augmented by BT Sports and Loughborough University’s new campus for sport management courses.
Vibrant Partnerships manages Lee Valley VeloPark and Lee Valley Hockey and Tennis Centre which are owned by Lee Valley Regional Park Authority. Jeremy Northrop is the General Manager of Lee Valley VeloPark and Lee Valley Hockey and Tennis Centre and Richard Love is Centre Manager of Lee Valley Hockey and Tennis Centre. Their combined experience encompasses working on the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, nightclub management, opening leisure centres, arts venues and youthful careers as top-class tennis players.
In this article, UKVMA interviews Jeremy Northrop about both venues . In a parallel article UKVMA interviews Richard Love about Lee Valley Hockey and Tennis Centre.
Lee Valley VeloPark – vital cog in cycling sport
Lee Valley VeloPark General Manager Jeremy Northrop believes one of the main challenges facing the venue is to engage with a wide cycling audience and the general public not used to using a purpose built venue offering multi discipline types of cycling for all:
The prestige of the velodrome as an Olympic and Paralympic venue and the wonderful space gives us a unique venue that is proving popular to hire for corporate opportunities but this also gives us our biggest challenge as it can also act as a barrier for ordinary people and visitors who do not know what goes on inside and around this fantastic venue.
Not everyone realises Lee Valley VeloPark can be enjoyed by anyone, so we work to get clubs, schools, community groups and charities to use the venue, as well as international competition athletes.
The venue’s big screens and signage are reminders that this isn’t an ordinary building. The Olympic effect has resulted in 1.5 million since April 2014, on average 700,000 per year.
No cycling venue in the world gets close. Where else can you say ‘I’ve cycled on the same track on which Sir Chris Hoy, Laura Trott, Mark Colbourne won gold’? Unlike visiting Wembley, where visitors face signs to ‘keep off the grass’, we encourage people to ride on the same track as the world’s best cyclists.
Although the velodrome is booked solid at the moment, we predict a falling away of some of the one off bookings as the memory of London 2012 recedes. The challenge remains to integrate with the local and regional community to ensure long-term success. A growing residential and office area nearby will provide future customers. Northrop explains:
We are delivering a lasting legacy from the London 2012 Games and we will find a compromise between corporate and community use, and those who have never been on a cycle track before in their life. The indoor track programming is currently circa 25% private booking and corporates, 25% schools, clubs and groups and 50% general public. But in 3-5 years’ time the programming is unlikely to look the same.
Vibrant Partnerships has therefore revised the building’s priorities, turning the velodrome into a community and corporate venue capable of holding large events. But is a venue designed for an Olympic Games capable of this change? Northrop:
The building has presented some challenges but nothing damaging to our business. I love the way that the building looks. Given the chance, I would change some of the customer journeys and behind the scenes facilities, but I wouldn’t trade the ‘wow’ factor that people experience when they come in.
A burst of activity in the last decade has built three new indoor velodromes – in London, Glasgow and Derby – to join the National Cycling Centre in Manchester and the Wales National Velodrome in Newport. Jeremy meets with managers from the UK’s other velodromes twice a year and finds the information sharing process very helpful, especially around programming trends.
Lee Valley VeloPark, and in particular, the velodrome, makes itself available to British Cycling for major events but Lee Valley Regional Park Authority and Vibrant Partnerships are fully responsible for the upkeep and management of the venue and how it operates and receives no lottery or British Cycling funding for the day to day operations.
Big event days
Lee Valley VeloPark hosted a sell-out world hour track attempt by Bradley Wiggins and earlier this year hosted the best-attended UCI Track Cycling World Championships ever. This was quickly followed by a week of Comic Relief events, with stars practising with the public during training prior to the show in a major BBC-funded broadcast event. So how does the venue team take on these exceptional events?
It’s exciting to work on these events. Job roles are quite diverse and we’ve a great team at Vibrant Partnerships who get stuck in. A number of staff are NVQ level 4 qualified safety officers which help in managing such large events and spectator numbers. We have people here who worked during Games time so bring that experience. We also have volunteers, some of whom were Gamesmakers. We schedule carefully to be fair to volunteers who sometimes want to be at every event.
Jeremy Northrop is also in no doubt about the personal satisfaction of managing such a venue:
Where else are you going to get a World Championships on your CV? Big events are exciting and people love working here.
Vibrant Partnerships staff multi-task between day to day and big events, which require out of hours shifts. The venue currently hosts approximately one spectator event per month. Even when an overlay is in the velodrome, BMX, Road and Mountain Bike activities can continue most of the time. There’s no hanging around getting back to normal use either; the recent World Championships ended on a Sunday, and after a rapid ‘get-out’, the velodrome opened for normal business on the following Tuesday. At another event saw damage to the track and colleagues worked through the night so that the venue could open to the public the following morning. This is different to many of the other high profile venues and theatres where there will be programme quiet time for change-overs and setting up events.
On the different working patterns, Jeremy Northrop observes:
We have to balance our programme carefully and it is a real challenge. We don’t want to be too quiet for too long but neither do we want to be too busy for too long. The amount of work involved in organising, preparing, running and bumping out an event takes longer than people think or expect and doing very long hours during the bump in, event days and bump out is standard.
Day to day staff at Lee Valley VeloPark consist of an assistant manager, duty managers, centre assistant, customer service assistants, management support, coaches, catering, mechanics, engineers and sports-related staff. Vibrant Partnerships has multi-skilled operatives dealing with electrical and mechanical equipment. Three grounds maintenance staff look after landscaping in this part of Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. For a large event like the World Championships, the building is staffed 24/7 for a fortnight, with all staff on a rota.
Collaboration between Vibrant Partnerships venues brings value in many ways. The proximity of Lee Valley VeloPark and Lee Valley Hockey and Tennis Centre means that they can combine in hosting large-scale events. Jeremy Northrop and Richard Love have a friendly rivalry around record capacities. The velodrome holds the record at 55,000 for its recent five day World Championships, while June’s Hockey Champions Trophy at Lee Valley Hockey and Tennis Centre will have around 40,000 spectators.
Lee Valley VeloPark development
After the London 2012 Olympic Games, the velodrome was remodelled to support community use, and re-opened fully in April 2014. Development work included the building of a one mile road circuit, a remodelled 390 metre BMX track and skills area and miles of mountain bike trails.
The velodrome houses treatment rooms, newly opened ‘VeloStudio’ consisting of top of the range indoor fitness and training bikes. Balance bikes and pump track activities are provided within the track centre, offering cycling for children aged two years and above. Cycle Surgery provides the retail partnership for the venue and the in-house catering service provides opportunities to develop the offer and increase revenue. Jeremy Northrop is looking to develop indoor BMX’ing, via a purpose built pump track to make it weather-independent. An extra section has been recently added to the road circuit to make a smaller loop that is flatter and more accessible for disabled groups and novice hand-cyclists. Areas outside the velodrome have been used for temporary marquees during large scale events and are contenders for more permanent structures to be built and there are discussions about covering the outside BMX track.