Analysis: Will the Olympics really leave a legacy for volunteering?

Third Sector canvasses the views of the sector, and seven Games Makers outline how the Olympics was for them

Games Maker Beano Moran
Games Maker Beano Moran

Cheerful, patient and courteous, the impact of the volunteer Games Makers on the Olympics has been noted by everyone, from Locog chairman Sebastian Coe to the people attending events.

But as the volunteer Games Makers pause for breath between the end of the Olympics and the start of the Paralympics, just what will be the legacy for charities?

An estimated 80,000 volunteers will have been involved in the games by the time they finally close in September, but how many of those and other members of the public will go on to assist charities?  

Mike Locke, head of policy at Volunteering England, says that only time will tell if the enthusiasm of the Games Makers will translate into a surge in volunteering – but he is optimistic. "The majority of Games Makers have volunteered for something before and will do so again, especially if they have had a good experience," he says. "The way to get people to volunteer again is to make sure they feel special and important, which I think has happened."

Ben Kernighan, deputy chief executive of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, agrees. "People volunteer for specific reasons such as interest in a cause, but they also get things they didn’t expect, such as personal satisfaction, new skills and meeting new people," he says.

Locke and Kernighan emphasise the importance of making sure volunteers feel appreciated, but it is here that the thorny issue of expenses arises.

Meals and travel around London are covered by Locog, but Games Makers have had to cover their own expenses to travel to London for events and the training sessions leading up to the games.

"We believe that good practice for using volunteers is that all their expenses should be paid," says Locke. "Locog listened to us but it didn’t accept our case because no previous organising committee had done it before."

Kernighan says: "It’s really important that volunteers are given accurate information about what the deal is so people are clear about the expenses – ideally, all expenses should be paid."

The potential for an Olympic legacy in volunteering rests on several factors, including the ease with which Games Makers can find new volunteering opportunities and the stories they tell to family, friends and colleagues about their experience.

"The great thing about an event on the scale of the Olympics is that people will talk about their experiences and others will listen to them," says Kernighan. "Word of mouth is one of the best ways to get people involved."

Below, seven Games Makers outline their experiences of volunteering. We will speak to them again in six months to see if they have continued to volunteer.


Case studies:

Katherine BroomhallKatherine Broomhall, 30, occupational therapist from Bristol

"I volunteered because I am a triathlete. I’ve raced Iron Man distances and competed in age-group championships. I probably would have come to the games as a spectator anyway, but this was a once in a lifetime chance to be part of the Olympics.

"The application process started a year and a half ago. I applied through the website and took it from there.

"So far, I’ve found the experience of volunteering for the games really positive. There are lots of lovely people in my team and the public have been really friendly. It’s quite hard work, though, standing around and getting cold. The highlight for me has been the atmosphere at the events.

"I had the choice of where to volunteer in the games because I do triathlons, so they shortlisted me for those events. I have volunteered before at the Bristol triathlon and I will continue to volunteer in the future."

Chris Morgan,Chris Morgan, 62, sports coach from Cheshire

"I’m involved with sport for my job, so I volunteered. I also compete in triathlons and have represented the country in world and European championships. This is my only chance in my lifetime to help at an Olympics in my own country. I also volunteered for the Commonwealth Games in Manchester in 2001. I did it this time to be part of it and to put something back into sport. I went through the online system to apply, was vetted, interviewed and then picked.

"So far it has been an absolutely fantastic experience. I’ve met lots of people and I have a nice team. We have done practice events and training sessions together since last August.

"The highlight for me is the atmosphere and being part of it. People don’t realise how big an event this is until they come down and see it. The shifts are long and hard work, though.

"I might volunteer again. It would depend on the event and the time I had available."

Beano MoranBeano Moran, 38, restaurant manager from Cheltenham, Gloucestershire

"I just felt I wanted something extra to do, so I volunteered. It’s about doing something with the public and I enjoy working with people. It’s more relaxed than my real job and people appreciate you more because there is no money involved. I have found volunteering to be excellent so far. You are meeting the public on a level playing field and your role is just to be nice and helpful. I find managing the crowds hard work because of the sheer volume of people, but being part of this whole experience is great. The organisers asked me about my previous experience – they take it on board if you have a preference for the events where you help – but I was happy to go anywhere. I would definitely volunteer again, but I have two young children, so time is limited and I have to balance things between my family and my job as it is."

Sam LudlowSam Ludlow, 30, corporate social responsibility manager from Croydon, Surrey

"I volunteered because I thought it would be exciting to be part of the Olympics. I do a lot of sport myself and sit on the board of the Serpentine Running Club. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity. It was easy for me to get a volunteering place because of my voluntary job for the running club. It put me one step ahead of a lot of other applicants. It’s been very tiring so far, but it’s good to be on the Olympic courses. A highlight for me has been volunteering at the cycling events – I had lovely members of the public who turned out, went home and then came out again for the next day. I didn’t get a choice as to where to volunteer. I have volunteered for the running club already and I will continue to do so. This has certainly not put me off. I have marshalled cross-country races and it amazes me when people are unwilling to volunteer. We take stuff out of sport, so we have a duty to put something back into it."

Simonie UnderhaySimonie Underhay, 39, IT worker from Sheffield

"I volunteered because I just thought it would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be involved. I just said I’d be happy to be placed anywhere and they gave me Greenwich, which has been great. I’m on Sheffield Council’s volunteer list for major sporting events so whatever comes up and wherever they need volunteers, I go. The last two events I volunteered for were the Sheffield Half Marathon and the Race for Life in aid of Cancer Research UK. The best thing about being an Olympic volunteer is just the whole atmosphere, not only here in Greenwich, but in London as a whole. We got to see some of the show jumping, which was great."

Laura BaillieLaura Baillie, 18, student from Manchester

"I’ve just finished my A-levels and I really wanted to be part of the Olympics and to experience being involved. I was assigned to Greenwich and it’s been really nice. We got to sneak into a couple of the events. We watched show jumping and dressage. I’ve never seen any equestrian events before and it was really impressive – the jumps are huge. My highlight has been meeting lots of people from the team. It has been great getting to know everyone.

"I’ve done quite a lot of volunteering at a disabled social club where I live. I’m taking a gap year next to go to Paris and work as an au pair. After that I’m going to study physiotherapy. The volunteering has really helped me prepare for a career in physiotherapy because it has given me the communication skills that are vital for the profession. As part of my course I have to complete 1,000 hours in NHS hospitals, so I’ll have to get used to working a lot for free."

Emma SmithEmma Smith, 20, student at De Montfort University in Leicester

"I just wanted to be part of the Olympics: I would have done anything just to be part of the atmosphere because it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I think it's a good experience to have on my CV – any employer would see it as a bonus because it’s for such a big organisation. Anything that makes you stand out has to be good.

"I’ve volunteered previously for things like a dogs home and kids clubs. I’d really like to continue doing other stuff as well.

"Meeting all the other people on the workforce has been great. Everyone, all the visitors, have been really friendly. The best bit has been talking to complete strangers and getting to know them. Because of the uniform, people talk to you on the train and ask about what you’ve been doing, it’s really great." 


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