The adventure playground / BMX track typify the park’s development, having been relocated several times since the late 70s. The current £1.1m national standard track replaces an earlier community track which local playworker Brenton Smith developed in 1995 with local kids, on the site of a nature park, which in turn replaced an adventure playground. The previous BMX track included a bike store with fox-proof chicken coop on the roof!
An adventure playground was first installed in the mid-1970’s by the GLC, as part of the overall development of Burgess Park. At that time it was positioned at the back of the current youth centre, and was surrounded on three sides by high green banking. Initially, the site also housed a 1 o’clock club, and the upstairs offices acted as the head office for GLC play services, from which they managed many sites across London.
At the start of the 1980s, the 5-a-side pitch at the adventure playground was converted to a full-time kart-track. This followed a number of successful pilot sessions delivered by the project’s play staff.
In 1986, the Southwark Play Service began working with the GLC, and later that year the site was handed over following the abolition of the GLC. A new Southwark staff team was appointed, which included Peter Thompson, who is still the Senior Playworker at the facility. As now, the site offered supervised sessions five days a week. Two members of the original GLC team remained to manage the kart track. They left in around 1989 and set up Playscape Racing, a successful commercial company who developed a number of new tracks across the country.
In 1993/94, the site was awarded funding to undertake its first big revamp:
- The adventure playground moved to its current position at the front of the site, next to Albany Road. New adventure structures were built and the indoor space expanded, having taken over the rest of the ground floor from the now closed 1 o’clock club.
- The large tarmac fixed play area on the corner of Wells Way and Albany Road, which included the original double slide and paddling pool area, was demolished and re-landscaped, creating a greener space with hills and timber play equipment, including bridges, castles and a zip-wire.
- The old adventure site at the back became a nature area and was used by the children for creating small habitats for insects and wildlife. Groups would visit to conduct bug-hunts and outdoor classes.
By this time the kart track was well established and a new staff team was appointed, lead by Brenton Smith.
Although Brenton’s main role was to manage the kart track, he gradually became increasingly involved in other activities, often responding to ideas put forward by the children and young people attending the project.
Brenton set up the Freedom Cycle Project offering training for children and young people, who turned up for Go-Karting, to repair old bicycles. Those who learned to do this got the bikes for free. The project was so successful they decided to landscape the adjacent derelict adventure-playground into a cycle track. They raised the money and even drove the bulldozer themselves. Cycle training was also provided to ensure their safety when on the streets. Later, a small orchard and vegetable terraces were planted. This growing community was involved in seed planting and produce, cooking a slap-up meal at the end of summer. A number of rescued ‘battery’ chickens were added to the project and a fox-proof rooftop chicken coop was constructed above the container units. Prickly pyracantha was planted for security and wildlife was abundant. A large number of volunteers helped to maintain the facility and many people will probably remember some of the great open days that were held at the track, with music, great food, crafts and wide range of participants.
It was from this community involvement that the first BMX track was created within the old adventure space. Uniquely, this went hand-in-hand with the development of the gardening project, where children and young people worked to convert the grass banks into terraced beds where flowers and vegetables were grown. In 2002/3 some additional funding was awarded to the track, and this enabled the BMX track to be enlarged and greatly improved. It also enabled the project to install a number of storage containers, which became workshop space. The garden project was also improved upon, and in 2004 the Burgess Park Bike Track was winner of the Best Community Cycling Initiative (Awarded by The Times / London Cycling Campaign). Juliette Green was a key element in the development of the combined project.
The track was much loved by all who discovered it, and the local Peckham BMX club, based at Bird and Bush Road, used it for training their younger members at least one evening a week. They also used the closed-off New Church Road in the park for sprint training. The Club even managed to win the National BMX Championships in 2010 whilst training on these sub-standard, locally built tracks.
Following years of lobbying members of Southwark Council for a new track, the Peckham club’s founder, CK Flash, was finally offered space in the park for a new track. The former 1993 playground had received no maintenance and become very run-down, and the site became the club’s new home, following on from the 2010 transformation of Burgess Park. The council put significant investment into the development of this National Standard BMX track and received funding support from British Cycling, the Mayor of London’s office, London Marathon Charitable Trust, Southwark Council’s Cleaner Green Safer programme, S106 funds and the Olympic Legacy Fund. The new track, costing £1.1 million, opened to the public on Tuesday 6 August, with the official opening event on Friday 16 August 2013.
The BMX track has since gone from strength to strength, and is rarely empty of activity, particularly in the summer months. It produces a steady stream of world class athletes under the watchful eye and careful mentoring of coach CK Flash. According to CK, 70% of the British Cycling team started their careers here. Among many winners, Kye Whyte (whose brother Tre is also a world class cyclist) won silver in the 2020 (2021) Tokyo Olympic BMX competition. In just 8 years, this small track has had a huge impact on the lives of many and on UK Cycling competition history.
Listen to people’s thoughts on the new track here.