Andy Street is Mayor of the West Midlands, and is a former Managing Director of John Lewis.
Over the last 18 months, it seems we have been constantly looking forward to better times – to the easing of restrictions, for the roll-out of vaccines, to the reopening of businesses, to see our loved ones. Well, in the West Midlands we have something huge to look forward to next year: the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.
As the growing excitement over this summer’s European football championships has shown, nothing lifts the spirits and unites people quite like a major sporting event, and in 2022 our region will host one of the world’s biggest, with a global audience of over one billion. At the Games, more than 6,500 athletes carrying the hopes of 71 countries will compete in 264 events across 18 sports.
Together with the Coventry City of Culture celebrations, which are now underway, the Games will provide a cultural kickstart after the restrictions of the pandemic, boosting the economy and bringing people together to celebrate not only top level sport, but all that is good about our region. This is an incredible opportunity for residents across the West Midlands, and in particular young people, to get involved in a global event, right on their doorstep. Its timing couldn’t be better.
I want to use this column to write about the legacy the Games will leave, not only in terms of new facilities but opportunity.
Key to that will be the “Commonwealth Collective”: 13000 volunteers who will be the public faces of Birmingham 2022 and represent the heart and soul of the event experience for athletes, officials, spectators.
The search to find these volunteers has now begun in earnest. We want to create a dedicated and dynamic group that will reflect the diversity of the West Midlands as well as the modern Commonwealth, putting in an incredible one million hours of volunteer time.
The Games is by far the largest sporting and cultural event ever to be held in the region and the biggest in the UK since the London Olympics. Many remember the ‘Games Makers’ who made London 2012 such a friendly, welcoming experience. The Commonwealth Collective takes that concept and puts an innovative West Midlands spin on it, turning volunteering skills into opportunity.
So, what will the volunteers do? Roles include those all-important ‘meet and greeters’, drivers, first aiders, people to prepare venues, kit carriers, courtside assistants, and everything in between to help the Games run smoothly and create a unique experience right across the region.
The majority of roles don’t need any formal experience or qualifications, because there will be around 250,000 hours of training provided, and volunteers can select preferred areas of interest which include event services, accreditation, transport, sport and media.
While much is made of the physical legacy of large sports events – stadiums, new facilities and transport infrastructure – in the wake of the pandemic we are also determined to ensure that the Games boost skills for everyone involved, young and old. So, while volunteer applicants must be aged 18, a young volunteer programme for 14-17 year olds will begin recruitment in the autumn too. Critically, everyone who volunteers will gain key skills to help with future job prospects.
We are also, of course, using the Games to provide extensive employment opportunities alongside the volunteering roles, with the aim of creating 35,000 jobs.
The Legacy plan set out for the Games earlier this year shows how this will be done. It aims to deliver the first carbon-neutral Commonwealth Games and the largest business and tourism programme of any Games to attract international visitors and investment to the region and the UK.
A major International Business Expo is expected to run alongside the Games, highlighting and promoting commerce in the region and sending out the clear message that Britain is open for business post-pandemic. Our ambition is not only an unparalleled programme of sport but also trade, tourism and investment.
In terms of bricks and mortar, there are the state-of-the-art legacy facilities at the Alexander Stadium and Sandwell Aquatics Centre for community use after the Games. The first phase of the Perry Barr Regeneration Scheme will deliver 1,400 homes, with hundreds more in future phases. Around £350m of procurement spend will benefit businesses across the UK, with the first Commonwealth Jobs and Skills Academy offering a blueprint for reaching disadvantaged groups.
There is also Commonwealth Active Communities, a £4m Sport England fund to harness the power of the Games to support inactive people to become more active and a six-month, UK-wide cultural festival reaching 2.5 million people and prioritising underrepresented communities. Finally, a £6m Commonwealth Games Community Fund from Birmingham City Council will help communities build pride, respect and cohesion by celebrating the Games.
But if the Games is to have a lost-lasting legacy beyond new facilities, it must reach out to future generations.
So, hundreds of young people will also gain access to new volunteering and employment opportunities, thanks to more than £700,000 from the National Lottery Community Fund. The project will seek to engage with a minimum of 800 disadvantaged young people, working with 20 community-based organisations working close to Games venues in Birmingham, Coventry, Sandwell and Wolverhampton.
The outreach activity will support local young people aged 18 to 30 who are unemployed or at risk of unemployment, and will particularly target those who live in priority wards.
Making sure that the jobs created by the Games go to local people is a key part of my jobs plan to help more than 100,000 residents into employment over the next two years, and is also critical to ensuring the Commonwealth Games is a Games for everyone.
This hugely exciting event is now a little over a year away, and across Birmingham and the West Midlands preparations are being stepped up. I know that the Games will deliver a message of hope and recovery after the pandemic and create wonderful memories for local people of a once-in-a-lifetime global event. They will also leave behind brilliant new facilities that will benefit generations to come.
But as we look to grow the economy post-pandemic, I also believe this Games will have another significant legacy – a legacy of opportunity, through the jobs it creates and its engagement with business. And, of course, through the new skills learned by the 13000 volunteers who will help make it happen.
The benefits of Birmingham 2022 will be felt long after the closing ceremony. That’s something we can all really look forward to.