Editorial: It remains unclear what the Olympics legacy will be

Some sector veterans are sceptical about whether the games will be a new dawn for volunteering, says Stephen Cook

Stephen Cook, editor
Stephen Cook, editor

The Olympics supremo Lord Coe has certainly lived up to his undertaking that volunteers will play a large part in London 2012: there are nearly 80,000 of them - trained, primed, sworn to secrecy and ready to go - and they form nearly half the workforce. They'll be giving directions, staffing inquiry desks, stewarding sports venues, driving vehicles.

Like other aspects of the games, it's a triumph of organisation and logistics. Many volunteers will get a lot out of it: contact with the sport they love, experience of working with people, an important addition to their curriculum vitae. But what happens when the games have come and gone?

Without specific research, it's hard to be sure. On the record, many in the sector profess party-line optimism that this will be a new dawn for volunteering in general; that the eyes of Olympics volunteers will be opened to the joys of giving time to a good cause and overall levels of volunteering will finally take an upward trajectory.

Off the record, many sector veterans are more sceptical. They say most people volunteer not for a love of volunteering but because it does something for them: an interest in a particular activity, a personal connection to a cause, a commitment to their community. They say the Olympics involves volunteering, but not as we know it, and the lasting effect in a general sense is likely to be minimal.

The other aspect of the games that affects the voluntary sector is their effect on the relatively deprived communities around the Olympic park, both now and in the future. Our analysis of this issue (pages 8 and 9) indicates that there have been some helpful projects, but there is also a feeling that local people have not benefited much from the games bonanza - that they have even, at worst, been taken for granted or elbowed aside.

This is a huge challenge for the Olympics legacy company - ensuring that there is genuine local community regeneration and that the site does not become a white elephant or an asset that benefits the private sector only.

- Read our analysis on volunteering at the Olympics

- See why Debra Allcock Tyler thinks David Cameron should return the Olympics millions

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