Visitors receiving special help from Games Pastors
For the first time at any Olympics, the thousands of visitors have an extra level of care and support, thanks to an initiative from the churches
For the first time at any Olympics, the thousands of visitors have an extra level of care and support, thanks to an initiative from the churches.
Around 300 volunteers are serving as Games Pastors at the major Olympic transport hubs, offering travellers support, compassion and a listening ear.
“Sometimes it is as simple as helping someone make sense of UK money so they have the right change for the loo,” said Mike Freeman MBE, Operations Manager of the Games Pastors Team. “At others it can be offering comfort to someone who is lost and bewildered.”
With tens of thousands of extra travellers passing though London there has been no shortage of need for the Games Pastor teams working in their striking powder blue uniforms.
At London Bridge station, Games Pastors met a man struggling to deal with the death of his wife and child following a car crash. He had been driving the car and was blaming himself for their deaths. The volunteers talked to him, took him for a cup of tea and he asked them to pray for him.
Another Games Pastors team helped a Korean student who had caught the wrong train, re-directed a lady who was lost, and gave comfort to a man who had been out of work for a number of years and didn’t see any point to his life.
Sometimes the need has proved to be exceptional, as when members of the Madagascar team landed at Luton airport with no one official to greet them. With their bags still in Paris, arrangements were also made to provide them with clothes and essentials.
“There has been very positive feedback from the public, the station managers and staff,” said Mike Freeman, previously head of senior police officer training at Bramshill. “The many official staff who are serving travellers so well simply don’t have time to listen or talk those in need or with problems. Filling the gap are our Games Pastors, who are trained to be a listening ear and to respond accordingly.”
The reaction has been so positive that the Games Pastors programme is set to become the blueprint for major future sporting events, including the Commonwealth Games in 2014 and Rio 2016.
The Games Pastors teams are organised by More Than Gold, an agency set up by all the main denominations to help churches serve the 2012 Games and their own communities.
The teams are made up of volunteers who meet their own expenses and come from a variety of backgrounds – managers, owners of care homes, people who are between jobs – and are based in London, Luton, Newcastle and Coventry during the Olympics. While most live in the UK, some are from Cyprus, Germany and the United States.
The idea for Games Pastors started two years ago as part of the More Than Gold programme and has been supported across the denominations. It was modelled on the urban Street Pastors initiative.