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An interview with Gavin Jones, who was a volunteer at the 2012 London Olympics. Gavin Jones is a resident of Grangetown in Cardiff. In the interview, Gavin discusses his roles and responsibilities as part of his volunteering with the Olympics. He also brought numerous items to accompany his interview. This interview was recorded on 24 February 2017 at Radio Cardiff on Dumballs Road in Cardiff.


The Chronicle Project is a community heritage project supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund and run by VCS Cymru with the aims to document the history of volunteering in Cardiff, from 1914 to 2014.

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[Audio Header]
• We will now begin recording the interview with Gavin Jones.
• The recording takes place on the 24th February 1917 [2017!] at Cardiff Radio.
• The volunteers present are Mike Hawkins and Rob Boddy.
And this recording is being collected as an oral history and will be part of the Chronicle Project, a project led by VCS Cymru and funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund.
MH = Mike Hawkins (interviewer), GJ = Gavin Jones.
[Early volunteering - 0:07 to 0:54]
GJ: Well, my name is Gavin Jones. I live in Grangetown in Cardiff and I’ve been volunteering for quite a long time in my life in various positions. I originally used to volunteer for BTCV [British Trust for Conservation Volunteers] which is a conservation charity. I did that shortly after completing my degree in 1993 and then I went on to be a full-time volunteer post for about two years with the Groundwork Trust, and that was up in Oldham and Rochdale as a community officer for there. A lot of it was about getting experience but a lot of it was about working with community groups and getting sort of my hands dirty in community projects and things like that. But I'm mainly going to be talking today about volunteering for the 2012 Olympic games in London, which was a fantastic experience.

[Olympic Games recruitment - 0:55 to 3:20]
I remember when they announced the fact that London had got the Olympics and I was really chuffed about that, the Olympics were coming to the UK in my lifetime and I don't think at that point I had really thought about actually volunteering for it but then they announced that they were going to need I think it was 75,000 volunteers to help this run because I think that a lot of the criticism they got about the Olympics was the cost and how much it was going to be to run so the whole volunteering input was going to be really important to the whole event. So I thought, “Well, I’ll give it a shot” because I think 75,000 does sound a lot but in the context of the amount of people in the UK it was probably a sort of a drop in the ocean so I thought I’d give it a whirl. So I applied and didn’t think anything of it and the weeks went by and there was lots of things on the TV about people being recruited and I hadn’t heard anything so I was beginning to think, “Oh well I want to get involved in some way”, so I remember putting my name forward for all the tickets, the ticket ballot, just to see if I could get some sort of involvement and then I had a phone call, a message through saying that someone would like to speak to me about my role. And I thought I was…I originally had put down that I was going to be sort of in the queues and doing a bit of security and things like that because I had been a Ranger and things like that, so I had worked security work type stuff at events. But no, they were actually interviewing me for the EVS which was the Event Services Team so that was all about things like scanning tickets, and the sort of very first person that the visitors to the Olympic games were going to see. So I didn’t have to go anywhere for an interview but I had a slotted time to be sat next to the phone for someone to ring and, er, talk to me and I really didn’t know what to expect, it was about half an hour interview and it was full of scenario questions [laughing] which are just awful. So they were asking me things like ‘What was the thing I was most proud of doing’, an example where I had to, um, sort of confront someone, well not confront them but deal with confrontation and it went by in a blur and I really didn’t think, I really didn’t think I had done very well in it so I thought, “OK, well I’ve got that far”.

[Training - 3:20 to 6:31]
And then I had another phone call saying that we would like you to come and start the training sessions down in London, so it was like, “All right, OK, that’s going to be two weeks out of my work [laughing] to try, to volunteer for, massive commitment. But first of all I had to take days off and travel down to London so I was on the earliest Megabus going out to [sic] Cardiff and then on the latest one coming back from London so whole days going into various places in East London to…basically they’ve got, the training was really intensive as you can imagine. A lot of it was about, um, a lot of it was secret as well. We couldn’t really talk about the sort of training we had because of the security issues but also I think there had been a bit of, there had been a bit of negative press around the Olympics anyway. So it was the usual, um, sort of UK bashing type thing, “Oh, are we going to be able to pull this thing off?”, “Is it going to be sort of”… so they didn’t want any sort of negative or any news going out about how people were being trained and things like that. So it was fantastic, there were people from all over the UK at these training session. Yea, things to do with security, ranging from lost children to evacuating the Olympic Stadium and what to do then, um, looking out for things like pinch points in crowds in case there was any sort of crushing or anything like that but also how we projected ourselves, so it had to be all about, um, the visitor had to be as welcome at the beginning of the day as they were at the end, so it wasn’t just about “Hello how are you”, welcoming people in. At the end of the day, because things used to finish at eleven o’clock at night, and you had lots of tired families, we had to be bubbly and really smiling and everything at the end of the night so that those tired families went away with a positive experience. So actually it was quite an eye-opening training regime really, um, so there was lots of interactive games and…but also a lot of technical stuff as well, learning how to use the radio system and the ticket scanners which I’ll come on to later that had a whole sort of training to do with there. So I think I did four or five different training sessions before I got the ‘Yes you’ve been selected’ so that was just one part of the process. So the whole giving up time, as it were, started straight away. And I guess the motivation, and it really sort of brought it home to me was the fact that it wasn’t just about being involved in something historic it was just that whole, that whole sort of movement of volunteering that’s pretty unique to the UK, I think to the level that we do it, and I think that really brought it home because I think it is, I think it is the most volunteers that they’ve had at an Olympic games ever and it was that, they really tapped into a movement and they had over a million applicants so it was pretty, pretty, I was pretty pleased to get short listed out of those million applicants.

[Commuting from Luton - 6:32 to 8:42]
But then as soon as I got the green light it was a whole lot of other logistics to sort out because you weren’t guaranteed accommodation, or anything, you had to find all that yourself and also work out your travel plans because they didn’t lay the travel plans, at first, for volunteers. Luckily my brother lives in Luton which isn’t quite, well it is if you’re an airport, but it isn’t really in London, but it is on the commuter belt. So I got in touch with him and said, “Can I come and stay with you for two weeks of the year” when in fact I only see him about twice a year anyway [laughs] so I was going to be sharing a house with him for two weeks. And I thought that I really couldn't get my head around the London transport system and the times and everything, especially travelling from Luton. I said, “Could you do me a favour, could you work out my times and everything.” Because they sent through the shifts and the shifts were, I didn't know, I didn't know what to expect with the shift times or everything, but they ranged from two o'clock in the afternoon to eleven at night but the real killers were at the 5:20 am times till three o'clock in the afternoon and you also had to be there half an hour before the start of the shift so I had to work out how I was going to get there, and it was normally well over an hour train journey from Luton to get anywhere near London so… So yeah my brother came back with the times and he said. “Look, you can, you can get the airport train that goes through at four o'clock in the morning [laughs] and that will get you there, and then it’s, that’s it, you’re on the route. But meanwhile they ended up, because I think they were getting a lot of complaints about ‘Well this is going to cost a lot of money, you know, for two weeks worth of travelling across London’, especially with coming out, so they did issue all the volunteers with an Oyster card, a prepaid one, which apparently only worked, apparently they were smart enough to register when you are actually working so you weren't, allegedly you weren't able to use them on your days off but [laughs] that was wrong, I was actually able to use mine on my days off, which was great.

[Day One at Olympic Park - 8:43 to 12:29]
So yeah, ah, in fact my first shift was on day one of the Olympics and I was quite nervous. I had actually worked the Royal Welsh for a week so I had been away for a week already and had to go straight down to London from Builth Wells and I was coming down with something as well which I’ll come too later, which did affect and I thought, “Oh no! Oh no, on day one of the Olympics I am going to be ill!” and then “Am I going to get there on time?” because we hadn't tried the transport route out at all, so I got to my brother’s quite late, it was just in time to see the opening ceremony on the TV and I obviously didn't sleep after that because I thought this is massive and it has gone down so well but now, you know, I am going to be part of everything kicking off. So, I had about two hours of sleep, if you can call it sleep, and got up at about half past two in the morning [laughs], got breakfast, my brother took me to the station for four o'clock. Luckily there were some people already there who were obviously Games Makers as well. But it was funny because I mean the uniform, it was fine because there was so many of us wearing it, but it was, it was quite different in the way it looked. Hang on I've got it here [shows Olympic shirt]. So it was quite ... I think politely you could call it ‘striking’. But when there’s thousands of people wearing it, it's fine. So there were some other people turning up but no one knew how to, how to wear it. So one of the things they said, “Oh no, you must be really smart and it must be clean, it mustn't smell”, which is quite difficult because it's 100% polyester and it had to be really smart. So I sat on the train and a guy got on and we didn't know whether to wear the caps or not, whether to tuck the shirt in or wear it out, so there was all this kind of nerves and especially because it was day one. Yeah went in a bit of a blur actually. So we had to go for a debrief but getting across London was quite exciting because the train got to St Pancras Station and they were testing out what they call the Javelin train which was going to be the train which would take people to Eurotunnel and Kent and it was great and it was called the Javelin. So that took us right to the Olympic Park, which again when I was planning my routes and everything that wasn't in place and then so I was having to work out going through the underground and things like that. So yeah we got there the first morning, we had a briefing session, and there was lots of people from all around the world volunteering and we were given our assignments and I was on one of the front gates, so at the very first off and people coming in, I was straight at the front. And we were put in pairs at the gates and the countdown was there and the atmosphere was just… it was so tangible. I mean the Olympic Park looked great, the stadium looked great and everything, and the way it was set out, but there was just that air of “Oh no, this is it!” Now they have had the opening ceremony before but this was kind of when all the sports were kicking off. We were all sat at the gates and, I've mentioned before that we had training with the ticket scanners and they were about to open the gates and then somebody shouted up, “No-one's got any scanners”. So we've got hundreds of gates of the park with all these people queuing up ready to come in and there were people, I remember people at the front of our queue were going “Oh this is a good start”, and there were lots of people running about red-faced and sweaty, bombing around in golf carts and things trying to issue these scanners as quickly as possible. Because everyone could just see in their heads the headlines about how it failed at its first go.

[Olympic Games Maker experiences - 12:30 to 15:35]
But yeah, so we were scanning tickets, so I was pretty much scanning about a thousand people a day I worked out and funnily enough about a few weeks after I had finished at the Olympics I did get tendonitis in the wrist, it suddenly just completely swelled up, and it was due to just this action of scanning tickets. So, yeah, and it was just great and there were loads of people from around the world who had obviously got tickets so it was really quite good to guess where people were coming from so we could greet them in my pigeon sort of school French or German or try and guess, I know I always used to get German and Belgian flags mixed up. So they were getting used to it all the time and they correct you. But yeah, it was fantastic. I think my first shift I actually did with a guy from France so you had that, it wasn't just people from the UK, there were people from all around. I got to see, I got to see a fair share of celebrities as well, as you can imagine, like Condoleezza Rice came through. I had my picture taken with Sally Nugent off BBC Breakfast. I saw Gary Lineker. I saw a lot of the athletes, especially if you are on a really early shift you could sometimes see them running around the park while it was still shut just to do their sort of jogging and everything. So yeah pretty much on the gates all the time. It was really interesting as well because, I don't know if you remember at the time, they brought the Armed Forces in to boost the security. So we were working with the Armed Forces on the gates and I worked with the Army, the Air Force, but we did work with a submarine crew, who were obviously really pleased they were actually out in the open air and not sort of cooped up. And particularly their submarine commander was particularly interested in dealing with any difficult…difficult customers, because you could get people who were quite difficult. And the crazy thing was people would buy tickets for events just to get into the park. So they thought that they could just walk in any time. But you couldn't, you had to come in at your designated event. So you get these people turning up two hours after their event expecting to get onto the park and they wouldn't. So they would start to, um you know, be, um, quite aggressive and then all we had to do was just sort of signal and someone from the Armed Forces [laughs] was there and there was no arguing after that. And we had one guy, it was really funny actually, he was a bit worse for wear with drink, and he kept trying to get in, he kept queuing up, getting escorted off, there was no sort of scuffles or anything. And it was just getting beyond a joke and he was quite big and not necessarily aggressive but he was kind of throwing his weight around a bit. And this, so this submarine commander came over and said “Right, that's it, I'm escorting you off” [laughs] and he sees all the uniform and everything and it really sort of came home to him. Yeah, but I really enjoyed working alongside people like that.

[Handball event - 15:36 to 16:07]
I was lucky enough to get, they were short staffed at one of the events so, I guess that was the only drawback with working on the gates was that you didn't see much of the events, it didn't matter because the atmosphere was brilliant, but I got to see handball which was something I'd never watched before. But it was funny seeing the banter between the countries because they take it really seriously on the continent. So I think it was Croatia against Austria or something in the handball and the banter between the crowds was amazing and it was, you know, quite an exciting game to be involved in.

[Atmosphere and food - 16:08 to 17:14]
Yeah and it was, going back to what the atmosphere was like in the park, it was so positive and I think that's what made it worth it. It didn't feel like a chore, it didn't feel like, I mean like you were exhausted but the whole…everyone was therefore for a positive reason and it was really infectious and, you know, it kept us going because it’s a long day on your feet and the breaks, the breaks were great, um, the canteen was fantastic, there was good meals every day. The only thing was we were issued with snacks to sort of take away with us and they were these, I’ve still kept one, I don't know what state it’s in, these Nature Valley Crunchy bars and everyone was so sick of them by the end of two weeks that they started to mass in people's bags. But I did keep one as a bit of a memento but… And I know that summer had been really wet and they were worried that the whole two weeks were going to be wet, but it actually turned out to be really hot weather during that week, but sort of the last thing you want for a dry mouth is a dry harvest sort of Crunchy bar.

[Illness - 17:17 to 18:49]
Right, what else. Yes, I was coming down with something before I started and so I bought one of those horrible spray things that are supposed to be, sort of ward off a cold and I thought if I keep using that for two weeks then I wouldn’t come down with something. But halfway through, because you are constantly talking to people and if you are on a late shift you are pretty much, you are basically saying goodbye to people, so you are high-fiving lots of children. However hard they smashed into your hand, you still had to sort of smile and say “Have a good trip” and everything, so you are talking all the time. And at the end, luckily at the end of a late shift before a break, a couple of days break, my voice completely went, and I’ve never had that before, it absolutely went, there was nothing there, it was like a proper croak. And by that time the whole country was really excited about the Olympics so it was all buzzing. And I caught the late train home and I sat in a carriage and these, a lovely couple were talking to me and asking me loads of questions and I couldn't respond properly and I was [croaking] ”It was really good, really good”, and they just kept asking me and they couldn't really gauge the fact that I hadn’t got a voice and I was trying to say, “Yes, it was really great, working it”. So I had about, yeah, two or three days for it to come back, I had to go to a chemist and get some spray but luckily it came back for my sort of second phase of shifts on the games.

[Meeting fellow Games Makers - 18:51 to 20:13]
Yeah, met some fantastic people. There was a guy from the, where is it, Montserrat which is a crown colony, called Elridge Bodkin, which was a fantastic name but he was a great bloke and he had worked at Atlanta, he volunteered at Atlanta as well, so there was a bit of comparison. And I worked a shift with a guy from South Africa and it was just a really good atmosphere and…as I say it was really hard work but it didn't feel like a chore, it was a joy to volunteer for, and you felt part of something, you didn't feel… I don’t think you get it very often, but there were obviously paid staff there but you didn't feel like you know you were excluded or second class citizen. But it was just the fact that you all felt part of a big family. And I mentioned the fact that the uniforms were quite distinctive. I always remember coming in on one early shift and you would get off the Javelin train and you would have to go through a big shopping centre to get to the Olympic Park, and there was a huge escalator, an outside escalator leading into the shopping centre. And I remember coming out one morning and it was just this snake of this uniform going up the escalator and out, and it just brought home how we did feel really… did feel really part everything.

[Summarising experience and memorabilia - 20:15 to 21:51]
I think, were there any grumbles? I think there was a few grumbles. I think there was that thing about some of the empty seats as well. So I know they were giving them up to people so they were saying, “Well you should give some to the volunteers as well”. So that was, so that was a minor grumble really. But no, it was just a fantastic experience and it actually made…I did volunteer for the 2014 Commonwealth Games as well, completely different sort of experience. But yeah, volunteering for the Olympics was fab and you really did feel, um, you did feel appreciated. I mean I have this, er, obviously mass produced letter from the Prime Minister but it was little touches like that. I've got a nice silver baton that was presented afterwards. They even gave you a journal and I'm not a brilliant person for keeping a journal on any thing…but there is the commemorative baton. The journal was great because it really forced me to sort of write everything down, and I just remember the stories and the people I met. But I've kept everything, the shift timetable, yeah, 5.45 in the morning, that’s pretty, pretty early start [laughs]. I’d get about two hours, three hours sleep beforehand. But it was great and, you know, I got time to spend with my brother. In fact if you are curious where I keep all this stuff, my dad actually had a box made for me to put it all away so it wasn't all just stashed in a bag or anything.

MH: This one? [pointing at security tag]

GJ: Yeah this is, yeah, going back to talking about the security, we had to have so much sort of security tags on us, so this was around our neck all the time and you had to, you would get, you know if it flipped round, you did get sort of, not shouted at, but people would tell you to flip it round, so they could see. It gave you limited access, so part of the training was actually recognising what codes because sometimes you would be on a security gate and you would have to recognise all these different codes and combinations to allow people in, or not allow people in and we had that as well. And then on the back, when you… they had a bit of a reward system, which was a good idea, so once you'd completed a shift you got a cross or a tick and then that meant you got something as a prize, a lot of it was sort of pin badges. Now pin badges were the rage and it was… there is a selection there, so you've got all these, so you’ve got silver and bronze and gold pin badges. You got gold when you'd completed all of your shifts, but there were lots of others being given out. We were told not to be swapping pin badges but people did. People went mad; they put loads of pin badges on their lanyards. I got one because I took…that was the other thing we ended up doing a lot of, we took pictures of people especially someone, especially someone who was in a couple, only two of them. We wanted to make sure they got a picture with both of them in the shot so we started taking their cameras off people saying, not literally taking them off them but [laughing] asking “Do you want a picture taken?” I only, I only dropped one, it was someone’s phone. I thought “Oh no, that's it, I'm going to get into trouble.” But yeah it was great and we were taking loads of pictures, and there was a British Airways flight attendant, she was on her own and she was just taking a picture, so I said, “I'll do a picture of you with the stadium in the background”, and she said, “Oh, yeah brilliant!” and she gave me that one actually which was the…quite a rare one, a British Airways Olympic pin badge, But I didn't go into the whole swapping thing, I was quite happy with the ones we were given. Yea, this was the pocket guide you were issued with, and this had all the, the map, where everything was. Because obviously you had to point people in the right direction. All these, basically all these names and numbers of people, if you were running late or whatever, you had to sort of ring in and say where you were. Anyone else? Yeah and all the emergency procedures if there was anything, I think we only had one minor emergency on a gate. Yeah, that was quite exciting actually. A lady in a wheelchair caught her leg on something and she was quite elderly so it bled a lot and we couldn't find a doctor because they had these medical teams running around. So there was three of us running around trying to find this doctors’… it was quite a long sort of golf trolley, golf buggy type thing, to get them to come over. But luckily there was an army medic there who managed to sort of patch her up. But that was a bit of excitement, that meant we could do a bit of running around rather than standing around.

MH: How do you think this volunteering affected you, what difference did it make to you personally?

GJ: Yeah, Tot. It’s a cliché, I found it really enriching as an experience and I think…there was a certain amount of trepidation before it, because I thought, you know, I wonder what I’ve signed up for, or I wonder how much, you know, is going to be asked of me to volunteer. But it just felt…I really felt that I was contributing to something and that was the reward, it didn’t…and it was yeah. Ticket scanning for example was a real slog but it didn't feel like it, it was positive, it wasn’t…you felt like you were achieving something. I think that it's really important if you volunteer that you enjoy it, but you feel like it's not just a case of collecting, being rewarded through pin badges or batons or anything like that, it’s about that reward to your spirit and the fact that yes, you’ve contributed to something. But what I got out of it was really enriching. I would never have met anyone from Montserrat or never necessarily worked with people in a working environment from a global, you know from a global community rather than anything else, so that was a real inspiration behind it. It’s rewarding. It’s very much in the psyche of people in the UK to have that in them. And I would recommend it to anyone because I think the reward is that, the reward is in there I think. As I say it's not just about receiving trinkets or anything.

MH: Did you get a feel for how as volunteers who affected other people in the wider community?

GJ: Yeah, I think, yes I remember people thinking… yes I think funnily enough talking to people on the trains and even talking to my brother; my brother you know really wished that he had volunteered for it, because I think, again, there was an element of that. It was a time thing as well. I think talking to people they think “Oh, you know I didn't think I was going to get the time to do it, there’s not enough time in my life to volunteer.” Well actually there is. I mean I managed to sort of give two weeks of my life to it but it didn't feel like that. It was just taking that plunge, I think, you know, it was quite a wrench and I think it’s whatever your perception of volunteering is. I think people could see how fulfilling it was for those people volunteering and the fact that we were enjoying what we did and that positivity, we were feeding off other people's positivity and we had it in ourselves. So for the wider community I think they really appreciated and hopefully that did kind of stimulate people to volunteer and I know that was one of the, dare I say the legacy word, I’ve said it, that was one of the hopes, they were saying that this would kick on to volunteer for other stuff and so, you know, I volunteered for the Commonwealth Games but there is an ethos of volunteering and yes it definitely had an impact and I think because of the coverage it had and the fact that… I think it gave a good profile to people who volunteer for all sorts of things. But yeah, just from one to one talking to people on the train, “Yea, that sound amazing!” Yea, you do have time to volunteer, it’s just that we’re so much in a bubble I think in everyday life that we don't think we’ve got time but yea, very rewarding and… yea.

MH: What do you understand by the term volunteering, what does that mean to you?

GJ: That's a good point. It’s, on a very basic level it’s giving your time for a cause. But it's giving a part of your life to something. What would be the spirit of volunteering? I think if you volunteer to put an event on in your community or you volunteer for a sports club, it is totally fulfilling. It feels like… I tell you what, it feels like your best, most productive day at work, but all the time and I think that that's, if you are trying to get people into volunteering that would be the way to describe it. Think about the best day you've had at work, the day you’ve driven from work and thought “Ah, I've achieved something today and earned my dollar”, but volunteering is like that all the time and that’s what I understand it to be.

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