Life as an Olympics Games Maker

VK- VolunteerLong-standing SLA Europe member Veronica Kennard writes about her experience as an Olympics volunteer earlier this summer.

“Thank you for everything you did from the aching feet to the journeys home on the night bus, but mostly thank you for your enthusiasm, your kindness and your spirit.” – Sebastian Coe

Way back in early 2011 I completed an application form to be an Olympic Games Maker. I had no idea what I was applying for but just felt that I wanted to be able to play a very small part in the London Olympics. The form was long and I didn’t feel that was able to demonstrate any special sporting skills.

I was lucky to be chosen as an Event Services Team leader at Excel, following my interview in August 2011. Four different training sessions during 2012 still didn’t convey exactly what the role would be and I was nervous on the 1st day of the Olympics when I arrived for my shift at Excel.

Excel, an enormous conference facility in Docklands, was home to seven sports during the Olympics- boxing, fencing, judo, taekwondo, table tennis, wrestling and weight-lifting.

My first day was hell and I worried how I was going to be able to manage. My shifts were all late shifts starting around 1 in the afternoon, and continuing until after the competition finished each day – any time from 10 at night to 1.45 in the morning! I felt extremely self-conscious as I travelled by tube to Excel in my bright purple and orange uniform. Travelling turned out to be one of the best parts of the volunteer experience as the uniform gave me permission to chat to anyone and everyone on the tube. I discovered that my role was to manage a small team – from four to twelve people – the number depended on the team’s task for the day and which sport we would be involved with.

We had to quickly learn a new language – I am now familiar with what the following terms, Ingress, Egress, and Vomitories. The Event Services Team which numbered about 2,000 volunteers at Excel were involved in the Spectator Experience – in scanning tickets, crowd control and seating spectators – always with a warm smile and a big welcome. On the first day I was on my feet for about seven hours before having a half hour break to eat a rather inadequate supper. I quickly learnt to take some snacks with me and to eat without anyone noticing whilst on duty!

It was on Day 3 when I was in the fencing arena that I started to really enjoy the experience. Almost every spectator was enjoying themselves and was easy to deal with. I quickly developed a friendship with the other team leaders who worked the same shifts as me and we worked out who was good at which task. I was not good at dealing with pressing the right button on my walkie talkie, but eventually mastered how to call for assistance using the correct codes.

My role involved having to make decisions to speed up the process of getting spectators in or out of particular areas. My funniest moment was being asking to take a photo of three men dressed up in togas who had been watching a wrestling match, whilst at the same time keeping my eye on three spectators who had “chosen” to come to Excel without any tickets! I didn’t meet any gold medallists or any one famous – I even missed seeing the Prime Minister on the day he visited Excel, but I have hung a framed letter he sent to me thanking me (and 69,999 others) for my role at the Games.

One of the unexpected benefits of being a volunteer was the interaction with others at Excel – the paid contractors from G4S and other firms, the police and the armed forces. We all worked well together and had some good laughs. One of the paid contractors I worked with was a man in this 50’s who hadn’t worked for over seven years – the Olympics gave him the opportunity to be trained for a paid job.

I realised that I really loved doing a different role from my normal working day at Rothschild. I enjoyed being able to make a difference for an individual spectator and our training had been designed so that we knew we should go “the extra mile” to help anyone – Sometimes that meant helping with a person in a wheelchair, helping people who had left their belongings at security and of course showing people where the toilets were. I was called on one occasion to help a man who was stuck in the loo!

I also loved the opportunity to talk to other volunteers and spectators and occasionally athletes. I was able to have interesting conversations with people from around the world all enjoying themselves and appreciating the amazing organisation of the Olympics. My role at Excel enabled me to watch some brilliant sporting events and I was also lucky enough to get ballot tickets for fantastic events at the Olympic Stadium and at Greenwich Park.

At the end of the Olympics I really missed the camaraderie, the feeling of making a difference and being part of the great summer in London of 2012.