Thursday 2 August 2012

The Olympics and the voluntary sector

Well , here I am at the Veledrome for the Olympic cycling finals. A gold for Hoy, Pendleton and team? I hope so! The veledrome is a gorgeous building , though I'm also rather fond of the Veledrome in Herne Hill; the hound and I usually pop in if we are making our way to Dulwich Park. This was the early scene of Bradley Wiggins training!

But it is worth reflecting on the role of the country's charity sector in making this a great Games. We all know about the role of the thousands of volunteers. But there have been many national charities intimately connected with the Games. Take the example of the RNIB.

When London was awarded the Games there was cross partysupport and ministerial commitment to the most inclusive and accessible Olympics ever. LOCOG, ODA and the Olympic partners have been rising to that challenge with guidance from RNIB. All those involved have been working hard to guarantee that blind and partially sighted people get the best from this commitment, demonstrating that the UK leads the world in this practice. We can be really proud of this achievement , which could not have happened without the power and strength of RNIB. It's often fashionable to disparage national charities but no single local or regional charity could have done what RNIB has achieved.

This began with the ticketing . RNIB worked closely with LOCOG on an accessible ticketing strategy, which included companion's tickets for sighted guides, a website and payment system usable with assistive technology and colour contrasting tickets to help people with low vision. RNIB also ensured that spectator information relating to the tickets will be available in Braille, audio, and larger print.

Then of course lots of blind people wanted to participate in all aspects of the games, and they have; with 4 blind torchbearers, and 5 blind Para-Olympic torchbearers. RNIB supported more than 50 blind and partially sighted people to find Olympic jobs, and over 70 blind and partially sighted people in applying to the volunteering programme, Many of these roles are "Front of house".

Possibly best of all is the agreement RNIB secured with LOCOG of an audio description service at every event for spectators across the country and to cap this, the first ever live audio description on TV of a major event; The Opening ceremony.

Working with the BBC, RNIB has been helping train the commentators and BBC colleagues have been working up to the wire to solve some big technical challenges. And lots of the cultural events included audio description.

The opening ceremony was a triumph. Interesting that a number of MPs criticised the event; Burley for it's "multicultural crap" and Halfon's criticism of Shami Chakarabati of Liberty for helping escort the Union Flag . But one of the great features of the ceremony was the celebration of the country's civil society. So whether that was the suffragettes or the Jarrow marchers ,we were reminded that one of this country's great contributions to the world has been our tradition of a strong and vibrant civil society ; there to champion the excluded and to advocate for a fairer and more just society. Messrs Burley and Halfon should reflect on what is happening in Russia where NGOs are being suppressed for expressing dissent. A vibrant democracy encourages and celebrates organisations like Liberty.

So for me the glory of that Opening was how it brought together the distinct and important roles of our country's civil society; it's ability to galvanise volunteers , to provide services for beneficiaries and to speak truth to power. Long my that continue.

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