As the London 2012 Olympic Games become a memory and we prepare for the Paralympics, it’s time for the Olympic Legacy to really get going, particularly in the north.
As I carried the Olympic Torch for Magic Breakfast through Bedale in June, I felt the early excitement, pride and passion for the Games that pulsated throughout the north, and which has brought together communities and lifted the nation’s spirits over the last two weeks.
The north has made a huge contribution to the Games’ success – from backing the original bid in 2003 and providing venues for Olympic events to supplying the volunteers and medal-winning athletes who have captured the nation’s hearts.
Check out Yorkshire’s mighty tally on the Guardian Northerner here.
So as the euphoria recedes, we need to work hard to ensure that we in the north get our fair share of the Olympic legacy too.
We mustn’t forget that Manchester and Newcastle hosted Olympic football matches, whilst Australia, China, Brazil, America and other sporting giants were hosted in northern cities for pre-Games training. They chose the north because of our warm welcome and outstanding facilities. Sheffield, Scunthorpe and Gateshead’s Sage all played host to the Cultural Olympiad, and a large contingent of the 70,000 pink-uniformed Games Maker volunteers who made the Olympics happen came from the north.
Above all, the north – and Yorkshire in particular – has provided the athletes and coaches who powered Team GB to Olympic glory. Sheffield’s Jessica Ennis, Ingleby Barwick’s Kat Copeland, and the Brownlee brothers from Leeds, to name just a few. We can also claim honorary northerner (Salford-based) Sir Chris Hoy. They, and many others, all put the north above traditional Olympic titans such as Australia and Russia in the medals table; they really did put the north on the global stage.
What’s even more uplifting is that the ambition, passion and energy that took Ennis & Co. to the top of the podium were already bountiful in their home towns. Visit Leeds, York, Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield or Newcastle and you’ll find self-confident cities bustling with ambitious young professionals, new shops, rising investment and growing infrastructure.
Just last month, £560m of new rail spending was injected into the Northern Hub, John Lewis has signed up as anchor tenant for the long-awaited Harewood development in Leeds, and the North East’s businesses have won over £120 million worth of Games-related business. No wonder then that Kevin Grady, Chair of Leeds Civic Trust says his city is having its “best couple of months for several years”. The image of the north painted by Parry’s ‘dark satanic mills’ – which hasn’t been true for a long time – has gone forever. The north is a vibrant, dynamic network of towns, cities and communities, full of life and colour.
But we can’t be complacent. We must still work hard to ensure that the Olympic legacy benefits the north’s poorest communities too, not just our city centres and leafy suburbs. The Olympic legacy will mean nothing if it doesn’t reach our inner-cities and our neediest kids – our future Olympians.
Magic Breakfast is the UK’s leading school breakfast club charity and we run 45 school breakfast clubs in the north (and over 200 nationally), focused on inner-city Sheffield, Rotherham, Bradford, Leeds, Blackburn, Manchester and Liverpool. We feed hundreds of hungry children every morning in the north (and 6,000 kids nationally) with no government funding, relying on the generosity and support of individual givers and businesses like Leeds-based Bagel Nash who supply us with high-energy bagels.
We want the Olympics to inspire our kids to lead healthy, sporty lifestyles, but we also want the north’s successful businesses, Olympians and local policymakers to work with us to solve the problem of child hunger and poverty for good. The lasting Olympic legacy must be that the north’s poorest communities and hungriest children have the opportunity of a better future.
Let’s hope too that the northern Games Makers bring back the passion they showed at the Olympic Park and use their talents and energy to help us build a strong Olympic legacy in northern communities: starting new businesses, volunteering for good causes, and working with charities like ours to take on the engrained social challenges like poverty that hold back our young people. Ambitious quangos such as Yorkshire Gold have been set up to ensure the region benefits economically and culturally from London2012. Community charities like Magic Breakfast are working hard to ensure that we benefit socially too.
We were treated to a fantastic Olympic closing ceremony on Sunday, showcasing all that’s best about Britain: our musical heritage and creative industries; our armed forces; our athletes; and our volunteers who’ve come from every corner of the land. Like Danny Boyle’s inspirational opening ceremony, it was a wonderful celebration of all we’ve achieved as a nation.
Let’s also make the end of these fantastic Olympics the start of Britain’s long-lasting Olympic legacy, which sees us build a fairer, stronger, more equal country where every young person has opportunity, with the north at the heart of that new nation. These Olympics have been a win for London and Britain. Let’s make sure they’re a win for the north too.