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London 2012 Olympic Park

On 6 July 2005, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced that London would host the 2012 Olympics. London won its bid on the back of three factors:

  • Its status as a global city with one of the world's most culturally and ethnically diverse populations
  • Its focus upon regenerating one of the poorest areas of the city, which is ongoing, where the Olympics have a specific role to play in providing a legacy of amenities for local people
  • A focus upon children as the benefactors of the Olympics, and the inspiration that could link nations through sport

London's bid was focused upon a complete rebrand and reconstruction of a brownfield site along the Lea Valley in east London. A range of new facilities is currently being built in the area. The central hub will be the Olympic Park, parallel to the Lea River, which will contain several Olympic venues located within walking distance of each other. As the Olympic Park develops, there will many opportunities for engaging students in geographical learning, focusing upon the topics of regeneration, sustainability, culture and sport.


Opportunities for fieldwork in the Olympic area

Between July 2005, when London won the right to host the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics, and July 2007, East London was ripe for geographical field study. The plans for the Olympic Park were being firmed up, organisations being put in place, and infrastructural change - such as underground electricity cables to replace the pylons - was largely being carried out underground and out of sight. The images of future Olympics and Paralympics venues could be downloaded. All that the willing geographer needed was a sense of imagination - record the present, take a glimpse into the future, and leave the rest to the imagination.

However, like all large plans, London's Olympics and Paralympics are being subjected to ‘events'. Just as Canary Wharf blighted the progress of London's Docklands regeneration when it went into receivership in 1993, so too London's Olympics and Paralympics are likely to alter as part of the credit crunch that began in September 2007.

What kind of fieldwork?

London's Olympics and Paralympics offer geographers considerable potential for fieldwork study.

  • They offer a discrete study in which the themes of change, regeneration, and sustainability can be given a place focus
  • Because they are part of a process of regeneration that began with Docklands in the early 1980s and is likely to continue with commercial development such as Stratford City, they have a context in which regeneration for some of the poorest and most deprived areas of London and the UK
  • They allow first hand study of economic, social, and environmental impact - in which secondary sources can play as important a part as primary data

Getting access to the sites

Access is now more difficult, and the imagination required of both teachers and their students is considerable. In July 2007, the ODA assumed ownership of the Marshgate Lane area, which forms the hub of the Olympics facilities. For both security and safety, the entire site - stretching from the southern borders close to Stratford north to the A12 - was fenced off, creating a tall blue security fence that the ‘Guardian' and others have referred to as east London's Berlin wall. Clearly, this made access difficult to the public generally and to geographers specifically!

Boarded up. Image copyright Bob Digby

Image copyright- Bob Digby

Nonetheless, provided that fieldwork parties come to see the Olympics in the context of regeneration - and not simply observe only the Olympics sites - there are plenty of opportunities for students of all ages. Placed around the theme of regeneration, students could investigate and collect primary data for the following:

  • Investigate Docklands and the nature of 1980s style regeneration, that was market led, which focused upon the development of a service economy, redeveloped areas of derelict land into secure housing, and convert warehousing and lofts, each of which would attract the middle-classes
  • Investigate the nature of communities such as Canning Town South, for which 2001 census data are available. In 2002, Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) took its second year undergraduates into Canning Town and questioned a large sample of residents about what Canning Town was like to live in. Their results - and, usefully, their methodologies - are available to download (HTML)
  • Investigate local perceptions of the Olympics as seen by local people in parts of Newham, for example Stratford shopping centre which is undercover, safe, and where residents are generally friendly enough towards students to answer questions. A perception framework covers economic, social and environmental aspects, and those questioned are asked to respond how well they believe that the Olympics will benefit them and the area
  • Investigate environmental quality in the areas which are still accessible from, for example the canal or Lea River towpath and which pass the Olympics sites. These are the core area of Olympics sites and those which will form the new Olympics Park - and thus it will be possible to compare environmental quality now with the environmental impact of the new Olympics park using the computer-generated images on the London 2012 website
  • Investigate the environmental impact of the security wall on people's live sin east London and the extent to which they are being or are not being inconvenienced by the work going on. This could take the form of an environmental quality bi-polar assessment, like that used for environmental quality above
  • Observe the new Olympics Park using accessible sites such as the Stratford town centre multi storey car park. This overlooks Stratford station, is easily accessed, and a view from the open deck top floor shows the Olympics Park in its entirety. It is also possible to view the new Channel Tunnel Rail Link station from this site, and therefore the site of the new Stratford City development

Students can then also use secondary data, such as:

  • Photographs from 2005 onwards of different parts of the Olympics sites, enabling them to assess the degree of change
  • The London 2012 website which shows computer-generated images of the Olympics stadia and facilities, and of the new Olympic Park
  • The Census 2001 website which shows data for the different wards of Newham. Click on ‘Neighbourhood' and type in ‘Canning Town South' for data for this ward. Other wards can be accessed by name or postcode

In carrying out just some of these data collection techniques and using sources, students might be able to generate as much as:

Identifying the need for regeneration - environmental

  • EQS results for accessible Olympic sites. Examples include the overall view over the future Olympic Park from the multi-storey car park in Stratford, the view of the stadium from across the railway tracks from Pudding Mill Lane station (DLR - first stop outside Stratford)
  • EQS results for areas such as Canning Town, compared to sites in Docklands, for example Canary Wharf or ExCel
  • Annotated photos of locations visited

The impact of regeneration - environmental

  • Environmental Impact Assessments of the Olympic sites using the computer images on the London 2012 website
  • Annotated photos/images of these images and that of the aerial view of the Olympic Park

The need for regeneration - social and economic

  • Graphs of social and economic data for wards such as Canning Town using 2001 census data
  • Graphs generated from data collected by the 2002 Canning Town survey by QMUL

The impact of regeneration - social and economic

  • Environmental Quality Survey graphs from Canary Wharf
  • Graphs generated from perception surveys held in Canning Town or Stratford about how well local people think the Olympics will benefit them and the communities of east London

Do not forget places outside London!

There are several Olympics and Paralympics sites outside London. Progress at some venues is exceptional. Sailing events are to be held next to Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy (WPNSA), in Dorset on the south coast. The old Naval Air Station at Portland has been renovated and redesigned, and is now known as Osprey Quay; new residential, commercial and marina facilities have been given planning permission and building started in May 2008. On one of the most exposed locations in the western English Channel, it provides superb natural sailing waters. Facilities include:

  • A new slipway, 70 moorings and associated facilities
  • A new 600 berth commercial marina nearby. Part of the sailing venue, 250 of its berths will be used for test events as well as during the Games

Construction was completed by late 2008, making Weymouth and Portland one of the first venues completed for 2012.

How do I get to the sites shown in the field booklet?

In an ideal world, a coach will help you to see the contrasts between:

  • Places that have undergone regeneration in Docklands
  • Places that have been left behind such as Canning Town South
  • The Olympic sites
  • Stratford and Stratford City, with an overview of the Olympic Park

However, public transport is perfectly feasible. Book your students in advance and you should be able to purchase one day Travelcards for your students for 80p each (October 2008 prices). This can be checked at Transport for London.

Start at Canary Wharf or ExCel. Each is on the DLR.

  • Custom House for Excel station will also allow you access into Canning Town South. The main shopping parade on Freemasons Road is opposite the station once you have crossed Victoria Dock Road. Here you can carry out perception surveys as well as EQS
  • A short trip back on the DLR will take you to Stratford. To see the Olympic Park in progress is easy - simply cross the road form the station, go into the shopping centre and take the lifts inside the door to the eighth floor. One of the best free views in eats London.
    To see other sites around Stratford
  • Walk east and then northwards along Major Road, past the construction college, to the site of the old Clays Lane Housing estate - to be the site of the Olympic Village
  • Take the overground to Hackney Wick and walk along Rothbury Road (see the photograph on page two) as far as the blue wall; the area gives a good idea of what regenerated housing can look like in east London, and how housing like this will probably encircle much of Olympic Park after 2012
  • The stadium is best viewed from Pudding Mill Lane station, one stop east out of Stratford on the DLR

Author: Bob Digby 2008


Bob Digby’s Olympic fieldtrip

Bob Digby is a Chartered Geographer, Community Geographer for the Geographical Association, GCSE Principal Examiner and an education consultant and author. He has a particular interest in teaching about London's 2012 Olympics, and has led many fieldtrips to the site with both students and other teachers.

Since Bob wrote his original fieldtrip resources for the Olympic site, accessibility to the area has been considerably reduced to allow the site development to proceed. The fieldwork booklet available to download on this page is therefore an adaptation of the original, taking into account these changes. The fieldtrip follows a route around the Olympic sites to investigate the need for regeneration in East London and the potential impacts of the games.

Documents to download

Secondary data


Urban regeneration and 2012 fieldtrip resources


Fieldwork booklets

What lessons for urban regeneration in East London can be learnt from projects in the past?

In January 2008 a group of Year 11 students from Guildford High School undertook a day of fieldwork in East London. The aim of their visit was to study four different areas, two of which have undergone urban regeneration and two of which will be regenerated in the future.

The four areas were:

  • Canary Wharf: An example of 1980s urban regeneration, focusing on commerce and retail
  • ExCel London: An example of 1990s urban regeneration, focusing on leisure and service industries
  • Canning Town: A deprived residential area with plans for regeneration
  • Stratford: The heart of the ongoing Olympics regeneration project, with additional Stratford City and transport developments also underway

At each site, they collected social, economic and environmental data, which they subsequently used to write a GCSE case study of urban regeneration in East London. Their case study focused on the positive and negative impacts of regeneration as well as the lessons that can be learnt for regeneration projects in the future. It was presented back in school in the form of an annotated map.

In addition, resources are included for a fifth site, the Coin Street Community Builders Programme on the South Bank, SE1. This successful social enterprise and development trust scheme is located in the area between the Oxo Tower and the National Theatre in the heart of the South Bank area. It was visited by a group of AS and A2 students attending the RGS-IBG Winter School in February 2008 and is an additional scheme with which to contrast the East London redevelopments. The aim of the AS/A2 trip was to collect information and data to resource a case study of urban regeneration. The students subsequently used the information to write their own exam question and mark scheme, which they shared with others in the group.

Follow-up work

Year 11 students

Listed below are links to some examples of work produced by Year 11 students from Guildford High School following their fieldtrip to East London.

Their brief was to summarise the positive and negative impacts of the urban regeneration projects they visited in Canary Wharf and ExCeL London socially, environmentally and economically, and to consider the lessons that can be learnt for the future.

The students also considered positive and negative aspects to the Canning Town and Stratford areas, and the possible impacts of regeneration in these places.

Finally, the students superimposed digital photos onto a map of the site as a visual representation and comparison of social, economic and environmental features of the areas.

AS/A2 students

The aim of the fieldtrip for AS/A2 students was to collect data for an exam case study. Rather than using their findings to answer a question, however students studied a range of past papers and used these as a framework for writing their own exam question with resources and a detailed mark scheme.

Listed below are some examples of the students' work:

RGS-IBG links
Our work
Key Stage 3 resources: London 2012

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