With the government launching a £10million health awareness campaign to encourage the public to take more exercise and lead active and fitter lifestyles, it appears Croydon has made a false start.
There’s mounting concern among some of the borough’s biggest amateur sports clubs over the unexplained delay in reopening Croydon Arena following the pandemic lockdown.
“What is perplexing is that we can all go to the pub and get annihilated, and yet can’t use our local track. Very odd,” according to a local sports club source.
And there’s a growing fear that the real reason in the delay in reopening Croydon Arena is that the cash-strapped council doesn’t have the money to pay for the under-resourced venue to be made covid-19 compliant.
Outdoor sports facilities have been allowed to reopen under government guidance since May 30.
But while athletics tracks in most neighbouring boroughs have opened again for socially distanced training sessions, Croydon’s council-owned sports stadium remains padlocked to the public – denying track and field athletes, a local archery club and cyclists the opportunity to use its facilities.
“The chairman is in discussions with the council and we’re hoping to have an update soon,” was the diplomatic, if somewhat opaque, comment provided by Croydon FC.
Other sports clubs which use the venue on Albert Road in South Norwood have complained of being kept in the dark over reopening plans by the council and Greenwich Leisure Ltd, or GLL, who manage the facilities under the brand name of Better.
Better opened some council-owned gyms and pools last weekend. Regular Arena-users, meanwhile, have been left waiting, and guessing, about when they might be able to return to their favourite sports.
“We really aren’t sure what’s happening,” one senior club official told Inside Croydon. “All we’ve been told is that it isn’t in ‘Phase One’ of their reopening plans.”
Wheels for Well-being, the charity which offers cycling sessions for community groups and the disabled, recently tweeted that the Arena “…is likely in lowest-risk category of sports facilities. Disabled people are desperate to get cycling again. Please let us know as soon as possible planned reopening date so we can organise staffing.”
There was no detailed reply.
Croydon Harriers have been particularly hard-hit by the pandemic. Unable to carry out any of their twice-weekly club training sessions since March or to stage their weekend and midweek track meetings through the summer, they have also had to cancel their annual 10km road race, and they have even had their clubhouse at the Arena broken into and vandalised, twice.
A spokesperson for Croydon Harriers said today, “All of us at the athletics club fully understand the difficult circumstances the pandemic has presented to the council, GLL and Better UK.
“We also, of course, fully understand the necessity to close Croydon Arena in line with government guidance at the start of lockdown.
“However, given that standalone athletics tracks have been allowed to reopen since May 30, we are very disappointed that Croydon Arena remains closed with no indication as to when it might reopen. It is one of the few tracks in the region that remains shut.
“Croydon Arena is a vital community facility that promotes health and wellbeing to everyone that participates. Users of the facility range from six-year-olds making their first steps in the sport with the Croydon Athletics Academy, to more than 120 young athletes to adults of all ages who participate in a range of track and field.
“The subjects of physical health and mental wellbeing have been much discussed during this difficult period. We are especially concerned about the impact the pandemic and lockdown have had on young people’s mental and physical health. We are very aware that for many of our athletes, club sessions are the only social interactions that they may have.
“And we are acutely aware that the usual inequalities have continued with those from less affluent and BAME backgrounds.
“We are absolutely willing to work with the council and Better to create a covid-secure environment where the facility can reopen for our hundreds of members, as well as members of the public. We have risk assessments already completed, and workable ideas that can make the facility work for everyone and ensure it is covid-secure.
“We hope Croydon Council and Better UK reach out to us and other Croydon Arena users as a matter of urgency in order to get the facility back up and running in the very near future.”
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