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When London was chosen as the host city for the Olympic and Paralympic Games, the appointment promised great transformation for the city: from more jobs and houses to improved transport links, as well as all the excitement of hosting one of the world’s biggest events.  

But what happens after the crowds disappear – how many of those promised changes will be lasting? And how much will they benefit the local community hosting the Games?

Questions like these will form part of a major evaluation project, the Olympic Regeneration in east London (ORiEL) Study led by Professor Steven Cummins. A five-year longitudinal study, ORiEL will investigate the social and health legacy of the Games.  Funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) ORiEL offers an unprecedented opportunity to examine the effects and changes set in motion by large-scale regeneration.  

The ORiEL project: a large-scale study

“As the largest infrastructure project of its kind in Europe, the Olympics is a dream come true for someone interested in urban regeneration,” Steven Cummins explains. “It offers a rare chance to assess impacts using a before and after approach in a very controlled way – the area has been defined, the dates set – and because it’s so high-profile, there will be no slipping behind on project deadlines.”

Led by Professor Steven Cummins, the ORiEL team is made up of three postdoctoral researchers and ten investigators from Queen Mary, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the University of East London.

How will change be measured and assessed?

At the start of the study, questionnaires will be given to approximately 1,800 school children, as well as their parents, in Tower Hamlets, Hackney, Newham and Barking and Dagenham. The completed questionnaires will help the team to assess participants’ health and wellbeing.

Researchers will also be keeping track of the numbers of pupils who leave the area and those who arrive. This information can be matched alongside social and economic data todetermine whether and how the local population has changed.

Nested with this, twenty families will be the focus of an in-depth ethnographic study. “We will spend time with the families and capture their experience of the Olympics, in the run-up, during, and after they happen,” explains Steven Cummins.

“We want to know how involved they feel, as well as what telling us about the changes they see and how it affects their daily lives. We’ll be looking at the whole picture: from income and employment, to health and housing quality.”

Olympic sized legacy ambitions

Legacy has been built into the Olympics from the very beginning – it formed a key part of the bid that London put forward. The Games were seen as a potential catalyst for health, social and economic regeneration in one of London’s most socioeconomically deprived areas.

The aims of the legacy plans go beyond building new sporting facilities and homes: “The Government (and the other 2012 Games stakeholders) also want to inspire people to get involved with the Games and the related activities and to change the way they live their lives for the better. The Government sees the 2012 Games as a unique opportunity to motivate everyone, especially young people, to try new activities, learn new skills and extend their links to reach new people, not just in the UK but worldwide.”

Download a copy of Department for Media, Culture and Sport: Before, during and after: making the most of the London 2012 Games. London 2008 [PDF] from the gov.uk archive.

Informing future regeneration projects

Regeneration projects can have some problematic outcomes. For example the Docklands area of London was developed during the 1980s and 90s. In the process, many of the area’s original communities were broken up, with people being priced out of the area as rents and houses prices rose.

The outcomes of the ORiEL study may help to plan for successful regeneration activity in the future, and help to avoid some of the unintended consequences of such projects.

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