On Wednesday this week we hosted the sector’s first ever Pan London Olympic strategy meeting. It was our way of helping London’s childcare industry consider how it could respond proactively and in a grown up way to the inevitable disruption the Olympics will cause during the summer. The Olympics may officially begin in 100 days, but the torch bearers begin in 30 days and really the situation starts to kick off from then. What is more, people think the Olympics runs for two weeks, when in reality it’s six weeks at best, and more realistically in fact the entire summer – beginning with the Queens Jubilee in June and concluding at the end of August.
Representatives came the summit from 42 nurseries in 22 boroughs across London and heard presentations from TfL and the City of London police, along with sensible advice from the contingency business planner for Westminster City Council.
The audience was a lively one, and it took very little time for us to realise the implications of the Olympics would be greater than we imagined and so needed careful thought if were to remain calm, positive and constructive advocates for UKPLC! A point emphasised by Tessa Jowell MP, Shadow Minister with responsibility for the Olympics, who popped in to congratulate us on having the foresight to organise such a meeting in the first place; and then marvelled at the numbers of children and parents we would be serving during that period. (A guestimate of 50,000 was bandied about.)
Despite conflicting media information about tourist numbers, both the police and TfL agree we will have at least 2 million visitors to London, with many of them staying in the centre; and as we already find ourselves regularly squashed between rucksacks and map readers, this will only increase. So the advice was clear: don’t take unnecessary journeys says TfL, plot out the road hotspots, examine the tube hotspots; spend time on their website.
The police had more advice, with the inspector asking what will people do when the event is over – go home for a rest? Of course not; they will go down to the local hostelry, restaurant, park or go sightseeing, typically adding to the summer’s usual crowd and travel problems. Pubs and other places will take advantage of this passing trade, and may have big screen events adding yet further to these numbers, spreading the possible chaos. Each country also has something called the National Olympic Committee (NOC), essentially party organisers that will be arranging cultural events well into the evening. Many of these are sponsored by drinks companies, so they won’t be serving tea and cucumber sandwiches! (Sadly, the inspector was unable to tell me if there was an Irish NOC or where it might be, as I quite fancy a bit of Christy Moore, chocolate Kimberley biscuits and a pot of Barry’s tea – and maybe Gabriel Byrne might pop in and make my year!)
In any case, the police officer certainly had a sense of humour, and balanced his gloomy take on security with an introduction to those rather eccentric characters who want to make a point for peace or the greater good by disrupting events. He reminded us that Fathers4Justice have promised an outing, whilst Jimmy Jump and Cornelius Horan both get their kicks out of disrupting sporting events by running into them or stripping naked and running off with the ball. (The sort of behaviour we expect with two year olds; only in this case, they get publicity, we get more disruption.)
However, what was soon apparent was how as Early Years providers we are a practical lot – and were soon taking the first steps in contingency planning. Later the Evening Standard asked me if we will cope. “Of course we will,” I said. “We are the childcare industry!” (For more reporting on the expected challenges during the Olympics and our event’s aim to come up with solutions, I’m told we should pick up a copy of said paper this coming Monday!)
In summary, the issues we need to cope with and options to consider include:
- Staff travelling to and from work – implications for ratios, overtime, emergency contact arrangement
- Deliveries of food – to stockpile or not to stockpile!
- Arrival and collection times of children – implications for ratios, fees and flexibility
- Camp beds – should we buy one or two for unexpected over-night stays?
- Outings – where do we go, and what about holiday clubs which organise lots of outings?
- Know thy neighbour – making contacts with local nurseries so we can support one another
- Hospitals – identifying which is the designated emergency hospital
- Communication – updating everyone’s contact details, since mobile phone networks often get overloaded, making it impossible to get through to anyone (so think of alternatives)
What we all agreed on at the meeting was that no one really quite understands the broader implications for this period, so this was just a start.
In terms of next steps, Kate Hawkins (from Nursery Management Today magazine, which worked with us on the event) left us with an action plan template. Meanwhile, Julian Gibbs (Regional Manager for the NDNA) has promised to put together a fact sheet and upload it on their website, so I encourage all providers to keep an eye out for that. In fact, Julian concluded that the meeting had been an eye opener and flagged up many more issues than he had first imagined.
From our side, LEYF nurseries have already sent parents a postcard asking if they are on leave, changing their hours or could give us information about their plans during the period to help us ‘Get Ahead of the Games‘.
So like the Boy Scouts always say: ‘Be Prepared’.