Tom Greatrex the Games Maker

Written by Ben Duckworth on 28 September 2012 in Culture
Tom Greatrex MP shares his volunteering experience

This article is from the October 2012 issue of Total Politics

Was it just a fun experience, or something more meaningful?
It was fun, but more importantly meaningful because people from lots of different backgrounds came together to do something they wouldn’t otherwise get the chance to do. I hope it gets more people helping with grassroots sports. 
The buzz you get from being involved at any age, even if you’re not a good athlete, is really worthwhile. Some 70,000 people volunteered and gave up their time to get involved in the Olympics. If they weren’t already, a good chunk of them will be ripe for being involved in local sporting activities.  
When you next bump into Ed Miliband, and he asks you about your experience, what will you say to him? Which themes should he pick up and run with? 
David Cameron’s Big Society is quite a hard concept to grasp, whereas the Olympic experience was the reality of people actually coming together and getting involved. Participants in Glasgow, where I was, weren’t necessarily all from the city, but there was a tangible sense of working as a team. 
It is very easy to be cynical about this teamwork, but it is definitely there and if we could grasp it, we could build on that spirit - and then everyone benefits. In terms of domestic politics, it is a good way of manifesting within communities some of the things we talk about: involvement and people making a contribution.  
How do you convert the Olympic feel-good factor into something lasting which changes society for the better? 
You maximise the positive experiences of those who were involved, who could share what they got out of it and utilise that in other activities that need voluntary support. 
There are lots of things that don’t happen because they can’t get volunteers. The key is not to try to overlay or enforce something from the top down, which wouldn’t work as well.
Volunteering adds a sense of cheerfulness to the way participants do things. For example, paid football stewards behave very differently from those who stewarded at the Olympics because they just wanted to get involved. And so many people picked up on that.
The Commonwealth Games will be staged in Glasgow in 2014, and now the organisers have been inundated with volunteers.
It shows that if you’ve got the right event and the right form of mobilisation, people will jump in. But we’ve taken a while to see this progress.
Tom Greatrex MP is shadow energy minister and Labour MP for Rutherglen and Hamilton West

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