England Athletics chief executive Chris Jones and National Council Chair Tony Shiret dropped by London Heathside Athletics Club at Finsbury Park in mid-June as part of a series of club visits.
The club is part of the North London Athletics Network. Its members compete in cross-country races, track and field, and road racing all year round and in various triathlon, duathlon and aquathlon events. Some members travel from neighbouring boroughs in Enfield, Barnet and Brent.
The club was formed in April 2000 from the merger of North London AC and Muswell Hill Runners. Muswell Hill Runners were a club dating back to 1981, while North London AC was slightly older, having been formed in 1972 by an amalgamation of Camden Athletic Club (formerly Wigmore Harriers founded 1885) and Hornsey Athletic Club (formerly Hornsey St Mary’s Harriers founded 1904). This means Heathside has one of the longest histories of running clubs in the London region.
Each year they have upwards of 40 members who train for and compete in the London Marathon and regularly appear within the top six clubs for this event. In 2015 the ladies of London Heathside finished in 3rd position in a time of 8:40:15 (Katy Webster 2:43:59, Rebecca Bunting 2:57:24, Rebecca Piggott 2:58:54).
As part of the visit to Finsbury Park, Chris and Tony presented the ladies with their England Athletics national championship medals while the club’s own annual track & field championships got underway. Club members lodged a record 130 entries for the different events held on the first of two summer evenings that make up the annual club champs.
Three years ago the local council advised London Heathside that the facility at Finsbury Park was likely to have to be closed due to budget cuts and the cost involved in keeping it open. After a lot of soul-searching, the club decided to join forces with other community groups to submit a bid to take over the management of the track & field facility. This led to the formation of Finsbury Park Sports Partnership, which counts a local America football club, fitness centre and a charity as its other founding members. A Heathside club member helped to source free legal help via the council and after a huge investment of time and energy, a lease was signed granting the license to run the facility for three years with criteria set to obtain a 25 year lease.
First item on the agenda was to obtain and install lighting around the athletics track. A joint venture between England Athletics and Sport England saw a new flood lighting system installed at the Finsbury Park track just over a year ago. A further £80k was then required for a special power supply and transformer. Once UK Power Networks have put the new power source in place the North London club will be able to boast they are the only sports club in the UK with such a powerful lighting system.
While Heathside’s club champs got underway, Jerry Odlin discussed at length with Chris Jones the current major project to replace the track. The ambition of the club was to relocate the warm up track used in the 2012 London Olympic Games to Finsbury Park but cost issues make it look likely that this is not going to happen.
However, through the Finsbury Park Sports Partnership Heathside have been liaising with London Marathon Charitable Trust with a view to funding and installing a more economically viable surface— news on this should arrive by the end of the summer.
It’s clear that London Heathside are responsive to the different aims and ambitions of their members after taking advice in 2013 about setting up a triathlon section within the club following the multi-sport boom.
“The members wanted to set it up and we saw this as a positive link so supported the action,” said Membership Secretary Steve Woolf, who is proud to share the fact that he has 565 paid-up members in 2015.
In 2015 Heathside will trial a new triathlon championship format for the year. It's based on the club’s road-race championships, where competitors compete over a series of events during the season and points are scored according to their finish position relative to other Heathside members. For more information on this and the clubs triathlon section visit: http://www.londonheathside.org.uk/the-triathlon.htm
England Athletics chief executive Chris Jones said on his visit to London Heathside: “The atmosphere at the club was fantastic on what was a cold summer evening and it was clearly evident by watching the club host their club championships that there is a strong and collaborative culture in place underpinned by the efforts of the hard working volunteers. Like many clubs they have their challenges, particularly with regards to the quality of current facility provision but thanks to the hard work of the volunteers, they are optimistic that these circumstances will improve in the coming months. It was a pleasure to meet Jerry Odlin and his team of volunteers who are the backbone of the club and to discuss their plans and to listen to their views on how best England Athletics might be able to support them. I personably find such visits invaluable.”
National Council Chair Tony Shiret said: “Well done to the Heathside team on its great performance in our Marathon Champs. Tonight's Club Championships were freezing but enjoyable. It’s not often you get 75 entries for the 5000m at any club. I hope that the track can be renewed to give an appropriate facility for one of London's largest and friendliest clubs.”