We can’t afford to leave the Olympic legacy to the politicians
The Olympics opened with the idea that, in Great Britain, it’s ordinary people who change society. From the moment that Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony filled the stadium with over 7,500 amateur actors, it was obvious that this was a very different Olympics. Where China gave us massed choreography, London 2012 gave us country labourers, industrial workers and suffragettes, an ordinary family in a red brick semi, and one man who gave the internet away with the words that summed it all up – ‘this is for everyone’.
From that moment on, the agenda which Lord Coe had singularly failed to get across in the build up to the games was clear. London 2012 was about the people of Great Britain, not its institutions. It celebrated real working people in the opening ceremony, astounded us with down-to-earth sports people who could so easily be our next door neighbours, and welcomed visitors with the help of over 70,000 volunteer gamesmakers and city ambassadors. That idea, not just that ‘this is for everyone’, but also that ‘this is by everyone’, swung the public behind the games and made it the most popular Olympics ever.
So after a 16-day demonstration of people power, it seems odd that we now trust the legacy to our politicians. We’re back to asking again, ‘what will they do?’
But there is no ‘they’. There’s only us, and we have to create London 2012’s legacy in our own image.
Over 70,000 people stood up and volunteered for London 2012. As well as the official Gamesmakers, Team London provided volunteer ambassadors to help people around the city, and the rail companies brought in extra staff to add smiles to station platforms. It wasn’t just a London thing, though; after taking my teenage daughter to Olympic football at Coventry’s Ricoh Arena, the city’s night-time face was transformed by the smiles of Coventry’s own volunteer ambassadors.
So it’s clear that as a nation we want to take pride in the places we live, and we’re willing to stand up and do what’s needed for those places. A renewed interest in volunteering is a lasting legacy from London 2012, although it’s not clear how that’s going to work.
Because often, the hurdles we’re asking volunteers to jump are too high, even for Jess Ennis; the road to volunteering too bumpy, even for Shanaze Reade on her BMX.
The Nesta-funded website #wewillgather went into testing as the Olympics ended. Made by Revolutionary Arts, it uses Twitter in a way that’s never been tried before. Although it’s based around www.wewillgather.co.uk, it’s not so much a volunteering website as a plug-in to Twitter, to help people keep track of what happens on that busy, fast moving network.
The website responds to any tweet with the hashtag #wewillgather, the word ‘help’ and a postcode. It starts a page based on that tweet, and invites the person who sent it to add more details. Once that transient tweet is made permanent on a page, people can offer to help, again using their Twitter account.
So while traditional volunteering websites require an organisation to set events up and manage volunteers, #wewillgather lets anybody with a Twitter account start doing good things in their community or get involved with things other people have started. It puts power in the hands of local people, and (as one-man think tank Clay Shirky predicted) lets people organise without needing an organisation.
Already, and remember it’s not even out of testing, it’s been used to get a handful of people to clear weeds from the front of a derelict building in Worthing, to hold a litterpick in a London park and to get people to a meeting to discuss Rochdale’s empty shops. In every case, the difference is small and the numbers tiny, but the potential of the site is that those small actions start to happen day in, day out, from the Scottish islands down to the South Coast.
Maybe, just maybe, the Olympic legacy isn’t going to be iconic buildings and architectural wonders, and won’t even be inspired by our fresh sporting heroes. It might be found in a generation inspired by those smiling volunteers, inspired to do the same and spend a few minutes a week being as helpful, cheerful and useful as they were. Imagine 70,000 volunteers, not in one place and wearing no uniform, but making small, unassuming changes to the places they live, every day. That would be in the best British tradition, and would be a legacy worth having.Tagged in: London 2012, olympics, volunteering, wewillgather
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