Hundreds celebrate Paralympic Handover in Hackney

Five hundred residents welcomed the Paralympic Games to Hackney with free celebrations in the Town Hall Square yesterday (Wed 17 Sept).

The event marked the historic moment London was handed the Paralympic flag and became the official host city of the 2012 Paralympic Games, with Hackney hosting almost one third of the Olympic Park site.

The official handover moment was shown live from Beijing on a big screen in the Town Hall Square, and was accompanied by colourful giant flag displays by Hackney-based Chinese costume parading band Jun Mo. There was also a celebratory confetti cannon blast.

Mayor of Hackney, Jules Pipe, said: “I am delighted so many people joined in welcoming the Paralympic Games to Hackney. With almost one third of the Olympic Park site in our borough, we will be at the heart of the 2012 Games. We’re now looking forward to celebrating the launch of the Cultural Olympiad at the end of the month, promoting culture and the arts as part of the Games like never before.”

Three hours of free celebrations were opened by elected Mayor of Hackney, Jules Pipe, and Paralympic gold medallist swimmer Giles Long. The event was hosted by deaf comedian Steve Day.

The Town Hall Square was transformed into an action packed zone with award winning disability culture and sports acts. There were also 14 information stalls providing advice on services offered to residents by disability groups, charities and the Council, and opportunities such as volunteering.

Disability sports displays included wheelchair badminton, wheelchair basketball from the Hackney Sparrows, positive mental attitude football, and Boccia – a Paralympic sport similar to Boules.

Cultural acts included wheelchair line dancing by the Rhinestone Rollers from the Graeae Theatre Company, the Light Sleepers band from Lee House (Rehabilitation and Employment Centre for adults with mental health needs in Hackney), Core Arts drumming, steel pans, and hula hoop performers Hoop La La, who train in Hackney and were semi-finalists on ITV1’s Britain’s Got Talent.

Skills Minister David Lammy visited the event and met the organisations which provide support and opportunities to Hackney residents with disabilities and their carers.

Volunteers from a number of local organisations, including Age Concern Hackney, played an important role in supporting the event through stewarding and guiding visitors.

Earlier in the day, the chief executive of the London 2012 Organising Committee (LOCOG), Paul Deighton, and Mayor Pipe visited young people who were taking part in the third and final day of sports championships at Clissold Leisure Centre.

From 15 to 17 September over 750 children from Hackney took part in the ‘Schools at the Heart Hackney Schools Paralympics Sports Championships’ including All-Star wheelchair basketball, goalball and judo.

The three day event, organised by the Learning Trust, took place at Clissold Leisure Centre and promoted the important message of sports inclusion for both disabled and non-disabled young people.

Paralympic gold medallist swimmers Giles Long and Elaine Barrett inspired the young people with motivational speeches during the sports days. The young people also had the chance to meet 2012 Paralympic horse riding hopeful and Team Visa Apprentice Natasha Baker, London 2012 Organising Committee (LOCOG), Chief Executive Paul Deighton and elected Mayor of Hackney Jules Pipe.