Collaborating with Olympic Volunteers on The Last Mile has been a joy and a privilege. I say collaborate because, despite being paid to manage an area around
The Volunteer Games Makers are living proof that a positive frame of mind and a healthy dose of good-will goes a long way. And side by side with our athletes, the volunteers have done much to inspire a generation – reigniting our appreciation for cheerful and honest service, for generosity, camaraderie and personal responsibility.
David Cameron captured our collective admiration well when he said he wished he could bottle Games Maker spirit. So as many of these wonderful volunteers prepare to go back to their pre-Olympic lives, and we wait to meet a new round of happy faces at the Paralympics, it leaves me wondering: what can Londoners do, individually and collectively, to try and preserve the volunteer legacy?
I imagine there are many ways to emulate the example set by volunteers… but here are a few questions to help us kick-start: Can we continue to smile at strangers on the street? Can we step back and let people pass rather than push and shove onto public transport? Can we stay away from the office water-cooler and give each other the benefit of the doubt? Can we believe in ourselves and the prospect of making a difference? Can we give before expecting to receive? Can we be positive despite the temptation to criticise and complain? Can we remember that the things which divide us are less than the human needs and goals which unite us? Can we make time to be kind… perhaps stop and have a laugh with someone we might otherwise have ignored?
Or, can we simply volunteer?
If you think that’s pie in the sky, then choose a few paragraphs below and allow me to introduce you to a selection of the inspiring volunteers I found on the Last Mile route to
Grant Speed is husband to Jo and father to Jake (6) and Alex (3). Born in Arbroath and living in Greenloaning, near Dunblane, he is a Group Financial Controller for a hotel company, the Jurys Inn. He used his holiday leave to come to
Grant wanted to be a volunteer because he reached a point in his life where he realised he was not likely to be an Olympian in the truest sense. But, loving sport, and wanting to get involved behind the scenes, he knew that it doesn’t get any bigger than an Olympics in your home country. He also felt, being Scottish, that it was important the British Games were well and truly represented.
Starting out Grant kept his expectations in check. He accepted the days would be long, and that he might be miles away from stadium, standing in the rain… but he also knew that “these things are what you make them”… and that “getting involved is the only way to make things happen”.
That open, ‘can do’ spirit, is typical of London Games Makers, so I’m pleased to share his happy stories: “I wandered into the Greenwich Tavern one night to find the GB gold medal showjumping team with medals and full pints. What a great bunch of people” he said, “we even managed to get ourselves on to the BBC live broadcast from the Tavern with Clare Balding. It was an awesome night!!!”
The fun continued: Grant wore sympathetic sideburns to see “Wiggo win gold”, and delighted in the joy he observed in a crowd of Japanese spectators standing in the rain to watch the Women’s
Graham Charlesworth lives in Bridgend,
Graham appreciates that, in order to have the Olympic experience, he has been “lucky enough to have a very supportive wife, family and work colleagues.” He took twelve days off work “at a point where there really is no spare resource… but my manager was aware of the opportunity I’d been given”. In order to honour his volunteering commitment, Graham needed to move down from
“To say I am immensely proud of what I have been involved in, is understatement.” Graham’s had lots of text messages of support from friends and family but admits to getting slightly emotional after reading a text from his dad on the golden Saturday night after Team GB won all the medals. The message read: “Proud to be British today, but more proud of you for volunteering x.” Graham concluded our discussion with: “I can't wait to get home and bore people with all the stories - over and over again!!!” And no doubt he’ll generously thank his patient wife and boss for their contribution!
Donna Beckford-Smith lives in
“I always wanted to be an athlete at the Olympics, but volunteering is the next best thing. To be involved in the atmosphere and to say I was there is unbelievable. In my every day life I work as a Blood Transfusion Nurse Specialist, at
Donna is a woman well accustomed to a profession of service, and first hand I greatly appreciated the good cheer and quiet professionalism she brought to the Last Mile Team!
Aurélien Urbanek (27) is a French national who grew up in
When asked why he got involved in the Games, Aurélien showed why the volunteer spirit we’d like to bottle is so precious: “Good question - especially when we all know that
When asked about the nature of his Games experience, this self-effacing and impressive young man went on to say: “The experience has been great. When I applied to become a volunteer, I didn't imagine that the atmosphere would be so intense. People are just amazing. The public is showing a great sympathy toward the volunteers and especially with the Last Mile team members. But above all, it's been such a pleasure to work with the other volunteers. I've discovered so many different people, so many different cultures and experiences. I was a little bit surprised when I found that many volunteers are not coming from
Rhian Jones lives and works in
"I clearly remember when
“I've spent my time at London 2012 based at
“Clearly I couldn’t commute from
I can honestly say that I loved every minute of my volunteering experience at London 2012. We were a motley bunch but I've made some fantastic friends… had a photo with a gold medal (and its owner)… and been in
Stephen Clarke lives in Blackheath, near the Greenwich Park Last Mile operation. He is a Chartered Surveyor, running his own company based in
“The company was started by my father in 1982 so we are celebrating our thirtieth anniversary in this most special of years. I work with solely residential property and I still remember exactly which house I was in when the decision was made to give the Games to
Nevertheless I kept my promise to myself and applied to be a Games Maker as soon as it was possible. I chose
Again it is the generosity and lack of ego which shines from Stephen’s next comment: “Each shift I do on the Olympics costs me a survey which is about £350. But hey ho! It’s summer. And I probably would not have managed to book a job on every single day anyway! I don't regret it. The volunteers are great; and some of the paid staff too. But the public has really made it for me. We are mirrors of each others moods and the mood was always good. When I look back on my whole life I am sure that this will be one of the most worthwhile things that I have done.”
‘On post’ I watched Steve repeatedly work his magic with the public, with a delightful combination of easy hospitality and charm, so though I was supremely jealous to have missed it myself, I was happy to hear him report he gained one particular reward from his volunteering: “I would even have done it all just for the ticket to the opening ceremony dress rehearsal. That experience will stick with me for ever. One of the greatest live shows ever and only performed three times. Never to be repeated.”
David Lungley (65) lives in Exmoor,
“Firstly, I knew that, being retired, I would have the time to help. Secondly, I believe everyone should do charitable things when they can. Thirdly, I hate the effect the pursuit of money has on Sports like Football and Indian Premier League Cricket… because for me that's not ‘sport’. By contrast I love the Olympic Games, where people compete in the more traditional way for the glory. And fourthly, I believe very strongly in the benefits to the world of all the countries competing in friendly rivalry, with mutual tolerance and respect, rather than fighting foolishly over unimportant differences.”
David has not been disappointed. He has been “thrilled with the sporting atmosphere which has emerged in everyone, so refreshingly unmaterialistic…” and with his experience of the ethnic diversity of
Involved over many years in running clubs and athletics, in 2002 Derek volunteered to work at the Manchester Commonwealth Games. As a driver, he acted as a chaperone for athletes who were randomly chosen to take a drug test. So when
Living over 200 miles from
Derek describes his experience thus: “My first shift was 7.30am on Saturday 28th July and I was designated to meet the ferries from central
He reports “the shifts were long, tiring, and talking, shouting and singing for four hours can be wearing”. But confirming we tend to get out of things exactly what we put in, he added “but the comments, handshakes and hugs we received made the sore throats and sore feet worthwhile, and meeting so many people from all over the world was the highlight. It was a brilliant sixteen days which will live in the memory. I will be boring my family and friends for weeks with my tales and, like a fisherman’s stories, they will grow and grow.”
So where does the volunteer who went home with an officially presented certificate in his bag declaring “The Most Energetic Last Miler” go from here? His reply: “The Commonwealth Games, Glasgow 2014. If they want volunteers I am their man!” And all evidence shows they’d be lucky to have him!
“I've been volunteering to support equestrian sport for many years, at local riding club events as well as national events run by the British Horse Society and Association of British Riding Clubs. When London 2012 called out for volunteers, I didn't hesitate. I just wanted to be there to do my bit to make London 2012 successful, and to soak up the atmosphere. I'm a keen horse rider and put
I wish the Games could go on - I really don't want the experience to end!”
And right there, I guess Jo says it all. Despite our Last Mile blisters and rolling Olympic hangovers, we’re sad it’s over. We’re feeling a lull. But let’s harness that wonderful spirit, and trust our city and community can grow from strength to strength. It simply begins with a smile…