MORPETH volunteers have returned to their day jobs after an amazing Olympic experience.
For Stephen Parsons his Olympic journey began when he was selected to carry the iconic flame during the Morpeth leg of its national relay.
But barely had he time to come back down to earth after the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity then the 25-year-old was off to the London Games as a volunteer.
Mr Parsons, who works as a Development Officer at Northumberland Sport and volunteers for coaching duties at Morpeth’s cricket and rugby clubs, enlisted as a Games Maker to work with disabled spectators.
And after a rigorous interview process he was selected to join the mobility team in the Copper Box arena used for the handball competition.
He said: “It was fantastic – in fact I’m slightly disappointed to be home.
“I went the day before the Opening Ceremony of the Games and came back on the Saturday before the Closing Ceremony.
“I did see little bits of the handball. It was just a ridiculously friendly atmosphere everywhere – everyone was enjoying it and talking to each other.
“Because of the handball, there were lots of French and Spanish and Korean families there, but even if they couldn’t communicate with us in English, there was always someone around who could help out or translate in a way, which just made it really easy.
“The thing that stands out is really just all the thank-yous we were getting, even if we were just asking someone if they wanted help they would say thank you for asking.
“One person came in on crutches and they didn’t have an accessible seat, but we were able to move them into a suitable seat to see the game and they were so grateful.”
Mr Parsons is taking his Olympic Torch around various sports clubs and schools, but now he is finding that people are also interested in his volunteering tales.
“A lot of people are asking about the Games Maker stuff now, which is really good because if I can go into schools and talk about it, it might help to get people interested in volunteering. If I can inspire the younger generation that way it will be brilliant,” he said.
“Being a Games Maker is the second best thing I have done this year, next to the torch relay. The Olympics has certainly been the best prolonged experience I have had.”
The volunteer has now signed up for shifts at the Paralympic Games and is waiting to hear where he will be working.
Meanwhile, Oliver Lowe has returned to his job at transport charity Sustrans after serving as a volunteer driver at the Games.
The 27-year-old worked various shifts, mainly transporting foreign officials, but he was also surprised to be called on for airport runs for a Moldovan swimmer, Venezuelan cyclist and Spanish tennis player Nicolas Almagro, who was beaten by Andy Murray on his way to Olympic Gold.
However, he had to turn down Chris Evans for a lift as he did not have the right pass.
He said: “It was absolutely brilliant, just so wonderful being part of it.
“Whilst we had been told that we wouldn’t be driving the athletes I did get to drive some of them, which was really good.
“I had to go to the Athletes’ Village quite a lot because that is where a lot of my journeys started.
“Getting a glimpse of the village was pretty cool and while we were waiting in the car park area there were a lot of athletes walking past. It was really good.
“They had taken on rather a lot of drivers and the demand for our services was a bit less than they thought so it was fun in the quiet periods speaking to the other drivers and finding out who they had driven.
“Someone had driven Jonathan Edwards, someone else had taken Mo Farah and one driver took Zara Phillips. She would have got the Tube, but she had four big bags so she decided to hop into one of the cars instead.”
The Games Maker experience began for Mr Lowe when he was invited to a rehearsal for the Opening Ceremony, along with other volunteers.
“It was amazing going to the rehearsal and Danny Boyle came out and said a few words. We saw all the big scenes and really got a feel for it, but we didn’t see any of the film clips that were shown on the night, or Mr Bean. It was really exciting though,” he said.
Mr Lowe’s driving experience included getting lost a few times when his sat nav system let him down, and going through tight security checks.
He added: “The whole thing was just amazing and there was a great atmosphere. As I was based in the Olympic Park I was able to walk around it after my shift and really get to soak up the atmosphere. I saw it by day and by night. I just had the best time.”