Offenders helping to breathe new life into derelict track

Groups of offenders are helping to breathe new life into a former athletics track in Bristol.

The ageing Whitchurch Stadium athletics track in Bamfield, Hengrove, once used by Olympic gold medallist sprinter Jason Gardener, was left to decay after being condemned in 2003.

But now the track is to get a new beginning. It is being redeveloped into a Family Cycling Centre by Bristol City Council, thanks to £400,000 of funding from the Department for Transport.

The centre is being developed to help children and families discover the joys of cycling and will incorporate the existing all abilities facility which has been operating from St Agnes Park in St Pauls, and is being expanded for use by all cyclists regardless of ability.

It will be used for Bikeability training, which is the cycling proficiency test for the 21st century, designed to give the next generation the skills and confidence to ride their bikes on today’s roads. Training is organised through schools and most youngsters are eligible for subsidised sessions paid for by local authorities. This centre will have the capacity to provide a similar level of training for adults.

The centre is expected to open in April, with the work to clear the site being undertaken by the council’s landscapes team, who recruited offenders completing community service. Community Payback teams from Bristol, Gloucestershire, Somerset and Wiltshire Community Rehabilitation Company (BGSW CRC) started working with the council at the old track in January.

Teams of six to eight service users are on site three times a week, clearing huge amounts of rubbish, fly-tipping and overgrown greenery from the area to bring it back to some of its former glory.

Christian Matthews, Community Payback team manager at BGSW CRC, said: “We’ve already made a lot of progress but there’s much work still to do. It’s giving our service users some really good skills as they look to ‘pay back’ for the crimes they have committed and desist from future offences.

“We’re also talking with the council to see whether our Community Payback teams could be involved with the upkeep of the centre after its opening in the summer.”

Simon Cook, Assistant Mayor for Place, said: “My thanks go to everyone involved in helping to rejuvenate Whitchurch Stadium athletics track.

“The new Family Cycling Centre will be an asset to Bristol and it will, of course, have an important role to play in further boosting the number of people choosing to travel actively, whether that’s by bike or foot.”