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Odds Blog: Sue’s Olympic Experiences (8)

Posted by indigodream on 12 August, 2012

10th  August 2012

Back in 2010, the call went out for Olympic volunteers – officially know as ‘Gamesmakers’ – it seemed like a ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity so I persuaded Richard that we should both apply. The selection process is quite lengthy, so we comfortably forgot about our applications, though we did get regular “gamesmaker” emails to remind us that we were still in the process. Like many things, it seems like a great idea at the time, though we had no idea that 2012 would turn out to be so eventful!

Richard and I are both volunteers, but our journeys, and subsequent experiences have been very different – as I blogged earlier in the year…

I had assumed that my Gamesmaker journey had ended in February, but in June I was offered a role with the “Venue Management – Support Operations team” at the rowing village in Royal Holloway in near Egham (West London). I was ambivalent, because at this stage we had four greyhounds and we knew that Lou had cancer – it was a lot to take on, but I accepted the offer (slightly against my better judgement)……..

In hindsight, I should have realised that the writing was on the wall when I went to collect my uniform and accreditation pass on July 7th. There were around 400 people waiting in front of me and I had to queue for almost 2 hours – though the process of being fitted was very efficient once I got to it. Every other volunteer I’ve talked to, including Richard, said they just walked straight in and collected their kit with no wait at all!!!

At this late stage, the only training being offered was a half-day venue-specific training on 8th July. There were around 40 volunteers at the training, though they all seemed to have had a lot more information about what they were likely to be doing.  I was a bit worried about this, but I perked up after an inspirational presentation by the village manager, Miriam Luke, herself an Olympic rower and fantastically motivational. The next stage of the training was a ‘familiarisation’ walk-through the venue with our teams – except I didn’t have a team – there was no-one there from Support Operations. I was a bit disconcerted, but never mind, I did the walk-round with the Workforce Manager – at this point I was worried but interested, as the Royal Holloway has a beautiful campus and the student accommodation here is a lot more plush than I remember!

Once we’d done our walk-through, the Workforce Manager dropped me off at the Support Ops office and left me with them to find out more about my role. This did not go well – the Support Ops team were not expecting me, they thought I’d been sent to the wrong place and took some convincing that I was actually part of their team – this included scrutinising my official accreditation. Once they’d reluctantly accepted that I was meant to be with them, I then got on the wrong foot with one of the team members who expected me to sort my shifts there and then, but I had not been told that I would need my diary so I didn’t have it with me. She then dismissed me, saying that they had no time to do any training with me, or even to escort me back to Alex and the rest of the volunteers or to the exit.

I left the site feeling very despondent – I walked alone through the university’s wooded paths, looking for the shuttle bus back to Egham, enviously admiring the “transport” volunteers, who were being shown to the bus by their team leader, laughing and chatting all the way – all together now – “aaaaawww”!

I almost gave up on volunteering at that point, but decided that I should persevere – I emailed my so-called ‘team’ to arrange some shifts…

  • Friday 20th July: Funnily enough, when I arrived for my first shift, the Support Ops the team was not expecting me – they thought I’d gone to the wrong office and was looking for Workforce Check-in. I assured them that I was a support ops volunteer and, after checking my official accreditation, reluctantly accepted that I was in the right place. There was some work to be done, doing a final inspection of the athlete’s accommodation and checking that maintenance work had been completed. However, some of the blocks were occupied and the ‘staffers’ didn’t want to risk disturbing them before 9am. This meant sitting around for 2 hours with nothing to do – as I’d had to get up at 5am to arrive at 7am I wasn’t best pleased. However I did enjoy inspecting the accommodation, but there wasn’t really enough work for all of us – I left the site in the afternoon dispirited and frustrated….
  • Saturday 21st July: I was determined to be useful today, so I turned up at 7am and went straight to the Workforce Manager to ask whether I could be seconded to another team if Support Ops did not have enough work to go round; he was sympathetic but unable to offer any solutions. But today we had a proper Team Leader on duty – he, at least, welcomed me to the role and briefed myself and the other volunteer on the day’s main task – a final check-over an accommodation block that was due to be occupied that afternoon. He was the only member of the team who showed any interest in involving me as volunteer, for which I was grateful. I felt much more motivated after that and was more optimistic about future shifts.
  • Saturday 28th July:  When I arrived there were four ‘staffers’ on, but the Team Leader who had been so helpful the previous week was off. I asked about work and was told that there was none.  I asked the workforce manager whether any of the other teams needed extra people, but he thought that the whole village was quiet.  Eventually I did get the chance to check some keys in one of the blocks, and I did the washing-up for Workforce Check-in (despite them telling me it wasn’t my job – but I desperate to do something!). The Support Ops overall manager (not the team leader that I met last week) is a man of supreme rudeness – when one of the staffers asked him whether he had any work I could be doing he just said that “Sue can go home if Sue wants to”. Well, for one thing, Sue is sitting here right in front of you AND Sue doesn’t want to go home, Sue wants to be useful, having made a big effort to get here,and, incidentally, Sue has missed  the chance of a cruise to Barking Creek in order to fulfil this obligation!!!! I left at 9am – seething!

I was due to go back on Sunday 29th, but the thought of it made me feel sick so I resigned! I was alternatively disappointed and furious and gladly gave my feedback to the Team Leader that had had been so kind during my second shift. It turns out that he lives just round the corner from me, so we got together for an informal chat later – there seems to have been an endemic lack of training, organisation, leadership and guidance for the volunteers in the Support Ops team.

I doubt whether they’ll ever read this blog, but I am grateful to two of the volunteers that I met during my shifts – Fiona and Gareth, who’d been with the team for longer and really helped me to feel more involved.

So, what was my outstanding contribution to the comfort of the athletes?

  • During my first shift I did a final look over an accommodation block – each kitchen was fitted with 8 mugs and 5 spoons – except some only had 3 spoons, and one kitchen only had 1 – we informed housekeeping immediately!
  • During my second shift, we did a final snagging visit of another accommodation block – in some of the kitchens, not all of the fridges had been ‘de-branded’ – we had to take this seriously – any electrical appliances that had not been manufactured by an official sponsor had to have the brand name covered with masking tape! Now I understand that the sponsors have paid mind-boggling amounts of money for the privilege, but the de-branding of appliances that only the athletes would see did seem a bit silly!

Being a ‘teaspoon monitor’ did tickle my sense of the absurd, but I actually enjoyed walking round and inspecting the accommodation – I do appreciate attention to detail. When I worked for Tesco, they used to say that if a customer had a bad experience and made a complaint, they’d need 10 good experiences to overcome it. So who knows, maybe averting a complaint about lack of teaspoons may have helped to develop and maintain goodwill amongst the rowers!

On that basis, I suppose I should have given the team 10 opportunities to welcome me properly as a volunteer – but my time is too precious – after all, if I’m to do nothing I’d rather be doing it at home 🙂

Although I’ve had less than inspiring experience as a volunteer, I do not regret applying, or having a go at making it work. Richard has had a fantastic time as a volunteer, as have others I’ve spoken to.

If we apply to be volunteers at Rio then I’ll just have to make  sure that I apply for a job at the stadium – it’s obviously the place to be – and we have got 4 years to learn the lingo!

One Response to “Odds Blog: Sue’s Olympic Experiences (8)”

  1. Halfie said

    Sue, I’m sorry you had a bad experience as a volunteer. I suppose out of 70,000 volunteers there was bound to be at least one for whom things didn’t go smoothly. Not that this helps, but… in my personal experience of being on the receiving end of the volunteers’ work (being welcomed off the DLR, shown the way to ExCeL etc.) I have to say it was fantastic.

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