Games volunteer

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?

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.


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 - 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 - 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.



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 - 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.

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