Don Foster Co-Chair of Team West of England Comments on How the West Country is maximising the benefits of London 2012.
The organisers of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games have, from day one, been adamant that the Games were for the whole of the UK, not just London. Ensuring ways of demonstrating that is a key part of their strategy now and for the positive legacy that we all hope 2012 leaves behind.
The announcement of the Olympic Torch Relay route was a very important milestone in the story. The fact that its 8,000 mile route will take in cities in all four countries of the UK and be within one hour's travel time of 95 per cent of the population is fantastic, and is bound to generate excitement across the UK over the coming year and in particular in the build up to the Games when the relay takes place.
Those living in the West of England will be especially pleased by the fact that some of the region's most iconic venues are being included. The stage that will take in landmarks from Taunton to Bristol in particular will bring a tremendous uplift in excitement about the Games across the Region.
The Torch Rela in isolation however would do little to leverage the real power of the Games. The truth is that to ensure a genuine regional impact, and build a meaningful legacy from both the Olympics and Paralympics, there needs to be a more systematic and wide ranging approach to the opportunity.
That is certainly what we have sought to achieve in my part of the world. As the MP for Bath, I am co-chair, with Tim Hollingsworth of UK Sport, of "Team West of England" - a unique partnership of sport, business, the arts, education and local government that has come together to drive benefits from the Games in the unitary authority areas of Bristol, Bath and North East Somerset, South Gloucestershire and North Somerset.
The partnership has been going for well over three years now, with activity delivered by Wesport, the County Sport Partnership for the region, and can already claim a number of genuine successes. We were instrumental in bidding for and then leading the delivery of the 2008 Bristol and Bath UK School Games, which saw 15,000 children take part and generated an estimated £2 million for the local economy. Team West of England has been equally engaged with the securing of teams coming to the region for their preparation camps, with the Bristol-Kenya Partnership and, of course, the British Paralympic Association basing itself in Bath for its main preparation camp two excellent examples.
Team West of England has been involved in the creation of a West of England Athlete Support scheme, that links in Sports Aid funding, and which operates across the whole of the West of England and provdies "Free Access" to facilities schemes for National Standard athletes.
Alongside the sport, the partnership, with support from the RELAYS project (Regional Educational Legacy in Arts and Youth Sport), has created important information flows for local businesses to understand how to bid for 2012 related contracts, and how to access 2012 resources from other regional organisations keen to exploit the power of the Games.
The Partnership also promotes the opportunities created through LOCOG's official channels – such as the Get Set schools programme, involving over 200 local schools who are engaged in large part thanks to Team West of England's promotion. We have also engaged with the Inspire programme which has recognised many of the projects in our area, including the Destination London, Be Inspired, Get Involved volunteer programme, which is providing free training to volunteers in the West of England.
What this shows is that the Games can motivate and inspire beyond the performance of our elite athletes. I am convinced that this excitement will continue to grow over the next year, with the Torch Relay providing a fantastic centre piece for interest and engagement from every area of society. The Team West of England partnership will continue to play its part – building on its work so far to continue to promote sporting events and training camp opportunities, and working with schools and local businesses to ensure that they maximise their engagement.
As someone who has supported the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games coming to London from day one of the bid, I am thrilled by the progress being made in the city and by the prospect of the incredible event that will take place across July, August and September next year. But I am even more excited by the fact that, through the partnerships and joint working it has inspired, the Games have had a meaningful impact on the local economy and society that I represent. That is a proper legacy of which everyone involved should be proud.
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Don Foster is the MP for Bath and co-chair of Team West of England