IAN LAMONT reports on a £800,000 training facility in Coulsdon that will boost one of the country’s oldest athletics clubs
Students returning to Woodcote High School in for the summer term are tantalisingly close to being able to use a new athletics track, which is due to be officially opened in July.
The project is a joint venture between the Coulsdon-based school and South London Harriers.
SLH, one of the country’s oldest traditional athletics clubs with a history going back to 1871, has long had its winter base at the Comrades’ Club in Coulsdon, from where many of its members train or race over Farthing Downs. But come the summer months, the club’s membership has been scattered to training tracks at Tooting and, mainly, Crystal Palace.
“I don’t know if the people who train at Crystal Palace will come out to train at Coulsdon,” said Anne Roden, a long-standing club coach. “A lot of our coaches are based there, so we won’t be forcing anyone to move.”
For many, however, the new Woodcote track will be more convenient – and offer better facilities. “I live in Whyteleafe,” Roden said, “It takes me the best part of an hour to get there. I still think people will go to Crystal Palace if they are used to it, but this new facility will be brilliant for local schools.”
The club has helped provide funding for the project, having been left £200,000 in the will of a former member, and then sought matching grants to pay for the £800,000 project, finding the link with Woodcote along the way.
“Other clubs will use it,” said Roden of the community use. “We’ve also just had an enquiry from Coulsdon College, which would be the 16- to 19-year-olds which we would really like to attract to the club.”
The club is also part of the South London Athletics Network, which includes Croydon Harriers, Hercules Wimbledon, Herne Hill Harriers, Sutton and District and Belgrave Harriers, and they plan is to hold an open meeting between the clubs at an official unveiling.
Roden also has ready-made training groups set to use the venue. “At the moment we train at Oasis Academy in Coulsdon. I have run some programmes up there on Thursdays. I’ve got seven- to 15-year-olds training up there over two sessions, but if they want to use a track they have to go to Crystal Palace.
“Now, we have started investing in coaches, but all the technical coaches are at Crystal Palace and they live round there. Some of the dads have gone on courses, so hopefully we will have enough people to take sessions.”
The club will most likely use two indoors sports halls as well, especially in bad weather – and everything at Crystal Palace, in any case, has not been perfect.
“The track is OK, but the toilets and other things leave a lot to be desired,” she said of the care-worn national sports centre which faces an uncertain future in the light of major athletics events in London likely to be at the Olympic Stadium in future, starting with this year’s London Diamond League meeting.
SLH has about 600 members, one-third of them under-20, with middle distance runners training at Sutton’s David Weir Leisure Centre, emphasising the spread across a wide area. The track at Coulsdon could change that.
“We could have a really good nucleus there. We have the chance now for them all to train together, rather than at three venues,” Roden said.
Roden is clearly hoping the new facilities will attract new people as they look to find international stars of the future. “I don’t think we’ve had an international since Gordon Pirie,” she said, ever-modestly, overlooking her own appearances for Great Britain as a leading marathon runner.
“We’ve got some good youngsters and this is really exciting times and as a club we’re looking forward to it.”
- For more on South London Harriers, visit the club’s website
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