Will Olympics prove to be gamechanger for community spirit?

As new research shows a surge in volunteering, Sarah Freeman asks if 
we really can keep up Olympic enthusiasm

Aside from the heroic efforts of the athletes in Team GB, it was the London 2012 volunteers who summed up the spirit of the Games.

Over the course of the Olympic fortnight, 15,000 Gamesmakers stood for hours outside venues offering advice on Tube travel, shouting words of welcome through megaphones and pointing members of the public towards the nearest toilets.

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Some asked whether the volunteers were giving up their time in return for free tickets. “No,” was the answer, the only thing they got for free was the uniform. They were doing it for fun, to be part of moment in history. They are back again as the Paralympics takes over the Olympic Park, but many suspected that come the closing ceremony, London, blessed for a few weeks with a friendliness few recognised, would return to business as usual.

However, if latest research is to be believed, they might yet be proved wrong. While it’s too early to talk of a legacy assured, in the wake of the Games 3.4m people have been inspired to volunteer.

While commissioned by volunteering organisation CSV, the independent study, carried out by ICM, suggests the Olympics sparked a surge in altruism.

“If you could bottle the enthusiasm of the Olympics and the Paralympic volunteers you could change the world,” says Lucy de Grott, chief executive of CSV, “They have put down a major challenge to everyone who values the contribution that volunteering can make to society and the difference it can make to the lives of the volunteers.

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“We need to work together to provide those inspired by the Olympics with opportunities to do so. In particular we need to recognise that the investment by the Olympics in recruiting, training and support for the volunteers paid off.

“The Olympics have radically shifted the perception of volunteers in our society and it has had a particular impact on the 18 to 24 age group.”

Last year, 70,000 people signed up to CSV’s annual Make A Difference Day, but when the event gets underway this October, that figure is likely to be exceeded.

“The focus this year is on sharing professional skills and experience,” says Lucy. “At its heart our campaign is aiming to demonstrate that by volunteering with friends, family and neighbours and being an active member of the community can benefit local groups, clubs and small charities to help them survive the recession.

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“Last year our volunteers took part in a huge range of causes, from creating paths for disabled access at nursing homes to teaching older and disadvantaged young people to use the internet.”

Recently many charities, hit by Government cuts and falls in donations, have found themselves facing an uncertain future. Figures show the number of organisations winding up rose by almost 1,000 in the last year and for many, volunteers remain key to their survival.

“It is notable that impact of the volunteers during the Olympics and Paralympics has been mainly described as simply being friendly and helpful to people arriving to see the Games in what was many people a foreign city,” says Is Szoneberg, head of volunteering at CSV. “Our experience is that volunteering is as often as not about making the effort to be a good neighbour.”

To find out more about opportunities to volunteer call 0800 284 533 or go online at www.csv.org.uk/difference.

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