Olympics: Grimsby man plays a part in an amazing transformation
A FORMER Grimsby man has been at the heart of transforming barren acres of east London land into a stage fit for heroes.
The eyes of the world will be on the capital's Olympic Park this summer – and the superb venues will create a spectacular backdrop.
Watching the action unfold will be a proud moment for John Birch, who has spent the last few years of his life not only helping to make sure the facilities and parkland for the Games are top-notch – but also that they will be viable long after the Olympics have finished.
The 50-year-old regards the skills he learnt while working in Cleethorpes and Immingham as key factors in his success.
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He was Cleethorpes Leisure Centre's duty manager in the late 1980s, and also held the same position at Immingham Sports Centre.
After leaving the area, Mr Birch secured a job with Lee Valley Regional Park Authority. At that time the remit for the authority was for the provision of sport and leisure in the region.
His job suddenly became very exciting when London won the bid to host the 2012 Olympics – and 35 per cent of the land earmarked to create the Olympic Park was owned by Mr Birch's organisation.
As assistant director for parklands and venues, he has been a part of the team that has seen acres of land transformed into world-class sporting facilities.
"Opportunity and circumstance collided," he said.
"The job has been a very exciting thing to be a part of.
"It has been long hours, but the pace has been exciting. It is very liberating.
"Instead of saying to people 'I'll give you an answer next week', you need to be saying 'I'll have an answer for you by 2pm today'.
"My job now is all about after the Olympics – I am interested in the legacy.
"It is about making sure the facilities are not seen as elitist and that they will be widely available for everybody.
"All that I learned at Cleethorpes Leisure Centre and Immingham Sports Centre stood me in good stead."
Mr Birch was educated at Grimsby's St Martin's School before undertaking a degree at Lancaster University.
He worked at Tioxide for a short time "shovelling pigment," before cutting his teeth in sports business management at Immingham Sports Centre and Cleethorpes Leisure Centre.
Away from work he was a member of Grimsby Rugby Club's first team. He started as a wing forward and later took his place on the front row.
Mr Birch still comes back to the Grimsby area to visit family.
His dad, John Birch, a retired doctor who had a surgery on Albert Road in Cleethorpes, lives on Humberston Avenue with his wife, Alma.
Has also has family in the Barnoldby-le-Beck area.
His interest now is less about how things go this summer and more about how the Olympic Park will be used in the years after the Greatest Show on Earth has finished.
One of the venues which Mr Birch has had the most involvement with is the Lee Valley White Water Centre, where the canoe slalom course is based.
It was handed over to Olympics organising committee earlier this year, but in a six-month spell prior to that, when it was open to the public, 140,000 people went through the doors. Birch was expecting the figure to be more like 30,000 – so the potential for use after the games is clearly there.
Birch said: "It is not a river course, it is a pumped course using a ground water aquifer. If you happen to swallow some, it is fine.
"It is consistent water flow, and you stay healthy too.
"You have a lot of control – over the flow and the obstacles – so you can completely change the course."
Mr Birch and his wife Joanne – whom he met while working at Cleethorpes Leisure Centre – plan to relocate to Greece after the Games.