Pride and Patriotism - Volunteering for London 2012

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"I love the city and I wanted to help show it off."

By Karice Baker-Quow 

Even the most ardent sceptic is in awe of the success of the London Olympics.  The predictions of transport chaos, competitors manoeuvring around cones, cranes and rubble in an unfinished stadium have all been laid to rest after a spectacular opening ceremony and fistfuls of gold medals for Team GB. 

Perhaps the biggest success so far has been the record number of volunteers who have gotten involved with the preparation and execution of this complex international event, seemingly for little personal gain.

One such person is Team London Ambassador Sav Jeyendran, one of the 250,000 people who applied to volunteer for the Olympics.  Sav, 25 from London applied not long after his graduation. He wasn’t working and decided to take the opportunity to do something partly to ‘take my mind of not having a job’.  He decided to apply for a position around the Olympics and the rest is history 

“The fact that I’d be volunteering for the Olympics did make this opportunity more appealing because, let’s face it, it is a once in a lifetime opportunity, but beyond that was the opportunity to help the city.  I love the city and I wanted to help show it off”.

It’s not often that showing off is seen as a positive personality trait but when you love the city you live in so much that you want to show it off to the rest of the world, I think it can be forgiven. 

Sav describes his role as an Ambassador as ‘a tour guide’ but that’ll be his modesty kicking in.  Yes, handing out maps and giving people directions would constitute some of what being a tour guide entails, but there was a little more to it than that.  Sav took the opportunity to really talk to people and used his initiative to go that little extra mile to help ordinary Londoners and tourists alike by making sure that he was up-to-date with the latest travel news and local goings on. Oh, and let us not forget that Sav also briefly turned a blind eye to good fashion sense by bravely sporting the trademark pink and purple polyester – yes polyester - uniform.  A true Olympic hero if ever there was one.

Similarly, thousands of people turned out in the wake of last year’s riots to help clean up and repair their communities.  So what is it about major events that makes people suddenly want to step up and get involved?  Especially since the news would have us believe that Britain is increasingly becoming an individualist society seriously lacking in community spirit.

“Community spirit is definitely less prevalent today than in the past” Says Sav, “Mainly due to misplaced fears. I think, in the case of the riots clean up, that was more about control.  For a moment people had lost control of their communities and the clean up afterwards was a way of getting it back.  Big events like the Olympics offer a small window for people to feel that they have the same type of influence”

In addition to engaging with members of the public, Sav also had the opportunity to meet with other like-minded volunteers.  “It was great because I met other people who were from cities outside of London and even some who weren’t from the UK!  They all wanted to get involved because they really wanted to help make the London Olympics a success.”  

It would appear that for the first time in a long time people are actually – dare I say it – proud to be British?  I’d better be careful here because it seems that ‘Patriotism’ is becoming the new swear word of 2012 with The Smiths front man Morrissey recently likening the charged Olympic atmosphere with that of Nazi Germany. Perhaps we’re so used to ‘Brit-Bashing’ (sometimes with very good reason) that the sight of hundreds of thousands of us actually celebrating Britishness is a major shock to the system?

“I would have never have described myself as patriotic.” Says Sav “But there were times when I was really proud of Britain.  No-one else does what we do and there is definitely a ‘wow’ factor.  I mean, take the changing of the guards; so many people turn up to see what is essentially a shift change.  It’s amazing.”

Yes it is but national pride and being part of a ‘once in a lifetime opportunity’ are not aspects that all volunteer roles can offer, so has Olympic volunteering now made it more difficult for smaller and perhaps less exciting volunteer opportunities to attract the same level of excitement and commitment from its volunteers? Well, Sav isn’t deterred:

“Being an Olympic Ambassador hasn’t put me off taking on other voluntary roles.  It’s not so much about where you volunteer or how high profile the organisation you’re volunteering for is, it’s more about the role itself.  It’s also about you.  Volunteering can be construed as being a bit selfish – but a good kind of selfish.  Personally, I felt that I took and took so it felt really good to give something back.  I’ve come away from this experience with a big smile on my face.”

And who could ask for more than that?

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Top answer

Nice one Sav! Just shows that given such a high profile event as the Olympics volunteering is now recognised for the crucial role it plays in the nations life. Praise for all those who took part but would be nice to see the praise spread out to all those non Olympic volunteers, providing their time to less high profile activities.

Fantastic! Let's hope that one of the legacies of the Olympics is that volunteering becomes something everyone wants to do!