They are the people who make it happen. The army of office workers, teachers, students, retirees, who leave their day job behind for a couple of weeks and instead immerse themselves in sporting action, making sure an event runs smoothly.
Volunteers are now the backbone of any major sporting event and the Vitality Women’s Hockey World Cup London 2018 will be no different. In fact, many would say that it was the London Olympics in 2012 that really pushed the role of the volunteer into a new sphere.
Alex Danson, England captain, is continuously praising the work of volunteers as is England Hockey CEO Sally Munday: “They are the life blood of our events,” she said in reference to the thousands who turn out to give their time for free.
The role of the volunteer ranges immensely, from the person who directs thousands of fans as they pour out of Stratford International station in search of the Olympic Park to the people who help run the media operations. There are volunteers who carry the players’ kit to the pitch and volunteers who help run the side show entertainment for kids.
“I’m always surprised at how much is delivered at sporting events through the generosity of volunteers. The sheers volume of man hours, effort and energy that’s delivered staggers me at every event.”
Bruce Danbury, Hockey Maker
Two people who are old hands at the volunteering game are Bruce Danbury and Annie Thomas.
Annie was formerly a Physical Education teacher but now works freelance at mass participation events. She first began volunteering after the 2004 Athens Olympics and her new career as a serial volunteer developed from there. She has been involved in a number of major hockey events in a range of capacities, from logistics to venue manager to assistant volunteer manager. During the London Olympic Games, her experiences led to her getting a paid role as Admin Group Leader.
Bruce Danbury is also a well-known face on the hockey circuit. He has worked at the past two Olympic games, a number of Hockey Champions Trophy events, the Hockey World League Semi-Finals in London and a number of other London-based competitions. He is currently in the Gold Coast for his second Commonwealth Games.
Bruce can generally be seen on the side of the pitch working as pitch manager although he also works for the national hockey association as an event assistant, part of a team of regular volunteers who help out with England Hockey events. As a volunteering sideline, he also works pitch side for wheelchair rugby.
For his day job, Bruce is a freelance business consultant, mainly working on corporate transformation programmes. The project management, communication and attention to detail that are essential to his job, transfer seamlessly to his volunteering role.
“I’ve learnt that if everyone knows what is meant to be happening, and everyone pays attention to all the little details they are responsible for, then the big things generally look after themselves,” says Bruce. “The same principles can work in business programmes and sports events.”
This is a sentiment with which Annie is in total agreement, although she adds that bringing a sense of humour and an ability to be instantly adaptable are also key elements to being a successful volunteer.
Considering this is a voluntary role, the pressure that the volunteering team is under is immense. The volunteers work long hours and often travel long distances to the venue. The weather at hockey events is also notoriously tricky – too hot, too cold and often very wet. And, Bruce adds: “Meeting the incredibly high expectations of some organising committees can be fun. Making sure the timings for live sport and TV always come together, with teams spread out over large venues can be a challenge.
“I’m always surprised at how much is delivered at sporting events through the generosity of volunteers. The sheers volume of man hours, effort and energy that’s delivered staggers me at every event,” he adds.
So what keeps the volunteers coming back?
“Easy,” says Annie, “Working with such a great range of fabulous people, seeing what really goes on ‘behind the scenes’ and feeling valued.”
While Annie has seen some amazing sporting action during her many years of volunteering – and her Facebook page is full of images of Annie at various world class events – her most satisfying moment was when she stepped out of the undercroft at the Hockey Centre at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and saw that she had transformed it from a “complete shambles to a properly organised, shelved and labeled storage area.”
For anyone who wants to become a volunteer, Bruce has this advice: “Just do it! Register and get involved. Find out about all the different roles, work out what you like, and what you’ll get the most satisfaction from. There is so much variety. There are different roles, different levels of event, and you will get so much back from the experience.”
TICKETS: Tickets for some matches at the Vitality Hockey Women's World Cup London 2018 are still available.