Covid pandemic should reignite the volunteering spirit of the Olympic and Commonwealth Games – Sir Tom Hughes-Hallett

It was an event which brought the elite of world athletics to Scotland, created local sporting heroes and delivered major investment and infrastructure.

Volunteers perform during the closing ceremony of the 2014 Commonwealth Games at Hampden Park in Glasgow (Picture: Andy Buchanan/AFP via Getty Images)
Volunteers perform during the closing ceremony of the 2014 Commonwealth Games at Hampden Park in Glasgow (Picture: Andy Buchanan/AFP via Getty Images)

But what made the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow all the more remarkable was the 50,000 people who gave up their time and effort to volunteer for the event.

The ‘Clydesiders’ kept the show on the road and ensured the smooth running of a competition which was watched by millions across the globe.

People from all walks of life and of all ages came forward in astonishing numbers just to be a part of it all.

And while the sporting and public health legacy of Glasgow 2014 is often discussed, it is the long-term impact of volunteering which can truly deliver social and economic transformation for communities across the country.

The Games in Glasgow capped off a memorable couple of years of major events which began with the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

It is on the back of those spectacles that the charity Spirit of 2012 was launched to, among other things, ensure that the volunteering culture which emerged in that period can be continued for future generations.

There’s rarely been a better time to focus on the positive impact volunteering has for both those who carry it out, and the communities who reap the benefits.

As the country begins to open up again, 2022 will see a return of large-scale events which depend so heavily on local people to keep the wheels turning.

Like Glasgow, Birmingham too is to host the Commonwealth Games next summer, with tens of thousands of volunteers expected to take part.

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There will also be the 150th Open at St Andrews, the women’s European Championships in football and major championships in cycling.

Away from sport, celebrations like the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee will involve hundreds of thousands of volunteers across the country putting on street parties and pageants.

So too will the 75th anniversary of the NHS which, after the last two years, will be commemorated with more gusto than ever.

Even smaller events like the music festival Celtic Connections – which brings so much talent and ingenuity onto the main stage – depend on the goodwill of the wider public.

For many who have taken part in major events, the habit of volunteering has continued and led to a range of other activities which has benefited both themselves and all around them.

With so many opportunities on the horizon, the right approach must be taken now to make sure that we build on this year of volunteering and continue it into next year.

This week marks both the publication of a report into volunteering and the launch of an inquiry by Spirit of 2012 that is looking at how sporting, cultural and community events can increase their social and economic impact on society. The inquiry’s launch report looks at how events – including those being held next year – can be used to boost volunteering.

The report draws on an exclusive ICM poll on volunteering habits across the country. It found that 40 per cent of UK adults said they had volunteered before or since lockdown last March, with nine per cent – the equivalent of 4.8 million people – saying they give up their time regularly.

The study shone a light on why people choose to do this. Some 86 per cent said it was to improve their local community, while a similar number remarked that it improves their own physical and mental health.

Three-quarters of those surveyed also thought it enhanced people’s skills and job prospects. Those findings in themselves show the value of volunteering – it benefits both the recipients and the volunteers.

So now that the benefits are found to be so overwhelming, how do we encourage more people to embark on this? The research found more than half of people would be more likely to volunteer if they knew there were things to do that would be of interest to them, and that number includes a great deal of people who have never volunteered before.

A similar proportion said more flexibility would be key for them, including more one-off tasks such as volunteering at an event, or things that could be carried out in their own time, or online from their home. The report calls for events to be used to recruit and champion volunteers, with football matches used to sign-up volunteers in grassroots sport.

It all shows just how much work we have to do to build the country’s army of volunteers.

The Commonwealth Games meant so much to Glasgow as a city, and indeed for the whole country. It’s so vitally important that we preserve the legacy of both that and the Olympic Games two years prior.

Success in doing so won’t just result in improved sporting facilities and athletic performance.

The aims of the Spirit of 2012 report and the inquiry which will commence over the next year are not to lament the loss of volunteering opportunities, but instead to reinvigorate people and communities once more.

It will deliver wide-ranging change for all, improving the well-being of communities and enhancing the mental and physical health of all who take part.

After the chaos and anxiety of the last 20 months, there has never been a better time to come together and reignite the Olympic and Commonwealth spirit which lies in us all.

Sir Tom Hughes-Hallett is chair of the Spirit of 2012 inquiry

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