This bucolic scene conjuring up Danny Boyle’s staging for the opening of the London 2012 Olympics is Hainault Forest Country Park, my local recreational space. Formed from the remaining sections of the former Forest of Essex the park’s flora and fauna are designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSI) and with the lake has also been awarded the Green Flag the benchmark national standard for parks and green spaces.
Many recreational pursuits were once possible within its 336 acres. The lake was popular with fishermen and the lake’s perimeter path used by joggers; Canadian geese would stop off there on their migratory routes; miles of bridleways gave horse riders the opportunity to exercise without coming into contact with the numerous dog walkers. With its two golf courses, café and children’s zoo it was a popular place for rest and recreation. Much of that had to stop when G4S was found to have inadequately trained enough staff to guard the Olympics.
The army was brought in and Hainault Forest Country Park was requisitioned to house the squaddies. But hey! There was a war on right!
Floodlights, barbed wire and strict no parking in the surrounding roads was enforced – at night it looked like a scene from the Great Escape, and the only beneficiary seemed to be my barber who cut the officers hair and they wouldn’t have the regimental haircut.
Every year in late May on the other side of London sees the Royal Hospital Chelsea play host to the Chelsea Flower Show. It takes 25 days to erect and last year 550 exhibitors helped to dig up the ground of the Royal Hospital’s vast lawn which runs down to the Thames. But, if like me you should drive down the Chelsea Embankment four weeks after the event is over, the only sign that the show has taken place are the water sprinklers ensuring that the replaced grass turfs grow.
So why is it that with the Olympics just a memory from last year, Hainault Forest Country Park looks like this?
Hard core litters the site; slabs of concrete are still left in the ground.
The lake and surrounding paths inaccessible, and the area is a quagmire of mud.
As every gardener will tell you autumn is the best time to lay turfs. But all we have to show for our contributions to last year’s Games are muddy fields surrounded by fencing.
Lord Coe can comment below if he so chooses.