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Olympics legacy: A long-term legacy takes a long time to grow, says Phil Sherwood


In our world of instant gratification, many expected the feel-good factor of London 2012 to just keep going and going. But real legacy doesn’t work like that. It requires a secure foundation on which to build a sustainable model. That’s very different from the model required to deliver one-off events like the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

The organising committee for London 2012 worked at an incredible tempo and intensity. They lit the flame of inspiration; now we need to keep that flame alive. When the organising committee was disbanded, the “volunteering flame” was passed to the established organisations of the voluntary sector. These organisations are structured for the long term. Volunteering at the grass-roots level whether in sport or not, requires long-term commitment, over years rather than days and in foul weather as well as fair.

There have been significant successes in the year since that wonderful summer. In the sporting sector alone, Sport England has attracted 40,000 new volunteers to its Sport Makers programme, Glasgow has been overwhelmed with applicants to volunteer at the 2014 Commonwealth Games, and new organisations such as Sported have demonstrated that you don’t have to be a sports participant to get involved. And it’s not just in sport; there has been an upturn, however small, in volunteering in general – perhaps because of the Olympic feel-good factor. Less visibly, large corporates, recognising the benefits of an engaged workforce, have been seeking to identify lessons they can learn – about values, ethos and culture – from a diverse, inclusive team assembled in the biggest recruitment drive since the Second World War.

After the Commonwealth Games in Manchester in 2002, many people thought that the volunteer legacy had been missed when there was an element of inertia in the first year after those Games. Eleven years on, the Manchester Event Volunteers programme is going from strength to strength.

Everyone who was inspired by London 2012 can play their part in keeping that flame alive and in the country’s collective consciousness. Legacy is a marathon, not a sprint.

* Phil Sherwood was Head of Volunteering and Workforce Training on the Organising Committee of London 2012. He now runs a consultancy, Purple and Red.