Save the Herne Hill Velodrome: Meeting Tonight!

Just a reminder that the public meeting which will kick off the 'Save Herne Hill Velodrome' campaign takes place tonight (Wednesday 6th October) at 7.30PM in the Great Hall at Dulwich College.

Herne Hill is a truly special venue, and currently London's only working velodrome.  Everyone I know who speaks of it does so in reverential tones; they speak of the sense of history the venue holds, the fantastic track, the Good Friday meetings and the community-spirited selfless volunteers who keep the place going for 1000s of London's youngsters to try out track cycling every week alongside the Olympic heroes of the future who train here too (One Bradley Wiggins started his track career here).

The track was built in 1891, some 119 years ago, when track cycling was at the crest of a surge of popularity in the UK and Herne Hill was one of a handful of velodromes in London.  In the 1920s and 1930s the now legendary Good Friday meets would attract 10,000 or more spectators.  In 1948, shortly after World War II, Herne Hill was the track cycling location for London's Olympics, dubbed the 'austerity games'.  So thinly laid on were those Games that competitors cycled to the Velodrome from the parish halls and school assemblies where they were staying in order to participate.

Track cycling may be experiencing a resurgence here in the UK - from Bradley Wiggins' Gold, Silver Bronze at the Athens Olympics to the clean sweep lead by Sir Chris Hoy in Beijing - but South London's hidden velodrome is at risk of being left behind.  Not for want of users, and certainly not due to lack of demand; London's future Olympic heroes are cutting their teeth alongside 1000s of local kids and passionate amateur track riders who use the ground each week.  As is so often the case, the future of the track looks bleak not because of problems at a grass roots level but because of greed, poor vision and miss-management at a higher level.   Essentially, after a long and protracted war of words between the velodrome's owners, the Dulwich College Estate, and Southwark Council back in 2000, the Estate withdrew the lease from Southwark Council.  They have continued to allow cycling to take place at the Velodrome but only on a year by year lease basis.  The Estate would like to see the site re-developed for 'leisure purposes' (A private members gym? A bingo hall? Who knows?) and so long as the current team of management volunteers at the velodrome can only operate on a yearly lease basis they are unable to secure the funding needed to keep the track well maintained and alive.  The 1891 Grandstand has already been boarded up for safety reasons, and cracks are beginning to appear in the track.

Regular readers here, who know I often focus on the everyday and ordinary side of cycling, might wonder why I'm so worried about what is essentially a sports cycling venue.  There's a family connection - my cousin Phillip had great cycling aspirations at Herne Hill back in the '70s before moving to New York to discover rock'n'roll.  But more importantly, as fewer parents allow their children to cycle to school or to get around due to their fear of the dangers of the road, it is essential that our young people - not just the Olympic heroes but the very cyclists of the future - have somewhere to go to learn, play and burn off their energy.  If you care about the future of community cycling in London, I'd urge you to attend the meeting tonight and show your support and help secure the future of this historic, vital venue for all.

For further meeting details visit the official Save The Velodrome website or pledge your support via their Facebook page.

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David Hembrow said...

Herne Hill is a strange velodrome, being hardly banked at all. However, this and its historical significance both add to its appeal. It really should continue as a cycling venue.

For me it's also special because it's one of very few places that I've ever managed to come first.

Anne said...

Did you know that this event got a significant signal boost yesterday on Twitter from Stephen Fry? He has one or two followers, I understand. :D

Hope it's a fantastic turnout.

Anonymous said...

Hi we applied for the veolodrome to be listed a year ago and English Heritage turned it down.

Anonymous said...

I see British Cycling logos over the start/finish line, which begs the question, why can't it pump some of Sky's money into Herne Hill?