For a city, winning the right to host a sporting event such as the Olympic Games presents an opportunity to showcase itself and the country. But with the emphasis on building new stadiums and ensuring the games run smoothly, the long-term benefits for society from these events are often forgotten.
In much the same way that London 2012 promises to breath new life into one of the poorer parts of the capital, the decision in November to allow Glasgow to host the 2014 Commonwealth Games could help tackle the high levels of deprivation in the east end of the city and improve the life chances of some of the UK’s most disadvantaged citizens.
The successful Glasgow bid emphasised the economic benefits the games would have for the city. These are certainly not lost on the Scottish government or Glasgow Council – between them they are splitting the £288m running costs 80/20 – which both expect 1,000 jobs to be created and a direct financial benefit of £20m.
But the council’s leader Steven Purcell is just as keen to stress the lasting legacy the games will leave. Key to this is the games village, which, once the athletes have left, will be used as social and affordable housing.
Purcell says: “Local people will be the first to benefit from the 1,000 new homes that will be built. It would have been easy to build a games village that simply delivered a housing project but we were clear we wanted a community legacy and so we will create a public space and park as part of the development. Physical well-being means nothing if you don’t create a quality of life and sense of well-being.”
Susan Molloy, business manager at the Whitehill New Learning Community in Glasgow’s east end, is optimistic that the games will offer a real opportunity to improve living conditions in the area.
“People will see lots of new development and it will directly impact on their whole lives. For example, one of Whitehill’s former pupils is working for a company that has a contract to build one of the venues and is coming back to school to talk to the students,” she explains.
But Molloy, whose organisation oversees the running of nursery, primary and secondary schools in the area, warns that lessons must be learned from past mistakes.
“Some of the tenement buildings will be coming down. When the tenements in the Gorbals were cleared in the 1960s, decisions were taken too quickly. Tower blocks were put up in their place and the spirit of the area was ripped out. I hope that the architects will take that into consideration when the details are put together,” she adds.
Key to this is ensuring the organisers regularly consult community groups about the development of the games, says Molloy. “We need to get those people buying into it. It is a real challenge to get people’s interest in the east end, which the games have. It needs to be capitalised on now. People are very suspicious because they have lived in awful conditions and have low expectations.”
One of the features of both Olympic and Commonwealth Games is the army of volunteers that are recruited to help steward crowds and deliver behind-the-scenes services. It is estimated that 15,000 will be needed for the Glasgow Games and up to 70,000 for the London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games.
George Thomson, chief executive of Volunteer Development Scotland, says recruiting the volunteers will not be a problem, but hopes the Games will inspire the wider community to get involved.
He explains: “We want to involve a lot more than the 15,000. The games are a unifying idea and there is a variety of ways people can relate to them. If it’s just two weeks sitting in front of the TV it will be lost on people.”
This may seem a bit ephemeral, but Manchester is a good example of a city that embraced the concept when it hosted the Commonwealth Games in 2002, and it is still reaping the benefits.
Like Glasgow and London, the 2002 games were centred in the deprived east end of the city, which had been left with a social and economic void when traditional industries closed down in the 1970s. Manchester was, perhaps, the first city to focus on the long-term legacy that the games could offer socially excluded groups. A pre-games volunteer programme was established in 1999 with the aim of recruiting those furthest away from the labour market. Those targeted included the unemployed, disabled, those on incapacity benefits, and people from ethnic minorities, lone parents, and young people.
Mumtaz Bashir, the architect of the Manchester pre-volunteer programme – a role she is now filling for the 2012 London Olympic Games – explains that outreach workers were appointed to go into the 23 regeneration areas of north west England to spread the word.
She says: “Local people didn’t have the skills, knowledge, experience and confidence to apply as a volunteer. So the outreach workers went into communities and used the interest in the games to inspire them to come forward.”
About 6,000 people engaged in the programme, with half achieving their first educational qualification. The programme involved undertaking 30 hours of targeted learning in skills used in a sports and events environment such as catering and security.
“It was focused on first level learning – we didn’t want to set up a training course that was all chalk and board. It was a programme that delivered practical learning and skills,” says Bashir.
One in 10 of the games volunteers came through the programme, and for some it provided a crucial stepping stone into full-time employment.
Bashir says: “We helped them move from no work into volunteering and then into employment. We demonstrated that if you lay the foundations far enough ahead then there are real outcomes that can be measured. Glasgow has an opportunity to do something that will make a real difference to people even before the games take place.”
A testament to the success of the Manchester Games’ volunteering programme is the fact that a specialist organisation – Manchester Events Volunteers – was set up afterwards that continues to provide services for local events.
John Aitken, development worker at Experience Volunteering, a brokerage service for the East Manchester area, says the games transformed volunteering in the city.
“I worked here before and after the games and looking back you can see a complete change. It was very hard to get people interested in volunteering. It was perceived as working with older people but there were so many different volunteering roles in the games. More people were willing to get involved after the games,” he says.
For Sean McGarrigle, director of regeneration at New East Manchester, the physical regeneration of the area not only delivered new sporting and leisure facilities – the main stadium is now used by Manchester City Football Club – but encouraged local people to take pride in their community.
McGarrigle says: “All the facilities have been successfully used by both the elite sports and grassroots participants. Local people are getting access to them.”
He advises Glasgow to work with the local community to ensure they are on board with the vision of the games. “We regularly engaged community leaders and gave tickets to the opening ceremony to local residents. Flags and banners were given to local people to put up in the streets to celebrate. By building relationships we were able to overcome some of the scepticism.”
Commonwealth Games 2014 Facts
● The games will be held over 12 days, with the opening ceremony on 23 July 2014, and the last day of competition and closing ceremony on 3 August.
● The games budget is £288m, with an extra £9.5m contingency on top.
● The Scottish government and Glasgow Council have agreed to underwrite the costs of staging the Games in an 80/20 split.
● An estimated 15,000 volunteers will help staff the Games.
● 1,000 new homes will be built and given over to social and affordable housing.
Do you believe that Glasgow’s less well off will benefit from hosting the games? Send your views to firstname.lastname@example.org
This article appeared in the 17 January issue under the headline “Regeneration games”