What legacy for London in 2020?

Peter Welton


Posted in: Speaking Out, Sustainable Investment

What legacy for London in 2020?

September 24, 2007

If your company is not among the official Olympic sponsors, you may well be thinking there is little opportunity to get involved in the run-up to the 2012 Games. This is not the case – there is a real need for corporate interest and action in helping East London capture a lasting legacy from this historic event. One of the organisations that is positively encouraging such involvement is London Legacy 2020.

Before looking forward to 2012 and beyond, it is worth taking a small step back. Eighteen years ago a handful of companies with offices in the City looked east, to see how they could help tackle the stubborn problems of the poverty on their doorstep in boroughs such as Hackney, Tower Hamlets and Newham. The East London Partnership was formed.

As corporate community involvement gained momentum, and with the explosive growth of Canary Wharf, the partnership has grown in leaps and bounds. Re-named the East London Business Alliance, the organisation now marshals the efforts of some 100 major national and global companies, working together to support East London. Together they support some 7,500 private sector volunteers every year in projects working with over 500 local community and charitable organisations. Mentoring, help with business plans, employment projects, pro-bono legal advice and a whole raft of other interventions have made a huge difference, winning awards and touching lives.

The arrival of the Games in 2012 presents new challenges and opportunities. While some of the Alliance’s members, such as EDF have already stepped forward as Olympic sponsors, the rest are equally determined to help East London capture a lasting, positive contribution from the Games, hence London Legacy 2020.

This new effort has been up and running for a year already, with companies joining the effort around boards that bring focus to themes of sport, youth, culture and jobs and promoting projects that have leveraged £1.2m of additional support to community partners in East London.

London Legacy 2020 is all about practical action. On sport, companies have fielded volunteers to promote disability football, urban cricket and rugby. Innovations include shipping containers of sport equipment being opened up by youth workers in neighbourhoods where kids need to go out and play. Companies, joining forces with the Jack Petchey Foundation, have put £100k into the pockets of 50 talented young East End athletes. Media companies have promoted photography competitions and sponsored cultural talent in local festivals. Companies are working up a programme to invest heavily in 500 young ambassadors and to put youngsters through a major enterprise competition. Alliance companies are working together with local colleges, linking employability training designed by the companies and offered by the colleges to 6-month work experience placements. A local procurement model pioneered by Canary Wharf Group that delivered £430m of contracts into East London small and medium sized businesses is being scaled up to offer the same service to the Olympic Delivery Authority and other major construction projects in the Thames Gateway.

A spotlight is already turning on East London. The 2012 Games are being built smack bang in the middle of the most deprived communities in the UK and the Games were sold to the International Olympic Committee as leaving a positive legacy on an area that sorely needs it. But, the Olympic authorities are already under the sort of financial pressure that will inexorably turn legacy from a winning idea, into a “nice to have”. Sustainability will depend on those with the long term view and long term investment in the area. The local boroughs and the Mayor of London’s office are key partners and the business alliance is assiduous about aligning with their priorities. A dedicated staff team talks to all the key stakeholders in an incredibly complex political environment, guided by their knowledge of the patch and their long history in the area. The team then guides companies, seeking the best opportunities to leverage, scale up and target corporate resource at strategic priorities.

Projects that support a human legacy are complemented by the focus of London Legacy 2020’s Legacy Board on the “hard” legacy. Olympic and Paralympic Games around the world have a chequered track record in terms of leaving a positive physical heritage. The Olympic Delivery Authority are doing their best to design with an eye on the post 2012 use but already issues are swirling around reflecting the nervousness from multiple parties. The companies under the London Legacy 2020 banner are trying to help. Two initial priorities have been identified. The first is the post 2012 use of the Olympic International Broadcast Centre. This building will have 1.3 million square feet of floor space, making it bigger than the tallest tower in Canary Wharf. The broadcast centre built for Athens is the second biggest building in Greece, surpassed only by the airport, and yet it has stood empty since the Games were held there in 2004.

Again, the pressure is on the Olympic authorities to get the thing built, and they face a critical decision: whether to design and build with legacy use in mind, or to go for the cheapest and, as they might see it, least risky option – another Athens style barn. London Legacy 2020 has been trying to reduce the perceived risk, by starting conversations with a wide cross section of digital and new media companies that might become tenants of the broadcast centre post 2012 – if it was built with their needs in mind. There are options on the table, and London Legacy 2020 will do all it can to encourage a sustainable legacy option to win out.

The second priority is the vision for the Olympic zone, post 2012.

When the curtain comes down on the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, London will be left with an area of land the size of Hyde Park that will be in public ownership and up for re-development. An official master planning process is due to begin soon. Because the land has been acquired and the assets built with tax-payer’s money, it is understandable that the public sector is in the driving seat on the planning for how the asset is developed after 2012. But we know that any successful vision is going to need the imagination and money of the private sector in support. The worst case scenario would be one in which the economic viability of the area is not driven by market realities, and so fails, with a consequent long hiatus between 2012 and a positive, sustainable legacy use.

Previous Olympic cities seem fated to follow this sort of pattern, and we have several non-Olympic examples in the UK such as the Dome and Battersea to drive the point home.

To try to tackle this, London Legacy 2020 corporate members are offering their support to the public sector’s master planning process. We have commissioned Coley Porter Bell and Red Bee Media to work with our public sector partners to develop a pitch to the private sector that encourages them to get engaged as early as possible.

The land assembly, the connectivity via the Channel Tunnel Rail link into Europe, the development of a massive retail and office centre in Stratford City, the Olympic heritage and outstanding transport links combine to make the Olympic Zone, post 2012 a potential solution to all sorts of business and cultural enterprises. The view of the business alliance is that the sooner the private sector begins to understand the opportunity and engages to shape it, the better.

Following theological training at Oxford and in South India, Peter began his working life as a Church of England priest. He developed an interest in political lobbying and trained with the Industrial Areas Foundation in the USA.

Having built lobbying organisations in London and the Midlands, he spent five years in Dallas, Texas, where he worked at City level to build a constituency to pass a $1.4 billon bond to support education in the city. Since joining the ELBA five years ago, Peter helped expand their work into the Thames Gateway. He then managed the ELBA programme in Hackney, creating a model of collaboration between UBS, Linklaters, DeutscheBank and the Shoreditch Trust.

He took up his role directing the work of ELBA companies around the legacy from the 2012 Games in 2005. London Legacy 2020 has leveraged £4.8m of investment in projects in East London to date.