Volunteering at the Commonwealth Games

20 August 2014

For the last month I have been volunteering as a cast member for the opening and closing ceremonies of the commonwealth games.

To get ready for the opening ceremony my cast group of marshals (better known as ‘the colourful ones with the chairs’) put in over 75 hours of rehearsals in 4 weeks. 

Zoe - Welcome SQ

This worked out to be the equivalent of a very active part time role on top of my full time job. As a result, the staff had an important role to play in keeping us all coming back for more! It has been a great experience personally and a particularly interesting one in relation to my role working with volunteers and volunteer involving organisations at Volunteer Scotland.

Let’s be honest, being told you’re a marshal doesn’t sound that glamorous and conjures up mental images of car park attendants in hi-vis vests. So at the start there was an element of being ‘sold’ the role. We were told that we would get to be in the stadium for the longest of all the cast groups, get to be there with some of the most beautiful people in the world and for the first time marshals were being given their own time to do something before the athletes came in. We also started to be let into the surprises such as wearing bright colours and what the music would be.

Ready to go!

Zoe - Ready to GO!

Rehearsals started with us passing teddy bears and cushions round the room in time to music and we were all wondering what we’d be doing! They continued to be a mix of slightly abstract activities which we were reassured would all be needed in the end. The first time we were told that we would be making the tartan pattern by all crossing through each other I’m not sure many of us believed that we’d be able to do it. All the moving in time to the music and building up our stamina started to become a little clearer.

The collective sense of achievement when we nailed doing the tartan was a great buzz but it took 30 hours of rehearsals to get there. Despite this, we were never told about something we had done wrong, even though we were shocking the first time we tried it.  The team always highlighted what we had done well and then gave pointers about how we were going to work on it to make it better for the next time. The marshals choreography team are headed up by Steve Boyd and I get the impression that he’s spent his career building up a select team. Steve was always reinforcing what a unique opportunity we were involved in; that we would make new friends, never get these moments again and forever be able to think that we nailed it in front of 1.5 billion people! 

So, the first secret to their success was keeping the whole thing positive and unique. I also noticed that we were only as good as the instruction we had been given.  When you’re getting instructions through your earpiece from a person you might not be able to see, if it wasn’t well explained we were very likely to get it wrong.  With 500 marshals and lots of different learning styles sometimes it took 2 different explanations to get us all there but the team were infinitely patient.  So the second secret to their success was giving clear instructions more than once and giving people time to understand them.

In addition to the choreography team our group had 2 points of contact who kept us co-ordinated with the timetable of rehearsals and emailed updates. In terms of volunteer management it was these two members of the team who were really our volunteer co-ordinators.  They gave an update on practicalities at the end of each session (don’t forget your ear phones, arrive in good time, dress for the weather) and were available throughout the rehearsals.  As is so often the case with volunteers, it’s the contact we had with the other staff that really influenced our experience.  As volunteer managers we spend so much of our time making sure everything is in place for the volunteer but it’s equally important to make sure that staff who work with volunteers are confident in this aspect of their role.  Like the secrets to success within the choreography team, even the language that staff use could make the difference between a positive and negative experience. And ultimately the quality of the information volunteers are given, along with how they interpret and understand it, will influence the way in which they deliver their role.

Zoe - Final Briefing

The final briefing from Steve Boyd

And finally, the third secret to success was that everyone was endlessly appreciative of the time that we were giving. They were aware that many of us were doing it in addition to working and travelling long distances to get there. It didn’t mean that they expected any less of us but they acknowledged it regularly. We were also thanked formally by email just after the opening ceremony by David Zolkwer, Head of Ceremonies who thanked us for our contribution and recognised that “you and your fellow cast members proved to be a fantastically powerful and joyful and wonderful ‘secret’ weapon”. So, right to the end we were made to feel unique.

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