Making the Olympics work for Suffolk

IN 1282 days' time the London Olympics begin. Olympic correspondent Craig Robinson meets the man making the most of it for Suffolk.THE last 12 months have been extremely busy for the man spearheading Suffolk's preparations for the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics.

Craig Robinson

IN 1282 days' time the London Olympics begin. Olympic correspondent Craig Robinson meets the man making the most of it for Suffolk.

THE last 12 months have been extremely busy for the man spearheading Suffolk's preparations for the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics.

The London Games could generate nearly �70m for the local economy and it is Adam Baker's responsibility to ensure the county makes the most of the opportunity.


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Last year was his first in the job and he was busy spreading the message of how 2012 can benefit the whole community - from business and tourism to education, sport and healthy living.

In 2009 he is hoping to push ahead with the plans laid in 2008 - including encouraging Olympic nations to train in Suffolk in the build up to the Games.

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“Since Beijing I have noticed a big change in people wanting to know more and wanting to get involved and that's fantastic because the only way we can deliver the benefits is if people take up the baton and run with it,” Mr Baker said. “It's got to be a collective effort. The athletes are already working 100% to make sure they are ready for the Games and we just need to make sure our businesses, schools and cultural organisations are working 100% as well.”

Business

So far 515 businesses in Suffolk have signed up to the CompeteFor website - which gives local companies the chance to bid for contracts related to the Games.

This represents just 10% of the regional enrolments and Mr Baker is keen for more to get involved in 2009.

“We have twelve and a half percent of the business stock in the east of England so there are still some businesses missing out,” he warned. “We need to raise our game a bit and get more companies involved. That's one of the concerns.

“If businesses are not enrolled then they immediately rule themselves out of the running. The opportunities are so diverse it's unbelievable - they range from the usual construction right through to weather forecasting services and everything in between.

“The vast majority of contracts will be awarded over the next two years so it's still not too late. Supply chain opportunities will become available.”

Mr Baker said once a company had registered for the CompeteFor website the next challenge was publishing their details on the internet so they were automatically told of the opportunities available.

“By publishing their details companies will be told which opportunities match their criteria,” he said. “We need to encourage more Suffolk companies to do this so they are aware of what's happening.”

Education

Another key focus for 2009 is in education and inspiring schools to get more involved and encourage youngsters to take part in sport.

“The whole London 2012 bid was built around young people and inspiring them in whatever they do,” Mr Baker said. “Some schools are doing fantastic work but we don't want young people in the county to miss out because their school hasn't signed up.

“We are working closely with the education services to ensure this doesn't happen but I think there is also a role for parents, governors and the children themselves to play - to go into the school and say 'what are we doing around the Olympics.'”

Healthy living

Mr Baker said the Olympic bid would also offer help to those who were hoping to lose weight and address the county's concerns about the rising number of people with obesity.

One in five Suffolk residents are obese, 18% of children are obese, one in six people binge drink and seven in ten adults do not eat five fruit and vegetables a day.

There are a series of initiatives planned for the New Year aimed at encouraging more people to get fit, including free swimming for under 16s and over 60s and reduced gym membership for 16-25 year-olds in the Babergh, St Edmundsbury and Forest Heath areas - both of which launch in April.

“We also want to focus on sports participation and get people back into sport,” Mr Baker said. “The Olympics and Paralympics offer a great chance to do this because they generate an awful lot of interest.

“The aim is to try and use them to get more people active to address some of the issues surrounding obesity and an unhealthy lifestyle.

“This includes our work with Optua and increasing access for people with disabilities. We have made progress with this over the last 12 months and it will continue this year.”

Tourism

The Olympics and Paralympics also provide an opportunity to promote Suffolk as a destination to both the domestic and international market.

Last year's Big Weekend saw 65 of the county's top attractions open their doors free of charge - attracting thousands of visitors.

“This year we hope to make that even bigger,” Mr Baker said. “There's real potential for the future. Around 70% of Suffolk's tourism comes from the domestic market so it would be great to use London 2012 as an opportunity to attract people from other countries - not just for the Games themselves but for repeat visits because we want people to come back. This is most likely to be the European nations but given our airbases we are also looking at our links with America.”

Pre-Game training camps

Another exciting development for 2009 is the promotion of the 11 pre-game training camps in Suffolk and trying to encourage national teams to stay in the county in the run up to the Olympics and Paralympics.

Mr Baker said they were in discussion with a number of officials - including one North African team - about the possibility of them training in Suffolk.

“I can't say at this point who they are but a lot of talk is going on with nations, which has stemmed from the work we did in Beijing and the follow ups we made when we got back,” he said. “This will continue over the next year - it's a fantastic development.”

Volunteering

This year will also see a real push in the volunteering sector - encouraging individuals to give up their time free of charge and develop their skills.

“It's about getting people to volunteer in their local communities - not just in their local sports club but in whatever they have an interest,” Mr Baker said. “There's a huge range of opportunities that people can get involved in. For example, September will see the launch of a regional programme of volunteering in employment.

“This will undoubtedly have an impact in Suffolk and the aim is to use volunteering as a way for people to improve their skills in the hope of getting them back into employment.”

Culture

Last year saw the launch of the Cultural Olympiad which - together with the Olympic and Paralympic flag handover - marked London's official ownership of the Games.

It will provide a great opportunity to showcase Suffolk's talent and promote the county's artistic sector.

Mr Baker said the aim was to try and get Suffolk involved in some of the 10 national art projects that are planned in the run up to 2012 - the first of which will launch by the end of February.

“They're national projects but we want Suffolk to be involved as much as possible and for our artists to take the lead,” he said.

He said work had already started on trying to spread the message about how local projects can secure the Olympic Inspire Mark - the official way of being recognised by the Games.

“The mark can be given to a project from local village level right through to regional projects,” Mr Baker said. “If someone has an idea of how they can use the Games to inspire their community then there is a chance of official recognition - however all the funding has to already be in place and it can't be a commercial project.”

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