I have been working on and off with England 2015’s Workforce people trying to give a grass roots rugby view of how best to engage and recruit volunteers from rugby clubs to The Pack, the Rugby World Cup’s 6000 strong team of volunteers. So when I got an invitation to be a guest at the Workforce Kick-Off on 16 May at stadium:mk in Milton Keynes I jumped at the chance to go despite it clashing with the final round of Premiership games, the London Sevens at Twickenham and County Championship games.
I arrived on a bright Saturday morning and my first impressions of the stadium were very good. For the level the football club plays at it is very impressive and has its own hotel in one of the stands. I made my way to the Crew area to find lots of people in pink polo shirts, many of whom I knew, from the RFU, from Legacy Groups, from England 2015, from host venue councils and some club volunteers. I was offered a polo but pink really isn’t my colour and I wanted to observe what happened during the day so I wanted to retain a little anonymity.
As the start time approached I made my way in the stadium bowl to see one of the stands a sea of pale blue as a little over 4000 of the volunteers that were present had taken their seats. I sat to one side and couldn’t help but be impressed by the enthusiasm, energy and anticipation of the volunteers as they waited for proceedings to begin. Laurence Dallaglio was up first, his main job to welcome everyone and set up poses for photographs to be taken of The Pack by a flying drone that buzzed up and down. We had all been provided with special Coca-Cola bottles with The Pack printed on them so of course one of the shots was with everyone waving their bottle in the air! Lol was followed by England Rugby’s official singer Laura Wright who took The Pack through a series of physical and vocal warm-up exercises culminating in a rehearsal of Jerusalem.
Master of ceremonies was John Inverdale and he introduced the Chief Executive of England 2015 then the Chairman before going through the order of the day. The Pack would hear from Jason Leonard, Will Greenwood, Serge Betsen, Laura Wright, Maggie Alphonsi, Shane Williams and Bill Beaumont and they would have the chance to find out more about the places where they will be volunteering and to ask more detailed questions about training and what they will actually be expected to do.
There were a couple of poignant moments during Inverdale’s introductory speech. When he said that Bill Beaumont would be addressing them into the afternoon, The Pack broke out into spontaneous applause even though he wasn’t even there yet. Then when Jason Leonard was introduced and he took to the stage, there was a two minute standing ovation for the World Cup winner. I don’t think I had really appreciated how much these two men are regarded as national treasures by the general public. The Pack is made up of rugby club members and those who have not got involved in the sport before in roughly equal numbers and this expression of admiration only shows how lucky the RFU is to have Leonard and Beaumont as President and Chairman in World Cup year.
While Will Greenwood, Shane Williams, Maggie Alphionsi and Serge Betsen took the stage I went to the exhibition area to see what The Pack had to look forward to next. The Rugby World Cup Trophy had just been put on its plinth so I took the opportunity to have a photo taken with it while it was quiet. I went outside briefly just as Bill Beaumont arrived and glad to see a familiar face he asked if I could show him where to go. We went into the exhibition area to try to get to the Green Room which was only 50 yards away, but by now members of The Pack had started to come in and one after another they asked for autographs and pictures.
Bill was very accommodating and to help speed things up I took pictures on peoples’ phones, but it was half an hour before we had to call time to he could get something to eat and drink. I’m not sure if I was supposed to go into the Green Room but I went in with Bill to see some of the RFU bigwigs there and a table of sandwiches and soft drinks which I naturally gravitated towards. I was only when I settled down to eat that I realised that also seated at the table were Inverdale, Betsen, Williams, Alphonsi, Greenwood and Laura Wright. Fortunately they happily chatted to me about the day and the game in general and although I hope I appeared calm, I was understandably very excited and being able to talk to this stellar group and I hope I didn’t make too much of a fool of myself. I did manage to find out that Laura Wright is from Ipswich so it may be that she will make an appearance there when the Webb Ellis Cup visits the town in August.
I then went into the exhibition hall to mingle with the Pack and see what their reactions were to the day so far. I met a surprising number of people I knew including some from Eastern Counties clubs, the Common & Lords team and people I had interviewed for The Pack in Stratford and Twickenham and fellow interviewers. All were impressed by what they had seen and heard so far with Will Greenwood being a highlight as he was at his witty and inspirational best. There was a huge queue for a photo with the World Cup Trophy and another for a kicking competition, Land Rovers with RWC 2015 livery were scattered about and each of the match venues had a stand, all of which had plenty of people asking about what they could expect to do as a volunteer. The international players had all come out and were busy signing autographs and posing for photographs and there was a general buzz of excitement.
I had to leave to get to a county game so missed the big reveal of the uniform Pack members would wear. I had been given a sneak preview and as I’m not sure that it is in the public domain yet I won’t say much more other than that there is quite a lot of blue.
There is no doubt that this group of committed volunteers will play a big part in making the forthcoming tournament the best ever. The combination of rugby club volunteers and those new to the game but who have had experience of volunteering at London 2012, Glasgow 2014 or other big events will be a winning one. Any of those not already involved in rugby will surely be an asset to any club and I know they will be contacted by the RFU with a view to pointing them in the right direction.
The next phase is ‘Top Tips’, the volunteer training programme, and I am pleased that I will be helping out at some of the sessions being held at Twickenham after which I am sure I will report again.
Some pictures of the day