Diary of a Games volunteer - a very early start

Would I like to enter the ballot for a free ticket for the final technical rehearsal for the Olympic Opening Ceremony? You bet - and last week I learnt that I had won! This is one of the perks of being a Games Maker (aka volunteer).

I nearly missed that opportunity because a few weeks ago I came quite close to dropping out.

I received a bit of a shock when I read my shift times at ExCel during the Paralympics. During training we had been warned that some shifts might begin very early, with examples given of 7am starts. So I was resigned to having to leave home at 5.30am and could see the advantage of travelling before the rush hour.

But I was not expecting to be given five shifts that actually start at 5.15am.

I dutifully checked on TfL which confirmed that I would not be able to get to ExCel from home at that hour of the day. Well, to be exact, the only way to travel would be to take three night buses leaving home at 2am, which I did not consider an option!

Now many of the 70,000 Games Makers live outside London and have had to arrange to stay with friends in order to take part. Others have booked into the temporary camp sites that have sprung up across London.  LOCOG do not pay for accommodation, and this has been well-known from the start.

In my case, since I live in Greater London with good transport links into the centre, I had assumed that I would be able to commute from home, so I was left with a dilemma. They clearly needed some of us to start that early (and it may be my fault for offering to be a team leader) so I knew it would be unlikely that my shifts could be changed. I do not have any friends who live near to Docklands where I could sofa-surf. There are hotels nearby but the rates had been racked up for the Games.

It seemed I either had to pay out for accommodation or withdraw. It only took a few minutes for me to decide to book into a hotel for five nights, reckoning that I could afford it and that might make it easier for the managers to alter the shifts for someone who could not afford to do so.

There are several hotels right by ExCel, but even the budget hotels were charging a non-returnable £99 per night. The reviews on the one that still had vacant rooms were, predictably, not brilliant, but that was outweighed by the thought that I could arrive fresh for my early starts.

It's still going to be pretty exhausting, with shifts lasting up to 11 hours. I have eight shifts in all, plus a venue training day. I can't complain that volunteers are being exploited, because we have been warned throughout about most aspects of our expected commitment (apart from the early start, of course).

A couple of days ago I decided to book an extra night at the same hotel, and discovered the rate had dropped to £65 for the last remaining room! I phoned them up and to my amazement they agreed that I could rebook all the nights at the reduced rate, without charging me for cancellation. So there is some good in the world - and I have the glimpse of the Opening Ceremony to look forward to. 

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