I’ve followed the Rugby World Cup volunteer programme almost from its inception, giving the England Rugby 2015 Workforce team some advice about how to engage rugby club members in the recruitment process, helping with interviewing prospective candidates at Stratford and Twickenham, then going to the Kick-Off at Milton Keynes. The past couple of weekends I’ve been at Twickenham to facilitate at Talking Tactics, the training programme for The Pack.
Twickenham was the last of the venues to host Talking Tactics with members of The Pack due to volunteer at Wembley, The Olympic Stadium and Twickenham all coming over a period of two weeks. The first weekend nearly 600 volunteers came over the two days so our work was cut out. The morning session was spent as one group with various exercises and scenarios highlighting the importance of listening, non-verbal communication, some team building and understanding the importance of the Rugby World Cup to players, spectators, other volunteers and supporters around the world.
These were interspersed with motivational videos with messages from Jonny Wilkinson and Prince Harry amongst others. The video below shows paper aeroplanes, upon which delegates wrote their personal commitment to the tournament, being thrown and then read by whoever picked them up.
In the afternoon the volunteers were split into their functional areas for more specific training: Spectator Services; Catering; Tournament Guest Protocol; Spectator Experience; Logistics; Accreditation; Anti-Doping; Transport; Match Services.
The first weekend I was facilitating the Tournament Guest Protocol group, the members of which would be looking after invited guests at the tournament from home and abroad. The first exercise was designed to find out what people had done in the past to be chosen for this group and I was quite astonished at the calibre of the volunteers in the room. There were people who had met the Queen and other members of the Royal Family on more than one occasion, others that had spent time with high profile people such as Richard Branson, plus there were a couple of holders of an OBE and even a former bodyguard to Princess Margaret! It soon became clear that this group of volunteers would be looking after some very important people and that they had been selected based on their past experience and their ability to be discreet.
I spent some time with the Anti-Doping group during my second weekend and as you would expect there were some quite specialised people there and some of them may even get to watch some of the games until they are called upon to escort a player to the testing station. I also popped my head into Match Services who will be the people that you see pitch-side before, during and after games, and although they will be right alongside the action, they have been chosen as people that will keep an eye on what’s happening around the game rather than in it and won’t be stopping to take a selfie every time a player walks past.
It was brought home to me how important The Pack will be during the tournament. These volunteers aren’t just going to stand around in their uniforms vaguely pointing the way to the stadium; they each have a crucial role in making this Rugby World Cup a memorable one for the million plus spectators that have bought tickets to matches at any of the twelve venues, the hundreds of thousands of visitors to England and Cardiff that will start arriving during September, and the hundreds of players that will be taking part.
The next step for The Pack is to complete their online training before they attend Home Turf, where they go to the stadia where they will be volunteering to acclimatise themselves with the facilities, the flow of spectators and guests and the match day arrangements that are slightly different for each venue.
I won’t be able to volunteer at the tournament myself but I have been very lucky to be able to watch the progress of this group of people. The next time I am likely to see any of them will be at the games that I am fortunate to have tickets for and I will make sure that I say hello and thank them for their enthusiasm and commitment. I should also mention the England Rugby 2015 staff that have been leading this process for nearly eighteen months; people like Jenni and Chiddi (pictured at the top of this article) and many others who have remained unfeasibly energetic with constant smiles on their faces despite having answered the same questions over and over again and managing the expectations of thousands of people, from the cynical club member who claims to have seen everything in the game, to the Olympic GamesMaker who knows little about rugby but loves volunteering at big events, and everyone in between.
When I asked Jenni how she remains so enthusiastic she said that this was her dream job and she loved every minute.
If there is only one legacy after the Rugby World Cup it will be be that the profile of volunteering in the UK will have been given a huge boost with thousands of people ready and willing to volunteer at their local clubs. These are very special people; please make them welcome.