Stronghold (external link) is a state of the art climbing centre in Tottenham Hale.The centre has 15 staff and boasts the largest bouldering wall in London alongside a conditioning gym, popular kids’ area and cafe. Every week thousands of people of all ages and abilities flock to the centre from children to elite climbers. It is open Mondays to Wednesdays, 8.30am to 10pm; Thursdays and Fridays, noon to 10pm; Saturdays, 9am to 7pm; and Sundays, 9am to 9pm.
Owner and manager Patrick Hammond gave us an insight into the world of climbing and how the OIF fund has helped him realise his dream.
Why the name?
Well, the building is big and we’ve got a large gate outside and there’s this sense that it’s a bit of a fortress. And it’s about the essence of climbing – a strong hold – while our logo is a triangle representing the 45 degree board which is an iconic training device in the world of climbing.
What is the difference between bouldering and climbing?
Bouldering is the pure essence of doing the climbing moves without ropes. I compare it to the difference between having a quick whisky and a few pints of beer! It’s the distilled version of the whole thing but it gives you that quick hit. It’s still climbing but this is really pushing yourself.
If I’m completely honest, part of the reason we ended up here is because of the Opportunity Investment Fund. But I did believe there was an opportunity for something like this in north London – you’ve only really got a centre like this in Stoke Newington and they’re too busy whereas there’s three centres in south London. And this place is also brilliant for the transport links. I mean you can get to Tottenham Hale from Liverpool Street in 12 minutes, while it’s less than 15 minutes from King’s Cross and then it’s easy to drive to from places like Enfield and Hertfordshire.
How did you hear about the Opportunity Investment Fund?
A friend lives in Haringey and he said what I was proposing seemed to fit the bill and I should go for it. So I contacted the council, saying I wanted to open the centre in Tottenham, and they got back to me straight away saying this was perfect.
What has the OIF money been used for?
Thanks to the funding we progressed quickly into our Phase 2 and Phase 3 whereas, without it, we might have been waiting for months for these to begin. We could build a gym area and a great section for kids so they could climb separately and safe away from the main bouldering area. The children’s area has been a real hit with families and on Saturday and Sunday mornings it’s full of children and parents.
How have you found working with the council on the loan and wider business support?
The whole team were very good and supportive. The process itself was quite straightforward and I would certainly recommend that other businesses apply for OIF funding. I mean, it’s better than going to a bank! I think financial support for start-ups is hard to get with banks being quite reluctant at the moment, and you might end up dealing with sharks which really is not good for business. The terms of the OIF are very agreeable and, thanks to my positive experience, I have to say it’s a great scheme.
Tell us some more about your business…
I’m an engineer by trade but climbing has always been my passion. I did it to a reasonable level as a kid, won some national competition, got sponsored and travelled a lot. So it made sense that if I was going to do a business that I liked then it would be in that field. London has a huge shortage of facilities and I know that climbing is growing fast and will only get bigger and bigger so I saw an opportunity for something I believed to be a good sport.
So I’m proud to have the largest indoor bouldering space in London and folk are putting us in their top three in the country for bouldering walls. People who are really into climbing come here and we’ve had lots of events and competitions. But we are also focused on attracting children and families and those new to climbing. We’ve now got seven schools coming in every week as well as boys’ brigades and scout groups. For the future I’m very keen on developing opportunities for youngsters and have the idea of an academy for kids with a structured system.
What I personally love about bouldering is the escapism and the social aspect and we now have a real community at the centre. People come here to meet friends and to go bouldering together and, apparently, there are lots of Facebook and WhatsApp groups set up to discuss what’s going on here and plans to meet. A gym, for example, can be a lonely place but here people are always chatting to each other and asking, ‘Oh, how did you do that problem?’ or, ‘Why don’t you try this with your right hand and use your heel like this?’ It’s very good for you physically and mentally and the NHS actually prescribes it for people with depression and mental health issues.