Monday, 10 September 2012

2012 Victory Parade: A celebration of faith, commitment and funding`

Today, I was at a meeting at the RSA just as Team GB's Victory Parade went by. I didn't want to miss out on the opportunity and so waited for the floats with Jaume Martorell, Network and Communications Manager at the Transition Institute, which is now based at the RSA and is right on the route of the parade. Jaume is from Spain where parades are a common occurrence, I told him that on the whole, we were not a big parading nation and this spectacle was unusual for us reserved Brits.

The atmosphere was very jolly with people smiling, cheering and waving flags. I fell into conversation with an delightful older lady jammed next to me by the crowd. After apologising for getting me in the eye with her flag, she told me how much she had enjoyed every moment of the Olympics and Paralympics, that she had gone to see both and thought they were 'wonderful'. It seems that few have missed out on the spirit of 2012 and, for those of us lucky enough to go to the Games, it has been magical.

My role right from the very beginning of winning the bid had been to work with the Third Sector in the Cabinet Office, then headed up by Ed Miliband, to ensure as many social enterprises as possible were able to contribute to the building, running and legacy of the Games. For social enterprise advocates, our starting point back in 2009 was the vision of the Social Enterprise Square Mile and for us this has turned out to have been a successful Games, with social enterprises like HCT providing transport on the site, Catering to Order supplying food to the construction workers and Clarity the soaps and detergents, both of which provide employment to the visually impaired. At the time, Ed had been really fired up by the Olympics and was extraordinarily supportive, using his influence to persuade key folk like the then mayor, Ken Livingstone, to give me the time to explain why social enterprise was so on message for 2012.

My gold medalist, John Charles, a great social entrepreneur
I thought today, as I watched the Paralympians, about inspiring social entrepreneurs like John Charles the extraordinary CEO of Catering to Order who set up the company after losing his sight at 18. For him, their success would perhaps be less surprising as he knows only too well what those challenged by disability – with the right support, guts and determination – can achieve. Not content with being a profoundly visually impaired, most of John's employees have similar difficulties and yet Catering to Order is commercial all the way. Now that deserves a gold medal.

Truly the greatest show on earth
Our family trip to the Olympic Village was in August when we went to see the men's hockey, something the kids will never forget. Joe, our 16-year-old, was particular thrilled as he is captain of his hockey team and was voted player of the year at the end of last season. It was an extraordinary atmosphere, hard to quite pick up on the TV and the Olympic Park was every bit as impressive and inspiring as you dared hope it might be. During a break in one of the matches, we even bumped into one of Joe's schoolmates, a fellow hockey team player and his family, so incredibly the Games left us feeling connected to our community even though they were evidently global.

As we left the Olympic Village we walked past the Aquatic Centre, which is now being managed by GLL, a great social enterprise that beat all other bidders in a highly competitive process to win this most prestigious 2012 legacy management contract. SEL, in our role as social enterprise ambassadors to the Games, supported its bid and I personally made representation to the legacy committee on its behalf, explaining the advantage of social enterprise in terms of its sustained commitment to local employment, community engagement rather than shareholders. So many victories made possible by vision and commitment.

Today, as the athletes went by, those of us on the pavement shouted our salutations and in turn many of them mouthed thank you to the crowd, including Victoria Pendlelton, Mighty Mo and Lee Pearson, which I thought was touching. They too seemed a little caught off guard by events. It's not in our nature, we Brits, to go over the top about things, but their achievement has given us all something to shout about. It is heartening to witness what can be done when faith and hard work are met with investment, something for us all to take away with and ponder.

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