Analysis: The Olympics and the sector

With London 2012 a month away, Tim Tonkin looks at the effect the games are having on volunteering and the communities near the Olympic park - and the likely legacy

The Olympic park
The Olympic park

Despite the efforts of successive governments, levels of volunteering have remained flat in England and Wales in recent years. The regular Citizenship Survey shows that the proportion of people volunteering at least once in the previous 12 months was 39 per cent in 2010 - the same figure as in 2001, with a brief rise to 44 per cent in 2005.

That was the year when London was chosen for this year's games, and one of Lord Coe's first acts as chair of the organising committee was to tell the annual conference of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations that volunteers would be playing a big part in the Olympics.

Since then, an army of volunteers has been recruited and trained, mostly by McDonald's, one the main games sponsors. Almost half of the near 200,000-strong Olympics workforce are volunteers - 70,000 Games Makers and Young Games Makers helping at the sports venues, and 8,000 Ambassadors on the transport system.

This raises the question of whether the games will have a long-term effect on the levels of volunteering: will the Olympics volunteers gain a taste for it and volunteer again in other fields or their local communities, or will their interest last only as long as the games themselves?

Games Makers: Olympic volunteers at a mass training eventThe question divides opinion. Some point out that most people don't volunteer because they want to be volunteers - they volunteer because they're interested in the activity concerned, because the cause has affected them in some way or because they think it might help them get a job.

Others think the games will have a lasting effect on volunteering levels. Mike Locke, director of policy at Volunteering England and himself due to be a volunteer at the Paralympics, says the effect on public perceptions of and involvement in volunteering should not be underestimated.

"It has really raised the profile and sense of excitement about volunteering," he says "We have seen how important volunteering at the Olympics and Paralympics is, and it is a perfect example of how much volunteering can achieve.

"What it has demonstrated as well is the enthusiasm, commitment and the sheer amount of work volunteers are putting into the games. That demonstration of the power of volunteering is having an effect now and will continue to do so."

Locke says that many volunteers in the Sydney games of 2000 continued to volunteer afterwards, and that the same could happen in London and the rest of the UK.

Karl Wilding, head of policy and research at the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, says that all the evidence he's seen suggests a lot of work is being put into volunteering as part of the Olympic legacy.

He says, however, that this work must continue to ensure that any advances made through the Olympics are sustained. "Volunteering does not take place within a vacuum, so organisations need capacity to support managers and staff," he says.

Rob Jackson, a consultant on volunteering, says it is hard to gauge the future impact of the games. "I would bet that the average member of the public is unaware that the games require volunteers to happen," he says. "My hope is that, through good coverage of the role of volunteers during the games, that awareness will be raised, even if it is for a short time afterwards. That depends on how much coverage they get during the games."

- See Editorial


COMMUNITY CONNECTIONS - How the games have affected voluntary organisations in the Olympic boroughs

One of the big questions about the games has been whether they would bring benefit and lasting change to community organisations in the boroughs around the Olympic Park.

The London Legacy Development Corporation has been set up to develop and manage the Olympic Park after the games, and says on its website: "It is our task to transform and integrate one of the most challenged areas in the UK into world-class, sustainable and thriving neighbourhoods.

"This will create a new quarter of the city in east London - an inclusive community, a thriving business zone and a must-see destination where people will choose to live, work and play, and return to time and time again."

Community Links, a charity in the London Borough of Newham that provides support to young people and families, has had mixed experiences. Will Horowitz, its media and policy coordinator, says that the build-up to the games has generally proved unsuccessful in engaging charitable groups, but this was starting to change for the better.

He says: "Up to now there has been little engagement with charities about the strategic thinking around the games, no more resources for social activities and, if anything, increased competition for work from outside organisations, such as consultancies.

"On the other hand, we are very hopeful about the legacy corporation's good economic development strategy, which we think will provide good opportunities for local community groups and charities to be involved."

Last year, young people from Community Links had the opportunity to team up with members of the Team GB men's hockey side as part of a coaching programme known as FRE Flyers.

Another example of how the games have inspired efforts to boost charities in these areas is the Legacy for London Project. This was led by the charity Pilotlight, which builds connections between charitable organisations and businesses.

The scheme has involved senior figures from five firms that are sponsoring the games - Adidas, BP, BT, Deloitte and Lloyds TSB - working with nine charities in the Olympic boroughs.

Over two years, the charities have benefited from monthly consultations with business staff, receiving advice on how they could improve and develop their organisations in activities ranging from fundraising to service provision.

Fiona Halton, chief executive of Pilotlight, says: "We saw the chance to bring together ambitious charity directors, who understand the problems local people face, and Olympic partners and their outstanding business talent. We wanted the charities in the Olympic boroughs to grow faster, higher, stronger thanks to the Olympics."

Aanchal Women's AidOne of those organisations to benefit from the scheme was Aanchal Women's Aid (right), a charity that provides support to women who have been the victims of domestic abuse. It gives safety and shelter to women and their children, offers them education and employment training, and tries to change perceptions of domestic abuse.

Aanchal's staff received mentoring and assistance from staff from BP, BT and Deloitte, working with trustees in evaluating areas such as fundraising strategies and helping to build up a better understanding of those who use the charity.

Sudarshan Bhuhi, founder and chief executive of Aanchal, says that the experience has not only benefited her organisation, but also changed perceptions of the Olympics in the local community.

"There was a lot of fear in the beginning about what the Olympics were bringing," she says. "People felt that the Olympics were for people from outside the area or tourists.

"We have seen a lot of opportunity since then, and more employment. At the moment there is a sense of excitement."

Gaby Heppner-Logan, an executive with BT, took part in Pilotlight's scheme, providing professional advice and business skills to staff at the charity New Choices for Youth, a Plaistow-based organisation that helps children and young people in crisis.

She says that working with charity trustees and staff over an 18-month period has achieved more than any single financial donation could.

"I have always wanted to do more for the charity sector, and it is a really unique approach that Pilotlight has taken," she says. "It is taking business skills to charities and is making a big impact within a small space of time."


 

THE STORY IN FIGURES

240,000 - applications were received from people wanting to become Games Makers. About 86,000 applicants were interviewed, with some 70,000 making the grade to become official games volunteers

18 - The age that all adult Games Makers had to be on 1 January this year in order to take part

40% - The proportion of applicants who said they had never volunteered for anything before and that the games had inspired them to do so

766 miles of fabric were used to make uniforms for volunteers, staff and contractors

200,000 - The total workforce for the games. This includes 100,000 contractors and 70,000 Games Makers

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