I know I can’t be the only person in the world buzzing with excitement about the start of London 2012 – because I’ve seen for myself the streets lined with people cheering the torch, I’ve seen volunteers in their uniforms all around London, I’ve even seen people smiling on the Tube, which is unprecedented.
So why then do I constantly feel the need to justify my excitement at living in a city about to put on the biggest (sporting) event I will ever see in my lifetime to those who just want to find fault?
Because I work for a volunteering charity, and because I sat on Locog’s volunteer advisory body, I am constantly asked how I can possibly admire and support the Games Makers programme, which certainly hasn’t treated volunteers in the way our sector would want or expect.
So here it is this is what I think about volunteering at the Olympics:
Not by any stretch of the imagination did Locog get everything right and no, they didn’t listen to all the advice the voluntary sector gave them.
But you have to remember that Locog’s priority was first and foremost about delivering the Olympic Games. So by definition it is a bit different to the way we work with volunteers in our sector. At the end of the day 70,000 people have been recruited, trained, clothed, and are on our streets voluntarily striving to make our Olympics work better than any other in history. The numbers and roles that were required are incredibly diverse – some couldn’t be filled until the last minute when they knew, for example, what language skills would be needed around the football venues once the draw was made. And that 70,000 incidentally doesn’t include the tens of thousands of volunteers who have given up huge amounts of their time to rehearse, sometimes outside in shocking weather, for the opening ceremony.
You just need to look at one tiny part of the logistics - the uniform distribution centre – somewhere that had to be accessible, huge (70,000 sq ft of empty shell), close to the park and able to take the footfall of over 100,000 volunteers and officials trying on, and collecting something as simple as a uniform, well actually two sets of uniform, in every conceivable size, an extremely complex and thorough security screening and identification card system, and a ticket for free transport section. Anyone in the voluntary sector do that on a daily basis? Fit with your average volunteer management? No? So maybe that’s why some things had to be different.
They aren’t paying expenses and I disagree with that, they haven’t managed everyone seamlessly and some would-be volunteers have been disappointed and let down. None of us are really sure where the legacy we had all embraced and believed in will come from. BUT they have achieved the single biggest mobilisation of volunteers since the second world war, and they still have those numbers engaged. Those volunteering may well be doing it just because it’s the Olympics, but that doesn’t mean that they won’t then go on to volunteer again if they have a good experience. I think it is time to support them and work towards capturing whatever legacy we can.
So come on guys - accept that we are where we are, things could have been different but they aren’t and frankly there’s no point banging on about it now. We tried our best to get them to listen, we tried our best to make change and we did achieve many things. So now let’s enjoy the Games and do everything that we can to capture the inevitable feel good factor from the whole thing and pull that into our sector along with the volunteers because to be honest, we all need a lift right now.