Olympic Gold comes to the North West

Posted on Jan 16 in Helen's Blog, News & Blog by

I’ve just come back from one of the most interesting and dynamic presentations I’ve been lucky enough to attend in a long time, held at (one of) Manchester’s finest Theatre’s of Dreams, Old Trafford Football Ground.

As a member of Marketing Manchester, I was invited to attend a session about the forthcoming 2012 Olympics and the impact the games will have across the North West region.

With less than 200 days to go now until the Olympic opening ceremony which takes place in London on 27th July, the presentation was part of a nationwide series of events taking place around the UK, to highlight the regional benefits of the games and help maximise their economic, sporting and social legacy. Whilst the main games are taking place in London, a number of high profile events are taking place around the UK and Manchester is hosting much of the football competition during the games.

Chaired by Andrew Stokes, CEO Marketing Manchester, guest speakers included the Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt MP, Secretary of State for Culture and Olympics (himself a qualified level 9 FA referee) and James Berresford, Chief Executive Visit England, together with Ruth McKenzie, Director of the Cultural Olympiad.

And if you thought the Olympics was just about sport and winning medals well … think again. The London games are not only about sport and medals but are also the start of a huge social and cultural programme of events taking place around the UK in the coming months and years.

Alongside the games, there is running what can only be described as a Cultural Olympiad for all to get involved in. Our government want each and every one of us to get involved. This really is a unique moment in time and the first time the UK has hosted the games since 1948 and we’re all being encouraged to get involved at whatever level.

For those who don’t naturally gravitate to the sports field (that’s me), then do at the very least get out there and watch the Olympic torch pass through your neighbourhood. The Olympic Torch starts its journey on 19th May and is going to visit over 1000 local communities. With 70 overnight stops en-route to the opening ceremony, the torch will be in the North West for 7 nights that include stops in Chester (29/05), Bolton (31/05), Liverpool (01/06), the Isle of Man (02/06), Windermere (21/06), Blackpool (22/06) and Manchester (23/06). Events celebrating this will be taking place in each of these venues but the torch isn’t just going to big cities – it’s also going to be carried through some tiny rural communities and visiting the Highlands and Islands. The Paralympic torch relay takes place from 24-27 August and on its route takes in the major cities of London, Belfast, Edinburgh and Cardiff. And for anyone interested in getting involved in the Olympics, Sainsbury’s have just opened their volunteer programme and other large sponsors including Lloyds and BT are also running similar programmes.

The event on 21st June in Windermere “Lakes Alive” also marks the launch of the London 2012 Festival and the Cultural Olympiad, a festival of over 10,000 events taking place throughout the country and the largest cultural programme of any Olympics in history. Running until early September, there are lots of activities taking place in the North West. In Manchester the city’s many art galleries, including the Whitworth, Gallery of Costume and Manchester Art Gallery, are hosting an exhibition called “We Face Forward: Art From West Africa Today”, whilst down the road, Liverpool hosts the excellent Dada festival, a special festival for disabled and deaf artists. Further north in Windermere, the majestic lake is home to what will be a truly spectacular light, firework and music show. There’s more light north of the border, with a special light show from Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh and a new art installation running the entire length of Hadrian’s Wall (84 miles!).

There’s also going to be a great fire spectacular at Stonehenge and to my utter delight two of my personal standout highlights of last year’s brilliant Manchester International Festival, the evocative Damon Alban opera “Dr Dee” and the extremely terrifying “Crash of the Elysium” (Dr Who), are also being included in Cultural Olympiad. So even if sport isn’t your thing there’s going to be loads of other things to see and get involved with this summer and much of it for free too.

But what does this mean for the North West? Well there are over 22 countries that are using the North West as a pre-Olympic training ground. We have the Australian swimming team, the USA Basketball team, Brazilian paralympians and all 15 of the pacific region nations training right here on our doorstep, using our excellent sporting facilities, one of the great legacies of the Commonwealth Games (2002) which Manchester hosted. There are over 250 companies in the region who have been awarded Olympic contracts, all taking a share of the £160m that’s been brought to the region. North West businesses involved range from manufacturing companies through to engineering outfits. One of the repeated comments of the morning was that the North West has grabbed this opportunity with open arms and embraced the chance for new business and job creation.

It’s impossible to underestimate the scale of what is going to happen with these Olympic Games but it is estimated that over 4bn people (that’s more than half of the world’s population) will watch the opening ceremony. Probably the single biggest difference between these games and every other previous Olympiad, is that these games really will be the first truly global ‘digital’ games. Most of us use one form or another of social networking, whether for business or pleasure and social networking sites are now gearing themselves up for the huge surge in expected use during the games, when people will be commentating and interacting in real time about what they are watching on their TV and computer screens. Whilst the digital age allows all of us to be armchair journalists, it’s good to know that the UK is still expecting to host over 40,000 journalists from across the globe, not only reporting on the games, but also the state of our nation and what they find here.

To capitalise on the games, Visit England is launching a £100m advertising campaign. Running over the next 3 years the campaign is designed to encourage people living overseas to visit our shores and to encourage those of us who are lucky enough to already live here, to get out and discover our towns, cities, coast and countryside and take a holiday here at home. The UK is the 6th most visited country in the world and there few other countries that can boast such a rich and diverse heritage and cultural offering. The campaign, which will run on TV from February 2012 is designed to make everyone realise how GREAT Britain is. The eyes of the world will be watching the UK during 2012 and Visit England want all of us to use the opportunity the Olympics present to encourage our friends and family living abroad to visit the UK.

Did I mention sport? Well there’s lots of sport too. After the Olympics are over, London hosts the Paralympic Games and already up and running is a sports project- The Schools Games – which over half the schools in the country have signed up to, with the majority offering Paralympics sports for disabled children. A great chance for all children to get really involved and it’s good to hear that in the North West over 76% of schools have already signed up.  There is a huge sporting tradition in this region with premier football, rugby, cricket and cycling taking place week in week out, so we shouldn’t really be surprised that the children of this region want to get involved.

As Jeremy Hunt concluded “the London 2012 Olympics will be 6 weeks of extraordinary fun that will create a legacy for many years to come”.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait for this summer. I’ve already bought myself a gold chocolate medal which, if I manage not to consume between now and the games, I’ll wear as a necklace to show my support for the fantastic event that’s coming to our shores. So, get out there, get involved and above all enjoy the games!

Helen

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