Monday, 13 August 2012

A moment to shine

So that's it.  After seven years of hype and anticipation, the London 2012 Olympic Games are over.

They have been a Games that have provided a once in a lifetime opportunity for the UK to stand front and centre on a global stage.  Even I, cynic that I was in the run up to the Games, have found myself caught up in the wonderful atmosphere of positivity and enthusiasm, something we Brits are not normally known for.  I hope this continues beyond today and beyond the still-to-come 2012 Paralympic Games too.

Essential to the running of the games is an aspect of the modern Olympics that first featured back in London 1948 - an Olympic volunteer programme.  It is these volunteers - or Games Makers as they have been called - who have played an immeasurable role in making the Olympics the "friendly games".    

It is quite right that the largest cheers at last night's closing ceremony were reserved for the volunteers.  70,000 Games Makers will have contributed thousands of hours to making the games a success, from working in anti-doping units to marshalling crowds.  They have been on the front line, engaging with visitors from around the world whilst VIPs shelter in plush corporate hospitality.  One estimate I've heard is that without the volunteers it would have cost LOCOG £1.5billion to employ staff (at minimum wage) to do the work of the Games Makers.

In their distinctive uniforms, the Games Makers stood out from the crowds in a busy city. My hope is that this visibility will now permeate through the whole of our society.

Put simply, life in this country would not be the same without volunteers.  No Samaritans.  Not lifeboat crews or mountain rescue - people would literally die!  No magistrates.  No school governors.  No sports clubs.  No amateur dramatics and arts groups.  Immeasurably weaker community life.  No Red Cross, St John Ambulance and the like.  No Scouts and Guides.  The list goes on.

Yet we do not celebrate volunteering publicly in the way other countries do. 

Until now.

We do not hold up our volunteers as everyday heroes of our society.  We kind of keep quiet about it.  

Until now.

The Games has given us an opportunity as a nation to put volunteering front and centre in the national consciousness, to recognise that without volunteers our society would not be the same, in fact it would be a poorer place.

The Games have been a moment to shine for the athletes.  

The Games have also been a moment to shine for our country.  

The Games have been a moment to shine for volunteering, a moment that will provide a legacy in transforming our nation's understanding of and attitude towards volunteering.  

Doing that will require big changes in our sector's attitudes to volunteering. 

We need to invest in creating great volunteering experiences that enthuse and engage people as the Games Makers have been enthused and engaged.

We absolutely need to stop talking about using volunteers.  We use things, not people.

We need to rethink our attitudes to what volunteers do with us.  Games Makers held a huge array of jobs, from the menial to those with massive responsibility.  We can't just give our volunteers the former and save the latter for those we pay.

We need to start really valuing volunteering, not just using warm words about it when really what we want is someone to give us a cheque.

Are you up for the challenge?

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