August 2012

Kingston just loves the Olympics

There had been an air of cynicism over the Olympics in Kingston. We were having to contribute substantially to the costs with no obvious benefits to us.

That all changed as we gradually realised that not only were we hosting four Olympic events but we were also getting the torch twice! And all could be watched for free.

250,000 people watched the torch relay in Kingston. That is not only far greater than the population of the borough but beat the turnout in all the other London Boroughs, even though we are the smallest one.

It started out from the Hook Centre - our great pride and joy down here in Hook - carried by James Cracknell, a former Kingston school pupil.

I didn't get in to Kingston to see the torch when it went down the river on Gloriana. The river side pubs and restaurants were the perfect place to watch it go by, although I caught the whole event online.

You can see the Guildhall top right as the flotilla approaches Kingston Bridge on its way to the Olympic Park.

The next day was the men's road cycle race. We found a spot on Kingston Hill as the cyclists flashed round the corner by the Albert pub.

A thunder storm broke out in Kingston just as the women's race set off on Sunday from the Mall. A tree in Bushey Park, on the route, was hit by lightning and burst into flame. I decided to watch this one out in the dry, and it was wonderful seeing so many places I recognised, across Surrey and through Kingston.

The crowds were amazing again, but they were nothing compared with what awaited us for the time trials on Wednesday. 

I watched the women's race from the pavement opposite the Rose, and managed to capture a Canadian rider with her supporters across the road.

We were all waiting for Chris Froome and Bradley Wiggins in the men's race. A huge roar preceded them as they rode up the High Street and turned into the Ancient Market.  I sneaked into the Upper Circle Bar in the Rose to get this shot of Wiggo storming past the Guildhall.

The roar of the crowd was unbelievable.

The two cyclists said this in an interview:

‎"It was really something special, just enormous, the support," Froome said. "It's something that I don't think I'll ever experience again". Wiggins said the same, "coming back round the roundabout in Kingston, I'm never going to experience anything like that in my entire career. It's topped off."

So which roundabout was he thinking of? It could be the mini-roundabout at the junction of Kingston Hall Road, but many people think he was referring to the wall of sound, bouncing around the narrow roads, that hit him as he turned into the market.

Once he had gone past, there was a rush to see the end of the race on the Big Screen in the Rose. I was ushering and I've never seen a crowd like it in the theatre before. Everyone was screaming at the screen as Team GB took the gold and bronze. We all cheered the medals ceremony and stood up for the National Anthem. What a day!

A friend of mine who lives on the Sussex coast remarked that he was glad he wasn't up this way because it must have been chaos on the roads. From this end it looked very different - it has been one big party for Kingston. The trial event last summer alerted everyone to the restrictions, and whereas there were some mutterings then, when the reality hit us the sense of pride in Kingston was palpable.

So we did get our money's worth in Kingston after all, and no doubt the pubs and restaurants will be very, very happy.



Diary of a Games volunteer - high praise for the Games Makers

"London 2012: Olympics success down to 70,000 volunteers" : The Independent.

With headlines like that Games Makers are rightly proud of what they have achieved, even though many of us have not even started yet!  I will be collecting my uniform and accreditation tomorrow in readiness for the Paralympics. The figure of 70,000 is the total number of Games Makers involved in the Olympics and the Paralympics.

Comments have appeared in most newspapers about the smiling greetings given to spectators by the volunteers in their distinctive purple and red uniforms. But the fact is that most of the volunteers were never seen by the general public, and some of them (such as the torch relay team and the uniform and accreditation teams) were at work well before the Games started.

Those people who greeted you at the station and guided you (with their pink fingers) to the venue were in the Last Mile team. They also managed the crowds leaving venues, with cheerful encouragement from the loud-hailers.

Once you got to the venue the Events Services teams took over. They checked your ticket, directed you to your seat and dealt with any problems. 

Those two groups were the face of the Olympics to spectators, but they only accounted for about 20% of all the Games Makers. 

Some others you will have seen on the field of play. Each sport had its own specialist volunteers who looked after the athletes or supported the disciplines, such as the ball girls and boys at the tennis. Then there were those teams that appeared at each medal ceremony - they were (I think) the only volunteers who wore a different uniform and the only roles that were gender specific. Two women in purple dresses with colourful sashes escorted the athletes, another woman in a strange little purple hat escorted the presenters and three or more men in collarless suits (why, for goodness sake?) carried the medals and flowers. 

But most Games Makers worked behind the scenes, in hundreds of different roles. Volunteers were working on the website, driving athletes and officials, making costumes for the Opening Ceremony, managing the workforce facilities, issuing provisions to the media, looking after visiting and UK politicians, interpreting, working in the athletes' village, and many more functions.

And it's all going to start again in a couple of weeks time with mainly new teams of Games Makers for the Paralympics.

Diary of a Games volunteer - what is a vomitory?

So - what is a vomitory?

Yes, I had assumed it was something that made you sick, but apparently it's also the name for an entrance or exit in a theatre. I must admit I had never come across it before, and it certainly isn't a word in use in the Rose Theatre where I can sometimes be found ushering.

Yesterday I heard the word used in all seriousness in that second sense. I was attending a training session for team leaders at ExCel, and we were looking at the layouts of the arenas for the Paralympics and the positions where volunteers and staff would be deployed. Vomitories are the passages between the seats where the spectators come and go, but not, hopefully, where they throw up.

Just one more training session tomorrow, when I'll be getting to know the ExCel in more detail, and meeting more of the hundreds of volunteers who will be working there during the Paralympics.

The Games begin next week and I am so looking forward to working my first shifts from Thursday onwards, in spite of the achingly early starts.

I'm also really pleased that the momentum has built up around the Paralympics, with a record number of seats sold. The atmosphere during the Olympics was so special, and I do believe we are going to experience it again during the Paralympics as well.

I've now collected my uniform from the massive warehouse that has been transformed into the Uniform Distribution and Accreditation Centre. Some volunteers have been working there since April, making sure that the enormous task of distributing goods to about 200,000 people goes smoothly. Even though they are never seen by the general public, and are doing pretty unexciting jobs, they still manage to keep cheerful. 

I've been issued with two purple and red polo shirts, two pairs of sand-coloured trousers, two pairs of grey socks, plus a jacket, umbrella, bag, water bottle and watch, and a rather nice pair of trainers (which will certainly get some wear after the event).  The clothes don't quite fit - a unisex design for flat-chested sportspeople doesn't necessarily fit a real person like me - but I can make them work. 


Diary of a Games volunteer - ready to go

I've had my final training session. I've shortened my uniform trousers. I've got my final shifts. And I'm ready to go.

It's almost two years since I first heard that they were looking for volunteers for the Games. After such a long lead time, the final few days seem to be going past very rapidly. I am so looking forward to finally getting started.

So if you are planning to get along to the Paralympics at ExCel do look out for me and say hello. I'm based in different areas throughout the period, so I can't really tell you where to find me on any particular day. 

My role is as an Event Services Team Leader, which tells you two things. First, I will be around in the spectator areas dealing with the public, not hidden away in back of house. And second, I will be carrying my badge of office - a blue clipboard.

There are still some tickets available, and more are being added during the Games. (You do have to book tickets in advance - there are none on sale at the door).

The ExCel day pass is really good value. It's only £10 (or £5 for concessions) and admits you to any events that are going on throughout the whole day. The only problem is that they can't absolutely guarantee you a seat, especially for finals, but you will be told where the spaces are so you don't have to queue. It's a great opportunity to watch some less well-known sports, like boccia, and to see just how amazing these athletes are.



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