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Re-opening of Finsbury Park running track is ‘watershed moment for local athletics’

PUBLISHED: 07:00 01 December 2016

Finsbury Park running track is back open for business. Picture: Tom Hosking

Finsbury Park running track is back open for business. Picture: Tom Hosking

Tom Hosking

Finsbury Park’s running track has endured a troubled recent history. But years of hard work mean our athletics clubs have an exciting future, the Gazette hears.

Finsbury Park running track is back open for business. Picture: Tom HoskingFinsbury Park running track is back open for business. Picture: Tom Hosking

When Finsbury Park’s running track re-opened last Tuesday, it marked a happy turnaround from “failing facility” to a “watershed moment” for local athletics.

The track, in the heart of the park, opened in the 1930s but was facing the threat of closure six years ago.

The Finsbury Park Sports Partnership was formed, and David Walton was at the centre of a successful campaign to save the track and take over its running in 2013.

More than £1million later, a new track was installed and at the opening ceremony last week the first “mass jog” was set up for David to set the first lap record.

“It was a wonderful achievement,” he said. But he wasn’t talking about his record.

Dave first became involved with the track in the mid-1980s, as a member of North London Athletics Club.

Finsbury Park running track is back open for business. Picture: Tom HoskingFinsbury Park running track is back open for business. Picture: Tom Hosking

By his own admission, the club punched “well above its weight” considering its poor facilities.

The track was made of cinder, far less durable than the all-weather surfaces used today.

However, the club had gone into decline by the 1990s, when David led a first project to replace the track.

It was re-built in two stages, in 1992 and 1996, and the club merged with Muswell Hill Runners into Heathside Athletics Club in 2000.

But David, who was made a life member for his efforts, admits: “We didn’t really go forward as a club and went into decline again.

“It was starting to cost more and more money and Haringey Council turned round in 2010 and said it couldn’t fund us anymore. The track was under threat of closure.”

Finsbury Park running track is back open for business. Picture: Tom HoskingFinsbury Park running track is back open for business. Picture: Tom Hosking

After Finsbury Park Sports Partnership was allowed to take over running of the track, it raised £1.2m in grants for its refurbishment.

As well as Heathside, it is also used by London Blitz American Football Club, Dynamic Sports Academy fitness centre and Pedal Power, a cycling club for adults and teenagers with learning difficulties.

And David said: “I think last Tuesday’s re-opening will be looked back on a watershed moment. I can only see a bright future.

“This has been turned around from a failing facility to thriving under a community group. That’s a wonderful achivement. It proves what can be done if you get a committed group together.”

He added: “We are looking to expand the track’s usage, with more competitions, school sports and club meetings. Since we re-opened in 2013, the track has been available as and when we get bookings. We want to increase that.

“The park’s location, in Haringey but bordering Islington and Hackney – and with the transport links of Finsbury Park station – makes it an important strategic location. But in the past, that has been a hindrance.

Finsbury Park running track is back open for business. Picture: Tom HoskingFinsbury Park running track is back open for business. Picture: Tom Hosking

“It has always been an important facility for people from Islington and Hackney, where there are no running tracks. But because it is outside the borders, those councils have not been willing to invest.

“In Haringey, there has always been another track in Tottenham and the Finsbury Park track was always seen as the poor relation.

“Hopefully we have turned those perceptions around.”

Email info@finsburyparksportspart-nership to get involved.

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