Volunteers – we couldn’t do it without you!

Volunteer Manager Linda Cairns reflects on the huge volunteer effort behind the World Orienteering Championships

You probably remember the success of the London 2012 Games Makers and the Glasgow Commonwealth Games Clydesiders. You might have even heard of volunteers who paid to help at the Ryder Cup! The World Orienteering Championships also relies on a volunteer workforce, and in fact all but a handful of the 650-strong Event Team are volunteers.

Last edited: 03rd Aug  

I’m the Volunteer Manager, and I’m a volunteer too. I’ve done a bit of this before – I represent the parkrun UK event directors (parkrun UK has 60,000 people running every Saturday), and I manage the London Marathon team that hands out 40,000 medals.

To put on a World Orienteering Championships requires about twice as many helpers as it does athletes taking part. And to put on a World Championships at the same time as the Scottish 6 Days, which takes all the orienteers in Scotland to organise, makes this an extra challenge.

In a normal year, the Scottish 6 Days attracts around 3,000 competitors, but this year, the World Championships has pushed the entries up to 5,300. So when Great Britain won the World Championships bid, we had to mount a recruitment campaign, working with local running clubs, Inverness parkrun, Highland and Moray councils, Chambers of Commerce, the University of the Highlands and Islands, Active Schools, Project Scotland, Volunteer Scotland, Join In, and Scottish Business in the Community.

We produced our own training videos, and held a marshal training evening locally for all the runners who were helping at the sprint races (where the largest numbers of volunteers were needed). Each of the sprints required around 70 marshals just to supervise control points. We're delighted at the feedback we're now getting about the standard of marshalling and event delivery.

We’re fortunate to have amongst our Event Team folk who bring valuable local knowledge, and Commonwealth Games volunteers who bring big event experience – in fact, 120 of the 650 volunteers are not orienteers. We’ve had a fantastic response from the local running community and we’re grateful to everyone who’s stepped forward to help. Added to this, we have volunteers from the rest of the UK and international orienteering community bringing sport-specific knowledge, from as far afield as Italy, Finland and the USA.

The Volunteer Management Team meet for the first time in Nairn (having worked and Skyped together weekly for 18 months leading up to the event). L-R: Craig Lowther, Terry Williams, Linda Cairns, David Maliphant, Ann Haley

The Volunteer Management Team meet for the first time in Nairn (having worked and Skyped together weekly for 18 months leading up to the event). L-R: Craig Lowther, Terry Williams, Linda Cairns, David Maliphant, Ann Haley

So what are the volunteers doing? Helping set up finish arenas in five different locations, driving minibuses full of athletes, and keeping an eye on the checkpoints in the urban races. Some will be at the Event Centre in Inverness handing out uniforms and some will be in Glen Affric distributing water to remote parts of the forest. Others will be organising medal ceremonies. And there’s an army of people arranging all the tracking and technology that goes into delivering televised races.

We’re grateful to the members of local running clubs, to the team from Scottish and Southern Energy, those from Highlands and Moray Councils, the Duke of Edinburgh students and everyone else who’s been involved. We couldn’t do it without you.

Orienteering is a minority sport that takes place off the beaten track. It’s not very visible – until now. People might not have heard of it before, but with thousands of runners and spectators, worldwide TV coverage and the world’s best athletes in town, they won’t fail to notice it in the first week of August!

I know what a great experience I had as a Games Maker – and an even better time as a Clydesider. If our volunteers have half as much pleasure and fulfilment from this, we’ll have done a good job. I’m really looking forward to working with you all.

Linda Cairns

Volunteer Manager, World Orienteering Championships 2015