On visiting the Olympic park yesterday evening, I enjoyed the experience but was left with a slightly sick, uneasy feeling in my stomach. I didn’t pin down precisely what it was, until I was walking through Crouch End this afternoon, picking up some lunch. I stopped in the long-established Dunn’s bakery for a sandwich, and the independently run ‘My Kind of Coffee’ for my afternoon caffeine fix, before browsing in the charity shops and heading back. On returning, it struck me; where were these companies in the ‘Olympic dream’? All the park could boast in catering was the worlds largest McDonalds, which besides the stadium and tower dominates the park. I had to work hard to keep it’s garish logo out of my photos! Whilst I understand the Olympic games relies on large companies like McDonalds and Coca Cola for sponsorship in order to fund what has to be the most expensive of global events, is there really any point in putting it on at all when it’s promised community ethos is so severely compromised?
The London Olympic committee made a promise to Londoners that the games would ‘regenerate’ and ‘inspire’ us, connect us with our city and with our local communities. It certainly is uniting a great deal of London, the UK and the world in sport, as we get behind our sporting heroes, cheering Bradley Wiggins to victory or consoling Tom Daley in his defeat. We even supported non-sporting and community ‘heroes’ through the torch relay, but where is the support for British business, that in this economic climate we so desperately need? It is undeniable that the Olympic Games is about commercialism as well as sport, it needs to be to survive, so the games is a platform from which companies as well as sports can be beamed around the world. This could have been harnessed and taken advantage of, but I did not see evidence of one independent or small British company being represented at the Games and that is where my uneasiness has stemmed from. The Olympic Park, though stunning in it’s modernity and electric in atmosphere, without the flags, could have been anywhere in the world. It did not represent the London I know. It fails to deliver our city to the world at a community level.
I can appreciate that a small company would have had extreme difficulty in feeding the amount of people that pass through the Olympic park every day, but Is there really no place for smaller companies within larger institutions? Would McDonalds really withdraw their money if a smaller fast food company were to be given opportunity alongside them? The small British chain Leon, for example who pride themselves on creating tasty and healthy food, quickly and conveniently. They are popular with both consumers and critics, which has enabled them to expand to nine restaurants across London. The Olympics could have been a fantastic opportunity for them to gain more National interest and potentially expand their company, but this opportunity has been missed. As far as other types of commercial are concerned, where were the British market stalls? The independent boutiques, which are becoming increasingly rare on our high streets? This was the opportunity for the revival which is desperately needed for the British high street. Instead, the money went into the shiny, new sprawl of Westfield, through which millions of Olympic visitors are being directed every day. This characterless mass of big brands is what our cities visitors will take away with them, whilst the other districts of London, particularly in the West, have been left ‘ghost towns’.
I am not proposing that the entire Olympics could have been made from small businesses, but I believe more effort could have been made to form a unity or compromise between national and international companies, of high and low profile. Effort is being made by companies in this generation, outside of the Olympics. Budgens for example, may be a large Supermarket chain but each store, being individually owned stocks products from the local area, giving local companies access to a larger customer base through the National brand name. They have seen a 1.4% rise this year, a positive indication of community awareness, but with a great deal of room for improvement. Cafe Nero, another large brand, have also showed more community awareness recently. They were featured on Gordon Ramsey’s current show, Gordon Behind Bars, for agreeing to sell produce made by inmates at the local prison. The venture was a success, and one I think could have been implemented in a similar way at the Olympics, companies combining together to sell, which would have mutual benefits.
What I have realised in considering these problems is, if the Olympics, the largest global platform in all of sport cannot bring support to the businesses of London it is, more than ever, up to us as individuals to support London at a community level. Whilst the platform the Olympics poses is exciting to be a part of, the it is not ‘ours’; it is simply too deeply immersed in the politics and concerns of the global market to connect to the needs of the individuals within the host country. It is therefore up to us to support what we love and care about locally, we cannot rely on national and global institutions to push us towards them, we must look after what we have built ourselves, for ourselves. My only hope is that other people will have the same realisation over the coming weeks, and that the Olympics will eventually change for the good of both the countries and the sustainability of it’s own future as an inspirational world event.