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Three Cheers for the Volunteers: London Calling inside the Olympic Park

30 July 2012 Tom Hunter

To all the roller-skating nurses, cycling doves, venue guides, drivers and especially everyone posted outside of the main Olympic sites in the rain, London Calling salutes the 2012 Olympics Volunteers

“Where have you come from?” asked the smiling Olympic Park volunteer as we approached her to take a picture of us grinning madly in front of the main Olympic stadium.

Clearly all the volunteers had been well trained in the art of making visitors to London feel especially welcome, but they must have missed out the section on how to recognise a genuinely enthusiastic Londoner, because for moment there she didn’t quite believe us when we answered,

“Er, Hoxton.”  

“What, really?”

“Yes, really.” And indeed why not?  Our chosen route from Hoxton Square to Stratford had proven refreshingly simple, with the whole journey from doorstep to inside the Olympic Park taking less than an hour, including the security check. In fact it took us longer to walk to Liverpool St Station to catch the train than it did to travel from there to a good photo spot outside the main stadium to get our picture taken.  

Londoners are trained to appreciate the subtle arts of disappointment from an early age, so naturally we were prepped for crowded trains, long and winding queues while exposed to the elements (rain, sun or temperate cloud, they’re all equally bad to a Brit mentality) and an aggressive security presence poised to clap down on any sign of inappropriate fun or potential logo infringement.

Instead we encountered an army of friendly volunteers lining Stratford station and the short walk to the park entrance in such a profusion of eager helpfulness they were in danger of outnumbering the actual visitors and sending the more recalcitrant Brits scuttling back to the safety of the Underground.

The volunteers were clearly in a triumphalist mood, no doubt buoyed up by the stunning response to Danny Boyle’s “bold, bonkers, brilliant and British” opening night ceremony and ready to put their hours of training and commitment to best use whether they were selling programmes, providing directions or helping newly converted Olympics fans like us with an impromptu photo opportunity.

Perhaps it was because we were there on day one that the atmosphere amongst the staff inside the park was that little bit extra bit special, but somehow I suspect as the results roll in and the medals stack up things are only going to get more exciting for everyone involved and the idea that “I was there” will come to mean more with every day.

And afterwards, there’s the legacy.

The big question for a lot of Londoner’s was always going to be what should we do with the Olympic Park after all the sports is finished?

I’d suggest that the first thing to do would be to make sure and go visit it. While the architecture of the stadiums is the current big draw, it’s the invitingly open spaces in-between them that are likely to be a popular attraction with visitors after the Olympics, and a city like London definitely benefits anytime new public space is opened up and made both accessible and appealing.

It will be fascinating to see the proposed Tech City hub take shape and the opening up of new natural wildlife sites alongside the more obvious sporting stadiums and new Olympic museum, but before the temporary stadiums come down and the gates are open to the public I have a modest proposal that maybe someone at LOCOG would like to consider.

When the Games are done and the Olympic Village is as empty as some of the corporate sponsorship boxes were on the morning after the opening ceremony, why not let the volunteers move in for a week or so and have their run of the place undisturbed from interruptions of waves of eager visitors looking for help or just keen to get their pictures taken.

In the meantime London Calling would like to offer three heartfelt cheers for all of the Olympic volunteers for making 2012 a truly Golden year for London.

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