Ice Rink: CEO blog

Alexandra Park and Palace CEO, Louise Stewart, looks ahead to the anniversary celebrations of the Palace’s ice rink, and updates on the latest news with the rink:

On 4th July 2020 the Ally Pally ice rink will turn 30. The rink has played a part in so many lives in that time. It’s one of the things people often mention when I say where I work. They tell me of their childhood skating sessions and how they love to take their own children now. On any day of the week it’s fantastic to see people from a huge range of backgrounds, localities and ages enjoying their ice experience, from 6 in the morning to late at night.

Like most things at the Palace the space it occupies was not always used as it is now. It was part of the Victorian Palace called the Bazaar and was later used as a concert hall, before becoming a rifle range and then for ten years it housed the BBC Open University production unit editing suites.

(Picture 1: the ice rink space, back when it was a rifle range)

Back in the 1970s there was much talk of the space becoming a swimming pool complete with palm trees!  But we’re glad it turned out to be an ice rink, welcoming thousands of visitors year round, from international standard figure skaters to novices, ice hockey players, teams and their fans as well as event attendees to ice discos and the community panto which started way back in 1993.

It seems unfair that for its 30th birthday it will not be in operation, in fact there will be no ice at all. We turned the ice off to save energy whilst the Palace is closed. But when the ice melted it revealed some maintenance and repair issues that we are now working on.

So although we might not be able to celebrate in style, the rink is getting some much needed tlc. Much of the work will be hidden from view but includes; flood lighting and electrical work, refurbishment of the snow pit, replacement of valves, replacement kicker boards and repairs to the ice pad, ceiling and glazing.

This is a significant investment, especially at a time when the Covid-19 lockdown is placing enormous pressure on our finances, but it is essential for the long term future of the rink. It also makes sense to do the work now because it would not be possible to do it whilst the ice rink is in normal operation. Work is expected to complete by August.

It is also now clear that the Covid-19 pandemic is going to be a feature in our lives for months to come, so whilst the maintenance work is happening we are also busy assessing and designing changes to our operation of the rink, to ensure that we provide a safe environment for our customers and staff. The things we are considering include

  • shorter public sessions with fewer people on the ice at any one time to ensure any social distancing regulation that may still be in place
  • a “no-contact” operation for hire of skates and collection of shoes
  • a cleaning regime that provides customers and staff with the reassurance they need. For example we are currently looking at specialist products that provide surfaces with 30 days protection
  • moving to a pre-booking only system with self-scanning ticketed access for the foreseeable future so that we can control numbers and minimise contact
  • changing the ice cafe operation to avoid the build-up of queues and minimise contact.

With all of the above taken into account I don’t expect the rink to be open for most of the summer and I can only imagine how frustrating that must be for people who are desperate to get back on the ice.

We know that ice hockey players and figure skaters need to train and practice and perhaps feel that we could reopen for limited use. However, the costs of daily operation would not be covered if we did this, so it’s not an option unless we can attract funding to cover these costs. However, the Charity is investigating ways to raise funds to cover these and other costs. We also have a team of staff, some of whom have a long history with the rink, who are itching to get to work and welcome you safely back onto the ice again.