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UEL historian Dr Toby Butler to lead heritage project at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park

Work funded by National Lottery will document the site’s rich Olympic history

By Kiera Hay

The rich history of the land on which Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park is located will be turned into a new visitor experience, thanks to a National Lottery funded heritage project led by University of East London (UEL) lecturer Dr Toby Butler.

Dr Butler said, “For some years we’ve been very keen to have some historical information available to park visitors. I think a lot of people in Newham have a lot of memories of that space. They’ve worked and lived there. It’s very important not to forget that.”

Backed by a major grant of £97,800 from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), Dr Butler and a team of UEL students and community volunteers will research and document the social, archaeological and environmental history of the Stratford site – most of which was cleared to make way for the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics. It will begin next month and take a year-and-a-half to complete.

Once their research is complete, the public will be able to enjoy the site’s history through two app-based audio heritage trails, a website, a guide book, a pop-up children’s book and learning tools that will be available online and for people visiting the park. 

“We want to give newcomers who are moving into the neighbourhood, as well as the millions of park visitors, a sense of the history of Newham and the extraordinary things that have happened in that space,” said Dr Butler.

He added: “We know a lot of local people, artists and photographers have images, documents and memories of the pre-Olympic period and if anyone is interested in sharing those, we do hope they get in touch.”  

Dr Butler, who is a Reader and programme leader of UEL's heritage studies programme, says he would like to see the British Olympic Association Archive, which is housed at UEL, extended to include records and media relating to the pre-Olympic history of the park land.

Dr Butler will work with the Building Exploratory to involve older residents, and Discover Children’s Story Centre to work with local schools and UEL’s research centre, Rix Research and Media.

Together they will create a park audio trail for people with learning disabilities, and Living Maps to map the pre-park history and develop the guides. 

“I’m absolutely delighted that the Heritage Lottery Fund has given us the chance to work with some really exciting partners in a really applied history project that hopefully will reach many thousands of people.

“We look forward to lending our resources and our expertise to benefit the park itself and improve the visitor experience,” he said.

UEL has allocated £5,000 from its Civic Engagement Fund for a companion project, led by Professor Phil Cohen, which supports students doing archival research on the park’s history.

Anyone wishing to contact the project can email Dr Butler at t.butler@uel.ac.uk