September 2012

Diary of a Games volunteer - the first three days

Today is my day off, so I am back home doing normal things, like attending Kingston Carnival and cooking a roast dinner. Tomorrow the extraordinary begins again.

I've had three days at ExCel which have left me exhausted and totally exhilarated. I have never in my life started work before 6am, and I have rarely before been on my feet almost continuously for 12 hours. But it has been amazing.

I have had to learn a lot very quickly and have been making decisions on the go as situations change rapidly, hoping that I'm not doing anything stupid. We were warned that the first day would be challenging for everyone, including the LOCOG staff who, in many cases, had been developing the systems for the last 4 years. But it went smoothly and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves.

I'm volunteering with Event Services, who manage the venues and the spectators - everything from checking the tickets, ushering people in the arenas, answering questions and looking after lost children.

The major change from the Olympics is that spectators can buy day passes which admit them to any of the five arenas at ExCel. This makes for a fluid situation since it is difficult to predict how many will want to get into any one event. There have been lengthy queues for sitting volleyball, prompted by the publicity given to Maxine Wright who lost her legs on 7/7, the day after she had been celebrating London being awarded the Games. My advice is to get there early - at least an hour before the first session - to be sure of a seat.

As a Team Leader I'm responsible for a small group on volunteer Games Makers, but the team changes each day, and my job changes each day as well. This does mean that the more exciting jobs are rotated with the more mundane ones and everyone gets a chance to do a range of tasks.

On my first day my team was looking after spectators in the sitting volleyball arena, and I had a similar role yesterday in the judo arena. I'm not sure exactly what the capacity is in each arena but I would guess around 5000. The sound of a full arena when GB athletes are competing is unbelievable. In between I thoroughly enjoyed a day spent on the Boulevard - the wide walkway that runs the full length of the building - just being helpful.

So now I'm on my way back to Docklands to be ready for a early call tomorrow morning.

Diary of a Games volunteer - only one day left

I have had a welcome day off, and have spent it resting and catching up on emails. Tomorrow I'm back at ExCel for a more civilised 8am start to my final day as a Gamesmaker.

This week I worked four consecutive 11 hour days, clocking in each morning at 5.45am. Some of my colleagues were leaving home before 4am in order to be there on time, but I was able to saunter over in 5 minutes from my hotel. I was even more pleased that I didn't have a long journey back at the end of the day.

Which brings me to my shoes. All Gamesmakers were issued with distinctive grey Adidas trainers and I have to say that they have been very comfortable. My feet have not ached at all even though I have been on my feet all day. That may explain why Gamesmaker trainers are going for up to £150 on eBay.

Even though my feet have survived well, I have discovered a new ailment. I developed a hot red rash above my ankles after my first shift last week, and it has gradually spread up towards my knees. I've had something similar before on holiday, and always thought it was caused by exposure to the sun. But this time the rash was under my uniform trousers. So I went along to the medical centre and the nurse told me I had the most extensive example of 'walkers legs' (aka golfer's vasculitis) that she had ever seen! Walking in the heat can bring it on, but medics don't really know what causes it. The good news is that, although uncomfortable, it is nothing to worry about.

And I really am on my feet all day, apart from about 20 minutes when I manage to sit down to eat my lunch. ExCel is so large that it can take 15 minutes just to walk to the workforce area to grab some food.

Talking of food, there is another baffling trend on eBay - Gamesmaker meal vouchers. The vouchers are dated, so are unusable, but they are going for £4.99. 

I have taken on a variety of tasks so far this week. I spent one unexpectedly sunny day outside near the entrance. Two of my team shared the fun of using a megaphone to welcome people from one of those high chairs, while others offered high fives to all the children. Fortunately I was able to rotate the meet and greet team in the sunshine with the ticket checkers who had the privilege of a shady umbrella.

London 2012 are now selling off redundant furniture and equipment on the Remains of the Games website. You can pay 12p for a clothes hangers or £199 for one of those high chairs. I'd love to get one but I'm not quite sure what I would do with it.

Did you know that you can also bid for memorabilia from the Games on an official site as well? An Olympic torch signed by Bradley Wiggins has just gone for £13,000.

Before you ask, I don't intend to sell off, or give away, any of my Gamesmaker kit, including the badges I've already received and the baton that I will be given on my last shift. I will definitely wear the trainers again, and maybe get the umbrella out, as it hasn't been needed so far. The rest will  provide me with memories of a very special time in my life.



Diary of a Games volunteer - why aren't you in the Mall?

I went up to Trafalgar Square to see the Athletes Parade today. Like all the other Games Makers I was asked to wear my uniform for one last time, and as usual complete strangers smiled and chatted with me. The main question they asked was why I wasn't in the Mall with other Games Makers.

I explained that there was a ballot for tickets for the Mall, and only 9000 out of the 70,000 volunteer Games Makers were lucky - I wasn't one of them.

But not all volunteers at the Games were Games Makers - that was the name given to those of us working for Seb Coe. Not personally, of course, but everyone recognises Coe as the Chair of the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG).

There was another group of 8000 volunteers who you may have seen at stations and tourist sites around London, wearing magenta and pink uniforms, sometimes with a straw hat. They were London Ambassadors and were working for Boris Johnson.

The Parade was organised by the Mayor of London which explains why all 8000 London Ambassadors were given tickets for the Mall. There had been some 'negotiations' before Gamesmakers were invited.

So while not all volunteers were Games Makers, I think it may surprise people to learn that not all Games Makers were volunteers. LOCOG employees who had been working in Canary Wharf over the last four years also donned the Games Maker uniform when they were deployed to the sports venues for the Games. They were our senior managers and were amazing. They worked even longer hours than us and were all friendly and approachable.

Many of these LOCOG employees will be out of work next week. Some spend their professional lives moving from one Olympic Games to the next, or were planning to work at the Commonwealth Games, FIFA World Cup or other world sporting events, so hope to have new jobs to go to. All Government Departments seconded people for up to four years to work on the Games, which explains why one day I was working for someone who was about to return to their day job at the Department for Work and Pensions.  Others will have to start looking for work in the real world when their contract ends.

Finally, if you went to the Games, you may have noticed some staff wearing the purple Games Maker shirts with black trousers instead of beige. They were employed by one of the contractors as stewards and were not Games Makers as such. They were there to meet the British legal requirements for venues to have trained stewards on site, but many of them seemed pretty miserable. At ExCel I came across several stewards who were great and joined in the party atmosphere, but I also found one fast asleep at his post and others who did as little as they could get away with. The volunteers were not too impressed by them and felt they let the side down, especially as they wore the same shirts so gave the impression to spectators that they were also Games Makers.


How to manage volunteers? Look at the Games Makers

This is an article that I posted on Lib Dem Voice on Tuesday. It attracted quite a few comments, which you can read here. I think the lessons can be applied to any organisation that relies on volunteers.

I have just returned to my duties at Lib Dem Voice after spending an extraordinary two weeks as a volunteer Games Maker at the Paralympics. My final event was the Athletes Parade today when we were thanked over and over again by Coe, Cameron, and Johnson, and by athletes and members of the public.  I have never felt so appreciated in my life!

So how did LOCOG persuade me and 70,000 other people to travel to London from all over the country on six separate occasions for training and collecting uniforms, then to stay for anything between eight and thirty days with friends, in hotels or at campsites in London, all the time working exhaustingly long days (in my case starting work at 5.45am), and all at our own expense?

The answers to those questions could be very useful to the Liberal Democrats. Because this was volunteer management at its very best, and we as a party need to get much better at enthusing and working with our own volunteers, whether they are candidates, activists, deliverers or donors.

So here are some of the techniques that were used by the managers of the volunteer Games Makers:

  • We were told frequently how essential we were to the success of the Games, but at the same time made to feel that we were privileged to have been selected.
  • We were given good background information on the Games, so that we felt we were an integral part of the organisation.
  • The vision for the Games was communicated effectively;  the key messages of inspiring a generation, being inclusive and ensuring sustainability were promoted and demonstrated at every opportunity.
  • We were kept regularly informed and updated by friendly emails.
  • We were thanked at every opportunity – even given chocolate.
  • We were given high quality training, some generic and some specific to our roles.
  • We were challenged with difficult tasks in a dynamic environment and encouraged to use our initiative.
  • We were supplied with good quality tools for the job: excellent trainers with a uniform that worked well and even included a watch and a water bottle.
  • When on duty we were rewarded with token goodies, such as exclusive badges.
  • We were invited to exciting events such as the dress rehearsal of the Opening Ceremony.
  • We had fun and we met lots of like-minded people.
  • No-one ever asked us for money.

Can the Liberal Democrats learn anything from that?

Published by Mary Reid, 126 Clayton Road, Hook Chessington KT9 1NJ
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