With just two years to go to the Paralympic Games, this year's Liberty Festival in Trafalgar Square really did give everyone a 'taste of things to come'. It was the best ever.
Where else could you see street artists, aerial performers and line dancers mixed in with wheelchair basketball and wheelchair tennis? If Liberty really is a taste of what London will be like when we get to the Paralympic Games then it will be amazing – if not a little exhausting.
Standing on stage announcing the arrival of my new best mates Wenlock and Mandeville was a surreal moment, I grant you – but what was amazing was seeing the thousands of people across the square all having a great afternoon.
As the day continued I could see my LOCOG colleagues busy chatting to audience members about the various volunteering opportunities at the Games. I was amazed about how positive and engaged people were.
We’ve all maybe had poor experiences of volunteering, I’m sure, and of course there’s always the cynical and jaded. Not here. Everyone was genuinely interested and wanted more information. Watching how the attitudes of disabled and deaf audience members changed when it was stressed that the Games Maker opportunities will be accessible just made my day.
The majority of volunteer placements in the UK just aren’t accessible – no one will meet the costs of access such as sign language interpreters or personal assistants. You can’t use the government Access to Work scheme to support these costs, either. Add to this the complicated issues around disability benefits and volunteering doesn’t generally have disabled people queueing round the block!
Well, judging by the level of interest at Liberty and the number of emails and phone calls to the office, the fact that we at LOCOG have thought about access being central to our London 2012 Games Maker programme has already made a difference.
Watch out for more news in the next few months about Liberty and the outdoor arts season for next year – treat 2011 as your final warm-up before the big event. See you all there!