It’s been over a year now since the Lakeside Hammers speedway team was forced out of the Arena Essex Raceway after it was sold for land development, but the club is still fighting to return Speedway to the Borough of Thurrock.
Thurrock Hammers Ltd. was incorporated in February 2019 by former Lakeside Hammers Community Liaison Manager Mark Sexton, its Media & PR Manager Ian Smalley and Russell Keetch who was the club’s Commercial Manager.
The new owners of the site, London Strategic Land Ltd. have no plans to include Speedway or any motorised sport in their plan for housing development. This is despite the national and local policies trying to preserve sporting facilities.
The club put in an objection to the planning application lodged with Thurrock Council by the new owners of the Arena Essex Raceway in August and since then the club’s directors and representatives have had a meeting with Interim Director of Place, Thurrock Council, Andy Millard and Assistant Director – Planning, Transport and Public Protection, Leigh Nicholson to discuss their reasoning behind the objection.
As well as this, work has been continued on the petition, which Sexton admits has been ‘very successful.’
“Over the last four or five weeks, we’ve been trying to get some energy back into the campaign by releasing state-of-the-art press releases and videos,” said Sexton. “We’ve had some useful meetings with council officials when we met with the head of planning and his colleague in the middle of October, so we could share ideas and share our vision for what we would like to see happen in the bigger picture, but specifically we wanted to talk to them about our objection to the Arena Essex planning application.
“We thought it was appropriate as we got to the end of the year, as you have to keep reminding people that you’re around and so we put out a press release two or three weeks ago and put together a close to two-minute video. It’s proven to be very successful; the video has a reach well in excess of 25,000, we’ve had 20 more comments posted to the online petition in support of our campaign and we’ve had what looks like 50 more signatures to the petition as well.
“There’s clearly an on-going interest that we’re keen to keep with us – it shows to people that we’re still around and that we’re still working on behalf of local Hammers fans and Speedway fans more generally.”
A link to the video can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7QPKdN_d6rc
Thurrock is not the only location to lose its speedway club recently. The Stoke Potters Speedway team, which competed in the National League – the third tier of English Speedway – suffered a similar fate to the Hammers when the Chesterton Stadium was sold in mid-September.
Despite the sad situation surrounding Stoke, Sexton says there are people across the UK ‘who are interested in maintaining and developing Speedway from where it is at the moment’ – the campaign to return the Coventry Bees Speedway team to their spiritual home at Brandon Stadium reaffirms that point.
“We took a decision nine or 10 months ago when we set the company up – we could have easily disappeared into the distance and said ‘Oh well, thanks for the last 35 years’ but in the face of what appears to be a fairly negative backdrop, there are loads of people still about who are interested in maintaining and developing Speedway from where it is at the moment,” told Sexton.
“It’s important for us to keep doing this, we think we are probably the most important spectator sport that Thurrock has to offer, we’re the sport that gives a window to Thurrock that other sports or clubs don’t do. We want to make sure that the people locally, and the council officials and politicians, understand what they’re at risk of losing. Without our campaign, I think it would have been easy for them to ignore it in the face of other priorities that they think they might have.
“That’s why we’re doing it, we want to see the sport return with the support we have, and we have to maximise that.”
Despite having no track, The Thurrock Hammers did compete in two meetings this season – one at Kent Kings in early May and another at Mildenhall in late June.
In Sittingbourne, the Hammers retained the Tunnel Trophy with a 36-35 win against the TouchTec Kent Kings in a meeting abandoned after heat 12 following a delay following a crash involving Kent’s Alex Spooner in heat 8 – in which the Kent-man unfortunately suffered a part dislocation and rotary cuff damage to his shoulder.
With the 6pm curfew closing in, the meeting was abandoned.
It was a tough afternoon for the Hammers in West Row as they suffered a heavy 63-27 defeat against the Mildenhall Fen Tigers.
Sexton spoke about how both meetings came about and what that means for the Hammers moving forward into 2020.
“Kent’s promoter, Len Silver, is what you might call ‘an old-school’ promoter who likes to put on Speedway weekly for his public. After being given the opportunity to put a team together, Len also effectively hosted the meeting for us which meant we were able to get the Thurrock Hammers back on track for the very first time, so it was a fantastic occasion for us,” explained Sexton.
“It was one of those things that gave our supporters something to hang on to, you have to keep the club and the brand ticking over and we managed to steal the win on the day. It was a treacherous meeting in terms of accidents with one or two lads getting injured, but it was a really fun afternoon.
“We took about 100 Hammers fans down there, so Kent were very happy with that outcome and that was the first opportunity we had to get the Hammers back on track.
“We’ve worked very closely with the promotion up at Mildenhall this year through Jason Edwards, who is very closely associated with us as an ex- Hammer and a Billericay boy – we have a lot of time for him. The fact he was riding for Mildenhall gave us an ‘in’ there and again, Phil Kirk and the promotional team up there like also like to put on weekly Speedway for their fans, so we were delighted to be able to put on another meeting with a different set of riders – with one or two exceptions.
“What that’s enabled us to do is get heavily involved or closely aligned with the National League coordinator Jason Pipe, it got us talking to riders, it got them used to dealing with us, so as part of our learning curve as a Management team it worked on that level as well, other than the fact we got smashed on track!
“But the more important thing was that riders were accepted, the BSPA (British Speedway Promoters Association) and the people at the top end of the sport have seemed to embrace our campaign and what we’re doing which we’re very grateful for.
“They were two very, very useful meetings, one’s we would hope that we would be able to repeat and maybe even build on in 2020. We had a Directors meeting yesterday (Thursday 7th November), I can’t give anything away at this stage because there’s too many moving pieces at the professional level of the sport, but we do want to be involved on track in 2020.
“Maybe more often than we were in 2019 and maybe at a different level, so we’re having those discussions to try and get the Hammers name on track again next year.”
After the meeting with the local Councillors in October, the club were told that a decision about the development of the Arena Essex site could be made as early as January 2020, in terms of the housing the new owners want to build on the site of the Arena Essex Raceway.
Sexton has urged fans to share the petition, sign it and also use the template on the club’s website to write to Thurrock Council and the Councillors, stating why they want Speedway to return to the borough of Thurrock.
“When we put the video together, we just wanted to create that sense of urgency, so that if people do have a viewpoint or if they do want to pledge their support in writing, then time is of the essence because these things can happen quickly,” said Sexton.
“It still may not happen in January, but we wanted to make sure that we didn’t find out two days or a week before that the planning committee were going to meet and at that point that we were still going round trying to gather more support. It’s as little or often as far we’re concerned to keep people engaged in our campaign.”
Sexton also spoke about how the General Election coming up has benefited both the team and the petition.
“The General Election has been a little bit of a godsend for us because it’s given us an excuse to reach out to the prospective Parliamentary candidates, we’ve written to them all seeking support for what we’re trying to achieve and we believe that a Speedway team isn’t completely a political or non-political issue, we’re getting positive responses back from them which is good,” commented Sexton.
“We’ve also got clarified support from the BSPA and the SCB (Speedway Control Bureau) about their support for our campaign and also their response to the planning application as well, so the last few weeks have been pretty positive for us off-track.”
Hopefully, the positivity can carry on and we can see more of the Hammers on track next year, after all, without them, there is no Speedway in Thurrock.
Link to template: https://www.thurrockhammers.com/petition-support/
Link to sign the petition: https://www.ipetitions.com/petition/support-the-return-of-lakeside-hammers-speedway
By Jordan Hollands.