Newsletter 6

Newsletter 6 - MAKING IT EVEN MORE PERSONAL - 29 March 2012

 First the important news - THE DEADLINE FOR FINISHING CUSHIONS HAS BEEN EXTENDED TO THE END OF MAY.  In addition, with the Paralympic Games not starting until September, there will be opportunities to make, stuff and finish cushions going into June and July.

 One reason for this is that we were recently 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. Full details about this after Other News.

OTHER NEWS

There is still plenty of free British wool yarn available, including some that has been dyed at cost and can be obtained for £10 per kilo plus £10 postage by contacting Sue - sue@woolsack.org For the free yarn, please contact jill@woolsack.org or irene.watson@ntlworld.com, again there will be postage to pay.

Lots of time left to make cushions and plenty of free or extremely low cost good quality, British breeds (North Ronaldsay, Manx and Hebridean to name a few!) wool yarn, so please spread the word.

On the practical side, we're delighted to welcome Nicky Butler to Team Woolsack.  Nicky is taking over as North East local contact so that Alison can concentrate on the much bigger task now of finding out where all the cushions are in the country (if you haven't yet completed your cushion census, then please could you do so asap) and where they need to be for distribution.  Nicky is also now a Facebook Admin and we would be happy to have more if there are people particularly keen on using social media!

You can contact Alison and Nicky at alison@woolack.org and nicky@woolsack.org

CHANGES IN DISTRIBUTION OF CUSHIONS

For anyone interested there is more information about this below, but what we'd like to share with you first are some of the alternative arrangements we will be using.  It was frustrating to have yet 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 have looked upon this as just another challenge to be met.

We are confident that now we are working mainly outside LOCOG, although within restrictions placed on us by being one of their Inspire projects, we can get most if not all of the cushions to athletes who want one.

One great benefit common to many of these schemes is that they involve even more personal interaction with the athletes.

1.  Bedford Council is hosting the largest number of Paralympic and Olympic athletes for pre-Games training.  We are working with the council to provide them with 220 cushions that they will make available to the athletes.  This is part of a brilliant scheme that is going to include making cushions and is led by the organiser, Jan, of the very successful Fibre-East festival.

2.  There are similar plans being discussed for Weymouth where all the Olympic and Paralympic sailing events will be taking place.

3.  We have secured private funding to enable cushions to be posted to the National Olympic and Paralympic Committees (NOC, NPC) for any countries where athletes want cushions but don't feel they would be able to receive them in the UK, or where they anticipate problems with getting cushions home.

4.  Earlier this year we started using social media, predominantly Twitter, to get the news about the cushions directly to the athletes.  This has been astoundingly successful and a significant number of athletes, sports bodies and sports reporters are now following us on Twitter:  https://twitter.com/#!/WoolsackUK

We are already being asked how and when athletes can get their cushions and their enthusiasm for the project is even greater than we had anticipated.

5.  Through this we have already made arrangements for Archery GB to receive cushions that they will present to their Olympic and Paralympic athletes when they are selected in May.  We anticipate that other UK sports bodies will be eager to make similar arrangements when we make announcements on Twitter.

6.  There will be a special page on the website that will give athletes information about how they can contact us to get their cushion.  Where possible we'll work with them so that groups of them can have a selection of cushions to choose from, or to work through their sporting bodies or at competitive events.

7.  We will be approaching some of the journalists and sports magazines who follow us on Twitter to see if they will carry articles and information about the athletes page on Woolsack.org and how UK and international athletes can contact us to get their cushions.

8.  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 NOC's & NPC's.

9.  We are asking athletes, sports bodies, Councils hosting training camps and anyone else we can think of for their ideas about how we spread the word and make arrangements for athletes to have the opportunity to choose a cushion.  Given the response from athletes who hear about Woolsack we're anticipating that they themselves will spread the word, including to overseas athletes.

10.  We are following up every contact that is given to us.  Do you know any athletes or any sports organisations?  Let us know, if possible with contact details, or better still: if you know them you will be our best advocate so why not contact them about Woolsack?  We will support you!

11.  The project has already been well covered in the knitting press and in blogs and websites, regional radio, press and television, but Sue is now working on extending this to more general magazines and national radio shows & television.

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?

It's going to be a lot more work to get cushions to the athletes using all these different methods, but we are inspired by their efforts and the comments they make about how much they love the cushions and the whole idea of people like yourselves making such wonderful and personal gifts for them.  Those of you who use twitter can read some of these comments for yourself.  We can't overestimate what it means to the athletes that you have made such beautiful cushions as gifts for them.

WHY HAS THIS HAPPENED?

We could write a book about LOCOG and the Woolsack project so far, but it would be a very lengthy tome!

Briefly, we don't exactly know why the Woolsack project (and similar Inspire projects that you may have heard about) have been placed in this 'Alice in Wonderland' situation of being an Inspire project designed to make gifts to be given to athletes but having the means to deliver the gifts steadily eroded.  Our personal view is that our Inspire Co-ordinator is doing everything she can, but that she's not allowed to discuss why and by whom these seemingly illogical decisions are being made.

It is clear in emails that these other projects are not being treated more advantageously than we are, despite what some of you may have read in the recent issue of The Quilter.  This issue may have gone to press before the most recent developments.

BUT FOR THOSE OF YOU WHO LIKE FANTASY (complete with acronyms!)

Here is a very brief skip through Wonderland ...

Last April (yes: a year ago!) Sue & I 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 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.  We were though very surprised indeed 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 and 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 should be through LOCOG (London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games) and we might be able to reach them via LOCOG mailings.

Over the winter we focused on trying to use the regional training camps (and at one stage we also looked at the national “houses” being used as publicity bases by major countries in central London) 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 until finally we were told we couldn't use our training camp plans.

In the middle of all this of course 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 - commercial sponsors may have been mentioned again! - so BOA arranged for the young athletes to choose their cushions in the UK.  As most of you will know, they loved them so much that some or all of them actually took their cushions to Innsbruck and back in their personal luggage and we have had some lovely thank-you letters!

We thought it best, given the work and efforts you have put into making your cushions, to let you know the full situation as it stands.  Changes to distribution plans that have been imposed on us are very frustrating, but we're determined to rise above them and use all these other means to get cushions to those athletes who want one.  Given how wonderful your cushions are and now we know how much the athletes love them and want to have them, we’re confident that we will all succeed.

Jane Cooper