On the day we visited it was the location for a youth mixed netball competition of 14 local school teams. The large hall was alive with activity, noise and excitement. Jean was able to have discussions with a number of local volunteers for the event, who have been doing this for varying amounts of time. Lewis (who appears in the picture below with Jean, the teacher Helena and Sarah from the Torfaen County Borough Council) had been volunteering for 8 months and said he had really enjoyed the experience; he was excited by the prospect of London 2012, which he described as “a fantastic opportunity”.
After being very impressed by the netball skills, and Jean responding to a couple of very polite request for her autograph(!), we were shown round the impressive facilities at the stadium by Sally Church, who is responsible for leisure, amongst other things, at Torfaen Country Borough Council. We couldn't help thinking what a great facility the Cwmbran Stadium would offer to a National Olympic Committee looking for a venue for pre-Games training in the range of sports for which it has been identified as suitable.
Our next stop was Cardiff and a generally much better known stadium. As the photograph shows, it looked particularly spectacular bathed in sunshine:
The Millennium Stadium will host London 2012 competition, as a venue for some matches in the Football tournament. Looking out over the Stadium from the Welsh Assembly box, confirmed how appropriate it was for the Stadium to have such an active involvement with the 2012 Games. It looked glorious. We were there to attend a seminar set up for Jean's visit by the NRG Coordinator Arthur Emyr, to discuss how people from Wales can participate in the London 2012 volunteer programme and how London 2012 can boost volunteering across Wales generally.
But we had 30 minutes over lunch to meet with local representatives of the Welsh Assembly Government and fellow speakers at the seminar, from Disability Sport Wales (DSW) and the Welsh Council for Volunteering Action (WCVA). Over lunch we were able to compare and contrast Beijing and London volunteering plans, and our expectations more generally. We also explored the fabulous prospects in store from the plans for the Australian Paralympic team to train in Wales, which we were told would represent an ongoing relationship from 2008 up to 2012, rather than just a pre-Games commitment. We all agreed this was a great opportunity both for Wales and for Paralympic sport in the UK. We also touched on how best to ensure a volunteering legacy, a topic explored more in the seminar which followed.
An interesting fact about the Millennium Stadium is that they blast out the Welsh National Anthem each hour on the hour, very loudly and very proudly if you are Welsh.
Arthur hosted the seminar. Jean outlined LOCOGs volunteering plans for 2012, focusing on the opportunities and also addressing some of the challenges. She emphasised the importance of a UK-wide approach to 2012, of engaging with the Nations and Regions and ensuring that, although staging a truly memorable Games was LOCOG's objective, leaving a meaningful legacy behind was of immense importance too.
Jon Morgan, Executive Director of DSW, and Graham Benfield from WCVA spoke impressively from their respective standpoints. Jon explained his organisation's plans to embed disability sport more firmly on the Welsh agenda, and to change both attitudes and behaviour. He explained that although there are an estimated 48,000 volunteers in Wales, generating £50m of in-kind support, few were involved in disabled sport. Graham outlined the work his organisation was doing on volunteering and encouraged the audience to explore what opportunities 2012 would bring to volunteering in Wales.
As we sat on the (slightly delayed) train back to Paddington, we reflected on a really useful and interesting day. And concluded that getting out and about, meeting stakeholders and hearing their views was incredibly important. Next stop Manchester and Liverpool in North West England.
But finally there was one more interesting fact to share, passed on by the driver who took us from Newport to Cardiff: JK Rowling allegedly did some of her best Harry Potter work in a cottage near Chepstow, a stones throw away from where we started the day...
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