Olympicmania : Wistla interviews London 2012 Olympic Trainer
Joanna Bloxham was one of a team of trainers for the 8000 volunteers over 52 sites in London during the Summer Olympics and Paralympics 2012. We were lucky enough to get the skinny on what that process was like, how she handled it and how the work of these volunteers was integral to the Games and the city.
Wistla: When you started off the process, what were your main goals?
Joanna: To equip Team London Ambassadors with the orientation and engagement skills to be the face of London during Olympics and Paralympics and to give people the perfect visitor experience.
Wistla: What qualities did the best volunteers possess?
Joanna: Everyone had such different qualities and brought something distinct to the team, but I think the things that united the most effective people were flexibility, a sense of community, expecting the unexpected and their passion for what they were doing. We also trained the volunteers in how to deal with tough customers and stressful situations, so everyone was well equipped by the time the event came round.
Wistla: What do you think the volunteers got out of the experience?
Joanna: Each volunteer took something away something unique, but I’d say generally it falls into three main things. First, there was the opportunity to take part in this once in a lifetime event for London. Second, everyone was volunteering with someone they had never met before and this was a great opportunity to have a new social experience: after the Games we had ‘site reunion’ parties and even now, four years on, they’re still happening. Third, the way the programme was designed, people got the chance to learn new skills all the way along the programme not just around the Games.
Wistla: How did you build a community of people coming from such different cultural and working backgrounds?
Joanna: A lot of that was down to the masterminding of the programme, but we were lucky that so many people had skills that integrated them well – over 60% of the volunteers spoke at least one other language, which was essential both to the programme and to their integration with one another. They were also bonded by the common fact of wanting to do this huge project, and not thinking of the remuneration.
Wistla: Who were the most interesting characters you met on the job? Did you stay in touch with anyone?
Joanna: There were a lot of diverse characters – from young adults to retirees. We had fourteen-year-old volunteers, who were assigned mentors, and we even had an eighty five year old. The combination of innovation and experience was astounding, and even to this day I feel like I could phone up any of the volunteers and say, “Hey, I’m doing a project, would you like to be involved?” and they’d be there. On the management side, David Huse, who was in charge of designing and running the programme, was an excellent leader who managed to keep his cool even in the most stressful moments; leaders like that are so important for projects of this size.
Wistla: How did you feel that the atmosphere in London changed during the course of the Olympics?
Joanna: It was electric. Suddenly we felt really proud of London and what it was capable of offering. I think we completely defied people’s expectations and they were incredibly grateful and appreciative. At the end of the event we had 99% customer satisfaction, which goes some way to showing the positivity in London at that time and how we are a part of it. It was also Summer and there were so many exciting things going on around London that weren’t the Olympics, which contributed to the overall feeling of the city (which our volunteers also had to be aware of and navigate as part of their job). London came alive and made its mark as an Olympic city.
Wistla: What’s your advice for the person with your job at the Rio 2016 Olympics?
Joanna: Play to your strengths and the beauty of your city; engage your people; have fun!
Wistla: Perfect! Thanks so much for sharing your experience with us.
Follow Joanna on Wistla and @jotalks