Distributing Cushions - The History
Please see June 2012 Update at foot of page
On 21 July 2011, after an application process of several months, Woolsack was granted the Inspire Mark by the Inspire committee and became part of the Cultural Olympiad. Achieving this involved completing a number of forms in great detail and a meeting at LOCOG with our Inspire Co-ordinator and other members of the LOCOG team (London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games).
The brief summary of the project at the beginning of the application form says that we will make cushions from British wool to give as welcome gifts to the Olympic and Paralympic athletes competing in the 2012 Games.
Last April the leaders of the Woolsack project, Sue Blacker and Jane Cooper, had a meeting at the Crafts Council with one of their staff, the Head of Olympic Villages and the person who would be our Village contact. A plan was created: to complement the great ideas they had for creating a real village atmosphere in the Olympic Village Plaza we would have a stand in the Plaza where athletes could collect their cushions. Arrangements for storage, security screening, and using the daily Olympic e-newsletter to inform athletes were discussed in detail.
In the summer we were suddenly informed this was no longer possible - Commercial Sponsors were mentioned as being a cause for this change.
The project was then presented to AthCom by a colleague of our Inspire Co-ordinator (after the Village idea died, we had achieved our Inspire accreditation) and Jonathan Edwards (AthCom is like the Cultural Olympiad Board for anything to do with the athletes). We were delighted with their response - "The samples were passed around the athletes, who loved them" - but relieved that they weren't wanting a cushion to go in every goody-bag since we only want the cushions to go to those athletes who want one, and know that not every athlete will want a wool cushion to take home with them. We were rather surprised to hear that apparently the Quilters' Guild pennants weren't to be included in the goody-bags given their appropriate size for this.
Our Co-ordinator then suggested that she use the Chefs de Mission Seminars in London last August as an opportunity to present Woolsack to the delegates. These are the leaders of all the National Olympic Committees (NOCs) and National Paralympic Committees (NPCs). Jonathan Edwards introduced Woolsack and other projects in his speech and it seemed very successful. We were told there was list of about a third of all the countries that were very interested or wanted their athletes to have cushions.
There was then a long period of delay when we didn't hear any more and weren't able to see the list of interested countries and delegates. In October we were told that it had been decided that the only direct communication with the NOCs and NPCs should be through LOCOG but that we might be able to reach them via LOCOG mailings.
Over the winter we focused on trying to use the regional training camps as the most appropriate way to get cushions to the athletes who wanted one but, despite the efforts our Co-ordinator was making, the rules about giving gifts to athletes became more and more restrictive. Finally we were informed that it was no longer possible for us to have the arrangements we had discussed at length with our LOCOG Inspire Co-ordinator for distributing the cushions to the athletes at their regional pre-Games training camps, or indeed any other arrangements for access or contact.
Our Inspire Co-ordinator is still working to see if she can find a way round the restrictions that have been imposed on her and us so that news about the project can be included in official mailings to NOCs & NPCs.
In the middle of all this we had the request from British Olympic Association (BOA) to make red, white and blue cushions for Team GB athletes at the Winter Youth Olympic Games. Their plans to ship the cushions direct to the Village in Innsbruck were stopped by organisers there so BOA arranged for the young athletes to choose their cushions in the UK. They loved them so much that they let us know they were taking their cushions to Innsbruck and back in their personal luggage and we have had some lovely thank-you letters!
It has been frustrating to have one after another agreed plan brought to an end by or through LOCOG, but inspired by the efforts the athletes are making to get selected for the Games, we are looking upon this as just another challenge to be met. Now we know how much the athletes love the cushions and want to have them, we will persevere and find ways meet their requests.
News about Woolsack cushions is already reaching athletes through social media and word of mouth and requests for cushions have already been received by us. So we are confident that, while keeping within restrictions placed on us by being a LOCOG Inspire project, we can get the gift of a cushion to all the athletes who want one. We are as determined to succeed in this as the athletes are to excel at the 2012 Games.
UPDATE JUNE 2012
The response from athletes has been amazing. Not only are they contacting us, but they are spreading the word to other athletes at home and abroad.
Other ways we have found to give Olympic and Paralympic athletes to receive their cushions, within the restrictions from LOCOG, are also working very well. All the latest news about the progress of getting cushions to athletes can be read here.
At the Skandia Sail for Gold Regatta in Weymouth & Portland there were over 450 sailors from around the world who will be competing in the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Thanks to the efforts of some of the people involved in the event they all had the opportunity to choose cushions. See the Weymouth & Portland page.
News and photographs about other teams and squads receiving cushions can be read here - Gifts of Cushions and this will be kept updated.
In Bedford, 220 Olympic and Paralympic athletes will be receiving their cushions from Bedford Council, with the Maldives Olympians visiting Fibre-East to choose their cushions and meet some of the makers.
Following a fantastic response to the Radio 4 PM programmes and BBC TV Breakfast programme additional plans are being developed to reach even more athletes. We are making more cushions as fast as we can to meet a demand that we anticipate will be greater than the number we have available at the moment.