Craig Dearden-Phillips: Let's forget the naysayers and follow the Olympics' example of self-belief

Their success has a vital message for the sector, says our columnist

Craig Dearden-Phillips
Craig Dearden-Phillips

So now it's all over, what did the Olympics and Paralympics mean to you? I feel overjoyed about them. We took a big risk and it came off. Few, you notice, are still saying we shouldn't have hosted them. For me, the games showed the better side of Britain, countering perfectly the images a year ago of people carting off plasma TVs from burning shopping centres. And who could not be deeply inspired by the medal-clad boys and girls-next-door who have laboured for years on a pommel-horse in Peterborough or the hoops in Hartlepool?

But let's be honest here, the games have always suffered a chorus of naysayers in the third sector. You lot - and you know who you are - have been proved wrong. Yes, the games have indeed sucked up money from grass-roots sport and left an unclear social legacy. But the bigger story is the games' enormously positive effect on both our economy and our society. The Paralympic Games, for example, have done more to challenge Mr Average's view of disability than a million charity billboards. And the Olympics as a whole have been a great example of how big national projects can revive depressed local economies where jobs and hope are in short supply.

Some of you will still insist that the games legacy won't help the UK economy or those most in need. Again, I think you'll be proved wrong. The games were a brilliant advert for Britain in what is, essentially, a global market for investment. I watched some of the games from overseas. From abroad you see how Britain looks - not just the incredible stadia but also the cities, parks and countryside. You see British people not only winning, but welcoming people from all over the world.

Furthermore, you get a strong feel for the diversity, vibrancy and warmth of this country. The games showed that there are fewer easier, freer or safer places in the world to do business - or do good - than here in the UK. We have the English language and a stunning cultural life. We have world-class universities, a cluster of creative industries and strong international relationships that give us influence out of proportion to our size. On top of this, we have a powerful civil society sector that is the envy of the world.

Did we need the Olympics and Paralympics to tell us all of this? I think we did. Because of the economic crisis, we have lost a lot of confidence. The games restored our view of ourselves as a 'can-do' country, rather than a place that is simply managing its own decline.

What can the sector take from the Olympics? I say that we urgently need to move the dial from 'Out of money and out of hope,' to a more positive narrative about ourselves and our future. Like our successful Olympians and Paralympians, we must find self-belief, dig deep and put in the hard graft needed to achieve our goals.

Contact Craig, who writes in a personal capacity, at www.stepping-out.biz.

Craig Dearden-Phillips is managing director of Stepping Out and a Liberal Democrat councillor in Suffolk

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