My name is Richard Dear and I was a London Ambassador.
I lived and worked in London for 45 years until I moved to Market Harborough, Leicestershire in April 2002. I have been lucky to have travelled to many cities all over the world which have been wonderful – but to my mind LONDON IS THE GREATEST CITY. London’s heritage, historic buildings, open spaces and multi-cultural aspects places it top. Although neither born in nor no longer living in London, I am a Londoner!
I wanted to be a London Ambassador as soon as I heard that they were being recruited for London 2012 as I had seen how popular and friendly they were at the Melbourne Commonwealth Games in 2006. I wanted to be able to share London with others.
I spent 5 days at Waterloo Station on the main concourse. We had a small “pod” as our base and I started on the Monday after the closing ceremony. I worked the middle shift (between 12.30 and 5.30) – which meant no early starts or late finishes, which was useful as I was staying with friends in West Sussex – not exactly local.
I was in a team of four plus a team leader. We were a mixed bunch: different ages and interests and worked well together. Our brief was quite simple – provide information and suggestions (rather than advice) about London and where to go and what to see. Most of our enquiries were from British tourists but we did have quite a few foreign tourists – we had few language problems. Many people wanted rail information so we directed them to the Rail Information office located a few yards from us. In general we were asked “How do we get to…?” The most popular was probably “….to the Olympic Park”. While we all knew the answer to this, we were mindful that we were now in the transition period between the Olympic and Paralympic Games and to manage their expectations we had to mention that the Park was not open. It was surprising how many people thought that they could just walk in and look around the Park. The question we thought we would be asked the most actually was rarely asked: “Where are the toilets?”
A couple of people I spoke with stick in my mind. One was a lady of, shall we say, mature years, from Melbourne. She had been a volunteer during the 2006 Commonwealth Games and had thoroughly enjoyed the experience. She had also worked at a winery that my wife and I had visited in the Yarra Valley just east of Melbourne so we had quite a good chat. She was a fairly frequent visitor to London and had approached us simply for a chat and not for information.
The second person was a young Asian man who wanted to travel from Waterloo Station to Canary Wharf. Quite simple – except he wanted to walk as he had plenty of time before meeting his friend there! Incidentally, it was a hot and humid day. I explained that while the walk to Tower Bridge was an interesting walk along the South Bank, once he had crossed Tower Bridge and was walking along The Highway and then the A13 the views were not particularly impressive and there would be a lot of heavy traffic and the experience would not really be very pleasant. After a bit more chat, he accepted that a walk to Tower Bridge and then to take the DLR to Canary Wharf would be a better option. It was only as he started to walk away that I noticed he had with him a large heavy suitcase – admittedly it was on wheels but ……..!!
Many people were slightly surprised that we were still working after the Olympics and we explained our role. I don’t think many people appreciated we were not Games Makers but they did appreciate we were all volunteers and thought we were doing “a wonderful job”.
I thoroughly enjoyed my five days as London Ambassador especially as it fell between the Olympics and Paralympics so bridging the gap nicely. While the training we received was appropriate, the overwhelming requirement of a London Ambassador in my view was to be friendly, approachable, have some knowledge of how to travel around London and to have common sense!
The UK and London in particular has had a fantastic summer of celebration and sport which will be remembered for a very long time – and it was fantastic to be a part of it. I was also a Games Maker at the Paralympic 5-a-side football and my wife was also a Games Maker and London Ambassador. We were fortunate in obtaining tickets to several sessions in the Athletics Stadium during both Olympic and Paralympic Games. We were well ingrained with the Olympic Spirit! The whole experience has just been unbelievable and one that I will never forget.