With Rio 2016 in full flow, London 2012’s legacy is strong …
London is European Volunteering Capital 2016 and this August Team London’s Visitor Welcome programme enters its fifth year. London Ambassador, Juliette Llewellyn, explores the scheme’s benefit to visitors and volunteers.
‘Where’s the natural design museum?’ the man with a hat asks.
‘Pardon sir?’ I do not recognise his query.
‘The natural design museum?’
‘We’re outside the V&A.’ I indicate behind us. ‘It’s an art and design museum. Is that where you mean?’
The man turns to the grey stone architecture. ‘What’s in there?’
‘Sculpture, fashion, paintings.’
He looks bemused. ‘It’s the natural design museum.’
‘Well, there’s a Natural History Museum?’ It sounds similar.
‘Where’s that?’ he asks.
‘Straight ahead.’ I point to a second imposing building further up Cromwell Road.
He follows my gaze. ‘And in there?’
‘Dinosaurs, fossils …’
‘That’s it!’ He looks relieved. ‘How do I get in?’
‘Straight ahead, across Exhibition Road and enter a large gate, further up on your right.’ I hand him one of our special edition maps.
‘Fantastic,’ and he strides off.
Crowds are in full throng. I have only one map left so reach into our portable welcome pod to replenish my stock. Maps are key, containing Central London streets and landmarks, with tube, bus and train routes. My fellow Ambassadors are busy helping a couple of Spanish tourists, so I take a rest as standing for any length is tiring. I sit on a small stool, leaning against the pod for a quiet moment. We are in the heart of Albertopolis (nickname for Exhibition Road area, after Prince Albert), leafy branches canopy our spot and sunlight seeps through.
‘I’ve found one.’ A voice booms behind me. A large American is waving his stick enthusiastically.
I turn and smile. ‘Hello sir, can I help?’
‘We’ve heard all about you and here you are.’ He beams, pointing to our blue and pink uniforms. ‘Are you a London Ambassador?’
‘Yes, I am.’
‘Hooray!’ He is fit to burst. ‘Can you help us?’
The American hobbles closer, accompanied by his wife. ‘We want to get to Gloucester Road tube?’ He looks at me expectantly.
I am aware of his limited walking. ‘South Kensington tube is nearer.’
‘Oh, how far is Gloucester Road?’
‘About 13 minutes.’ I glance at the pod map. ‘South Ken’s six minutes.’
‘Well, we want a walk don’t we?’ His wife nods. ‘See the architecture.’
So I equip them with a map.
‘We heard that London still had its Olympic Ambassadors and always wanted to meet one.’ They depart and his joy leaves me buoyant.
The American’s thanks echo the many we receive. Our London Ambassador welcome extends internationally. Although most Londoners are happy to give quick advice when asked, we can give each query invaluable time. As a visitor myself (I live in Cardiff) I have used London Ambassadors in Paddington Station during the London 2012 Games. It makes a noticeable difference having a dedicated person to ask.
It is lunchtime and we usually stagger breaks, but due to health I am on my own schedule. I am grateful the scheme supports volunteers with disabilities as key to my ability to function is pacing (balancing activity and rest to help manage essential daily tasks). I gather my belongings and head towards the V&A. The courtyard is teeming but I find a quiet corner. On returning, my fellow Ambassadors are engaged helping others. One points out a location on our pod map and another searches on a tablet.
‘It’s a silver car Dad.’ A young boy pushes his father towards me.
‘Silver car?’ I ask.
‘Er … Yes, we saw it on the tube,’ the man says.
I try to visualise.
‘Sorry, a poster, on the tube.’
‘What else was on the poster?’ I am hoping for insight.
‘Bond, James Bond!’ the boy says.
‘Is there something on now?’ The father scans the pod for clues.
I rack my brains and flick through my location handbook but nothing shows up. ‘Let’s search,’ I say. After typing a few keywords on the tablet, Google does its magic.
‘That’s the car!’ says the boy, as I show them a photo.
‘Where is it?’ asks the father.
We huddle around the tablet.
‘The London Film Museum … Bond In Motion.’
The boy’s face lights up.
‘Says it’s “The largest official collection of original James Bond vehicles.”’
‘Wellington Street, Covent Garden.’ Luke, a fellow Ambassador overhears.
‘Is it far?’ the father asks him.
‘Could take about an hour? Juliette can check on Citymapper.’
The man looks at his watch.
‘Last entry’s 5pm.’ Luke glances at the tablet. ‘Not much time.’
Citymapper quickly responds.
‘46 minutes, bus number 14,’ I say.
‘You’re in luck,’ says Luke, pointing to a nearby bus stop. ‘It goes from here.’
They turn to leave.
‘But you’d have more time if you could go another day?’ he says.
‘Dad, I want to go!’
‘It’s our last day,’ the father says. ‘How much is it?’
‘£14.50 full price … kids £9.50.’ I reply.
A number 14 rolls up.
Luke races towards the stop. ‘I’ll keep the bus.’
‘Thanks!’ The man grabs his son and runs.
We help tourists on the ground, at the point advice is needed. Trained in each location area and using our local or researched knowledge we offer visitors a supportive experience. It is a synergistic relationship benefitting everyone. Volunteer Ambassadors feel productive using their skills and visitors feel welcomed in the capital.
We begin to pack up and a group of Arabs approach me. ‘Where’s Harrods?’ the lady asks. It is a popular question as Harrods is just up the road.
‘10 minutes straight up, on your right.’ I point towards Brompton Road. ‘Where are you from?’
‘Oman, the Middle East.’ She pushes a scarf over her shoulder.
‘My sister lives in Dubai.’
Her face brightens. ‘Does she like it?’
The group relax and we chat. We have found common ground and here lies the true value of Team London’s Visitor Welcome programme.
Juliette Llewellyn (LA: Exhibition Road / Southbank)
Team London’s Visitor Welcome programme is run by Mayor of London. Volunteer London Ambassadors were recruited/trained for London Olympics and Paralympic Games 2012 to help visitors around London. The scheme has continued each summer since.
London receiving the European Volunteering Capital 2016 award is a great testament to time and skills generously given by each London Ambassador over the past 5 years (and other Team London volunteers).
Team London’s Visitor Welcome Programme
21 July – 31 August 2016
Exhibition Road, Gatwick Airport North, Gatwick Airport South, Parliament Square, Piccadilly Circus, Southbank, St James’s Park, Tower of London, Trafalgar Square
European Volunteering Capital 2016
Mayor Of London
Citymapper covers many cities worldwide
Olympic & Paralympic Games