Friday, 21 September 2012

From Care not Custody to Singing for Joy and the Olympics

A meeting with the Lord Chief Justice in his office in the depths of the Royal Courts of Justice gave the opportunity to explain to him what the WI’s Care not Custody campaign was and how its impetus has resulted in the formation of a ‘Care not Custody coalition’ of the many organisations and agencies that work on the issues of mental health and offenders.

In April of this year at a Westminster reception hosted jointly by the NFWI and the Prison Reform Trust, the then Secretary of State for Health, Andrew Lansley, reaffirmed the Government’s commitment to a care not custody approach: “We will make diversion services a staple part of the health and criminal justice system. We will cover all age groups, a wide range of needs. We will open up opportunities for every court and custody suite to have that alternative available to prison when it is appropriate.” Indeed, with substantial monies promised in recent years for diversion and liaison schemes to be put in place, we will continue to hold the decision makers to their commitments.

The variety within the WI is always there to be seen and from the Royal Courts of Justice at one end of the week to the Federation Choir of the Isle of Ely at the other, every member should be thrilled with the diversity of opportunity the WI provides. “Singing for Joy” is the title given to the choir competition, currently in the early sages, to be held in the WI’s centenary year of 2015. I was delighted to hear the Isle of Ely choir, which undoubtedly has great potential. Their closing piece on this occasion was “Let there be Peace”. 

And indeed, the essence of that song is part of what fellow WI member, Maggie Simons found in her summer spent as Games Maker. Maggie is a member of the NFWI Board of Trustees; she shares her experience now:

“I have had one of the best summers of my life - I was a Games maker at both the Olympics and Paralympics. I did not have a high profile role but was, probably, like many other WI members, one of the 70,000 dressed in purple and red polo shirts, to be seen all over London and at the different sporting venues; there just to help in any way we could.

In some ways it was like being a WI member, part of a large organisation offering support and friendship to all. You only had to be in London during both the games to know something was different. As Boris Johnson said in his final speech, people on trains did spontaneously start talking to each other. If you were in your purple and red outfit it was assumed you could answer any questions (and we did our best). Even if you were not in uniform, people talked about what they had seen, what they had enjoyed most... Shifts were long; for early shifts I left the house and 4.15 in the morning and didn’t get back until tea time, for late shifts I left at midday and wasn’t back until 2.00am. 

My Olympics was spent in the wonderful Olympic Park, walking several miles a day visiting other Games makers, who were sometimes in the middle of huge crowds, and others who were on duty in quiet areas around the extreme edges of the park. We took water on hot days, ponchos when it rained, chocolates (which always brought a smile) and generally listened to complaints and helped solve problems. For those who didn’t have a chance to visit the park I must mention the wild flower meadows – they were incredible. Seven years of planning had gone into the development of the design and seed so that these large strips of meadow were continually in flower throughout the summer. As one species finished another would come out to replace it. The good part is that some of the meadow areas will continue to thrive and be managed so that the seeds will self-sow to the pleasure of people living around and visiting the park in the years to come. The only live sport I saw during the whole of the Olympics was one evening in the stadium for which we had tickets, but the cheers when Team GB were competing could be heard all over the park.

My Paralympic experience was totally different but just as rewarding. My role was the same but this time I was based at the Excel Centre so spent most of the day indoors. However, visiting the Games makers included going into the five different arenas which gave me the opportunity to watch some of the truly inspiring sportsmen and women, who ignore disabilities that the majority of us would think were insurmountable, to become the best in the world. Sports at Excel were wheelchair fencing, sitting volleyball, judo, boccia (a kind of very competitive bowls) and power-lifting. I will never forget watching the seated volleyball as the competitors remove any artificial limbs and play, as the name suggests, sitting on the ground – which makes everyone equal. 

My Games experience finished when I was allocated a ticket to watch the final athletes’ parade, together with thousands of other Games makers who lined both sides of the Mall near Admiralty Arch – a truly fitting finale. My memory will be of the atmosphere in London throughout the summer, all nationalities, religions and ages joining in as one people to enjoy a major sporting event. London was a friendly, safe place to be at all hours of the day and night – surely this is how it should always be.”

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