London Olympics ten years later: Is Norfolk healthier?


The London 2012 Olympics were meant to create a legacy of involvement in grassroots sport. A decade later, JOEL ADAMS assesses whether it happened

Ten years ago this month, amid a whirlwind of NHS nurses, 007 parachuting with the Queen and Mr Bean playing the theme from Chariots Of Fire, the first Olympics to be held on these shores since 1948 took place started.

As part of the opening ceremony, an immaculately dressed David Beckham escorted the Flame down the River Thames before handing it over to Sir Steve Redgrave.

But in keeping with the Games motto “inspire a generation”, it was seven unknown teenage boys who lit the petals of the great Olympic cauldron.

So: a decade later, have we been inspired?

Are we healthier, more active, more athletic than we were before those beautiful summer days when beach volleyball graced Horse Guards Parade? And what effect has this other – less fortunate – national experience of the pandemic had?

The data is not encouraging.

A 2022 survey for Spirit Of 2012 – the lottery-funded Olympic legacy charity – found that 28% of UK adults are ‘inactive’, defined as undertaking less than 30 minutes of moderate physical activity per week .

But that figure rises to over 35 per cent in some local authority areas, including, locally, Great Yarmouth and Kings Lynn.

Some 29,500 people in Yarmouth and 47,000 in Lynn are considered ‘inactive’ – but that could partly be explained by demographics.

More deprived areas, of which there are many in urban areas of East and West Norfolk, have a higher incidence of inactivity, as do rural areas with more older people.

Nationally, between 20 and 30 percent of people aged 16 to 74 describe themselves as physically inactive, but that figure rises to 45 percent for those aged 75 to 84 and 68 percent for those over 85.

But sports and social clubs tell a different and much more encouraging story.


In 2012, around £350,000 was shared between eight organizations in Norfolk.

Some, including North Walsham Rugby Club, Sheringham Skate Park and Horsford Cricket Club, did not respond to us about their use of the money.

But the Heacham Social Club told us how its facilities have been transformed thanks to investment from the Olympic Legacy Fund and Sports England – and those improved facilities have led to better attendance.

The Heacham Social Club has renovated its main clubhouse (L) and built new changing rooms (R) with Olympic funding. It now has 18 youth football teams
– Credit: provided

Club secretary Sally Bailey said: “It has made a drastic difference. The locker room wasn’t there before we got the funding, there was nowhere for the girls to change separately from the boys.

“There has certainly been an increase in participation over the past ten years.

“Children’s football was in decline, really in decline, and now this year we have 18 youth teams, we have women’s football – it has really taken off.

“Our first team got promoted five years in a row. They’re in the Thurlow Nunn league now, they’re getting better and better there it seems.


What about more traditional Olympic sports, like athletics?

Lifelong runner Tim Ash helped found North Norfolk Harriers athletics club seven years ago. He said the legacy of the Games had more to do with participation than competition.

Young Norfolk Athletics runners compete against their peers.

Young Norfolk Athletics runners compete against their peers. The club is well supported but the organizers do not necessarily attribute this to the legacy of the 2012 Games
– Credit: Tony Payne

“Parkruns, those Saturday morning runs, are a great indicator of the health of the nation and they’ve definitely become more popular over the last ten years,” he said.

“From the point of view of getting the athletes through, I think it’s open to discussion. I’m not sure that the Olympics had much impact in encouraging young people to compete. And then Covid has definitely reduced the number of young people coming through. »

Fellow sports coach Clive Poyner, of Norfolk Athletics and Norfolk Sportshall, broadly agrees.

His U13 boys and U15 girls are national champions, but he struggles to attribute that to the London Games.

He said: “I think having the pandemic in the way hasn’t helped. Much of the momentum was certainly lost.

“Ten years ago we had an influx of people coming and getting involved, but I can’t think of anyone in Norfolk who was say an under-11 at that age and is now a shining star under 20 years old.

“Our road racing scene is very vibrant and obviously these kinds of events help to inspire people. Hopefully we will have another positive effect on the Commonwealth Games.

Young female Norfolk athletics competitors receive a team talk from their coach

Young female Norfolk athletics competitors receive a team talk from their coach
– Credit: Tony Payne


British Cycling has taken the world by storm in recent years and had a monstrous medal tally at London 2012, with 12 gongs to Germany’s six in second place.

A poll that year found that 70% of non-cyclists thought the team’s success under household names like Chris Hoy, Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome would inspire more people to get on their bikes.

Did it?

“I’m certainly aware that there are more people on their bikes, and a lot of people – mostly men but not exclusively – have invested in nice kits, nice bikes,” said Pete Johnson of the Norwich Amateur Bicycle Club. .

“But that hasn’t translated into new members for our club, and in terms of time trials and racing, there’s been a big drop in the last two years at local events.”

Mike Padfield of North Norfolk Wheelers

Mike Padfield of North Norfolk Wheelers
– Credit: provided

He concluded that the Olympics had caused an initial spike and then a steady decline in the number of people interested in competitive cycling or running, but that the overall increase in the sport’s visibility had increased the participation of those who do. cycling occasionally as part of an active lifestyle.

North Norfolk Wheelers’ Mike Padfield agreed.

He said: “Around 2012 there were definitely some pretty big club rides forming at that time, we had 20 members on the club rides.

“There has been a lot of adoption of road cycling for recreation.

“The time trial scene, which is an individual race against the clock, was a pretty niche business but it’s grown, but has since gone down a bit, a bit, and I think that’s due to Covid and to illness.”

He said security was a top concern for many.

“Locally there is a perception that the roads are getting more and more dangerous, and we don’t have a lot of cycle lanes in Norfolk.

“A lot of people holiday locally and not abroad, which makes the roads busier here – and whatever the statistics, there’s a perception that it’s not as safe on the roads.”


If drivers on the roads can present a hazard, can’t anything but the occasional raving swan trouble those exercising on the water?

West Norfolk Rowing Club rowers and rowers enjoying a practice under clear blue skies

West Norfolk Rowing Club rowers and rowers enjoying a practice under clear blue skies
– Credit: provided

Simon Prior of West Norfolk Rowing Club (WNRC) credits London 2012 and its rowing heroes with launching his club in 2013.

He explained: “There is no doubt that the fact that the Olympics have just taken place has contributed to this initial recruitment and the establishment of the club.

“We haven’t received any specific Olympic funding, but we’ve had a lot of support from Sport England along the way.

“These events help – just like the boat race here, it was brilliant. It raised the profile of rowing locally.

Last year, under Covid rules, the Oxford Cambridge Boat Race was moved from its traditional route on the River Thames to a stretch of the Ouse outside Ely in Cambridgeshire, immediately alongside of the section used by the WNRC.

“It raised the local profile, people knew that. It got them thinking about rowing, they saw what a beautiful river it was, and we’re right up there and we’re the only club in West Norfolk, so it had a positive effect. training on excellent recruiting.

“I think there’s more of every sport going on. Cricket clubs, football clubs, we have a new Parkrun in Downham, and general fitness clubs we’ve seen more of as well, there’s definitely been a change of mindset.

Norwich Rowing Club chairman Julian Ringer is also convinced of the power of the Games.

“There was an immediate impact in 2012. There were a lot of people interested in rowing, I would say participation increased by around 20% after the Olympics.

Julian Ringer, Chairman of Norwich Rowing Club

Julian Ringer, Chairman of Norwich Rowing Club
– Credit: provided

“There were a lot of people who were into other sports and wanted to try rowing as an alternative to other sports, and completely new people who had never done any sport at all.

“Today we have around 110 members, although that has gone down due to Covid of course. That has had a serious impact on our numbers.

“A lot of people during Covid gave up active exercise and couldn’t come to the rowing club, which was largely closed. People have pulled out but I think they will come back in due course.

Alongside our rowing heroes, British sailors excelled on the water in 2012, winning more medals than any other nation, including a gold medal.

Do the waterways and yacht clubs of Norfolk sound like Ben Ainslie and Nick Dempsey?

“No. I don’t think anyone ever said to me ‘oh, I’m sailing because of the Olympics,'” explained Mike Horwitz, commodore of the Rollesby Broad Sailing Club.

“Perhaps sailing at sea was affected, but as an inland club in the Broads I can’t say it had any effect. I wish it had!

Rollesby Offshore Sailing Club

A regatta at the Rollesby Broad Sailing Club
– Credit: provided

“Actually Covid, bad as it is, has done us more good than anything – it’s because people aren’t leaving, so they’ve stayed home and done a lot more sailing.

“It’s good that they have a place to go and something active and healthy to do in the fresh air.”

Perhaps after all the promise of London 2012, and all the investment, and then the deprivations and frustrations of the pandemic, this is the inspiration we have taken away from the last ten years.

We want to do something healthy in the fresh air.

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