Just after Volunteers’ Week, Third Sector ran a story highlighting findings from recent research by Join In, including one that said just 2 per cent of people have done more volunteering as a result of London 2012. Yet the same research showed that 31 per cent of people said the Games Makers had positively changed the way they viewed volunteering.
I’m a big believer that to get people inspired about volunteering we have to demonstrate that volunteers aren’t some special breed of superhumans but individuals just like them – people with busy lives who are balancing family, work, and friends but still managing to find time to give and having a great experience doing so. The images of London 2012 volunteers did that in a high-profile and powerful way that perhaps made volunteering sexy in a way it never has been before in the UK.
Yet the infrastructure wasn’t there to capitalise on this. The data on these people wasn’t available to Volunteer Centres – those that were left after the cuts of recent years forced so many to close. Links weren’t drawn between volunteering infrastructure and other infrastructure bodies to ensure a seamless, easy experience for potential new volunteers. Volunteer-involving organisations were still mainly offering the volunteer roles they need (long term, inflexible etc) rather than tailoring their offer to what people actually want to do.
Of course, it wasn’t for want of trying. Volunteering England led considerable efforts across the sectors to try to realise a better infrastructure to support the post-games volunteering legacy. But the Olympic Games organisers LOCOG were only interested in the time around the games, government were already slashing budgets, volunteer-involving organisations didn’t want to change their attitude ad approach towards volunteering (and many still don’t) and many bodies seemed to be looking for their slice of Olympic action rather than focusing on the rich harvest of potential new volunteers. And look at the reward VE got – more cuts, leading to its merger into the NCVO, while Join In gets financial support and political backing despite its newness and lack of track record in the sector.
But all is not lost. This year is the World Police and Fire Games in Northern Ireland. 2014 is the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. 2015 is the Rugby World Cup in England. If we want a strong volunteering legacy from these events, the lessons of London 2012 are there to be learnt. The question is whether everyone will take the initiative and make the changes needed or whether we’ll still be looking at low take-up rates of volunteering after these events too.
I hope not.