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The day I met Etienne Stott MBE and other volunteering stories

As part of International Volunteer Day we share the stories of those who gave up their time to help with the World Slalom Championships, at Lee Valley White Water Centre.

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Nick Bowman's first volunteering experience was at London 2012, when he was part of the opening ceremony, directed by Danny Boyle.

“I was so excited when we [got] the Olympics, I went on a mission. I read about volunteering at the ceremony in the paper and I turned up.”

Nick got to play a Victorian working man during the Industrial Revolution performance.

“Danny Boyle was absolutely brilliant. He was so good at motivating us and told us we were the ‘real Olympians’. 

"He had a wicked sense of humour too.

“It was about 180 hours of rehearsal time, while filling in on a full-time job, but it fired my enthusiasm.”

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Nick played a Victorian working man took in the opening ceremony at London 2012

Nick went on to marshal at the Tour de France, when one of the stages was held in Britain, and volunteered at the World Para Athletics.

Away from sport, he was one of over 20,000 volunteers who planted 888,245 ceramic poppies at the Tower of London, in 2017.

Each poppy represented a British or Colonial military fatality in the First World War.

“Everyone’s so positive [when volunteering],” said Nick. 

“You can turn the role into what you want it to be.

“There’s no real sense of responsibility. If I screw up it doesn’t matter. [Volunteering] puts you in a funny mindset, you relax more, you enjoy it.”

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Jan has volunteered at lots of sporting events including the Commonwealth Games in 2022

Retired police officer Jan Gittings first appreciated the role of volunteer when she was a competitive club swimmer in the Midlands.

“I was always very aware of the time, assistance and opportunities given to us by volunteers, who back then, were mainly parents of fellow swimmers.”

Her first major sports event was the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester, followed by Glasgow, in 2014, and then Birmingham in 2022.

It was in Manchester she was given the role of driver. This was a world without sat nav and her training was to study the A-Z of the city.

She spent months driving around the city, getting used to routes connecting landmarks, hotels and the airport. 

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Keith met Etienne Stott MBE at the World Slalom Championships, 11 years after seeing him win his gold medal

However, her pre-planning almost fell apart when a guest asked her to take him up to a place near Bolton. 

“After I dropped him off, I sighed with relief, my mind relaxed and needless to say I got lost on the ring roads going back into Manchester!”

Jan believes events, like the World Slalom Championships, in September, would simply not happen without volunteers.

She said: “Volunteers bring fun, hard work, commitment and experience to any organisation, or event, investing their time, skills, personality and energy, not only for their own benefit but also for the wider community.

“The benefits of volunteering can be life changing and career enhancing.”

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'Volunteers bring fun, hard work, commitment and experience'

Keith Goodwin was a volunteer at Lee Valley during London 2012.

He watched Etienne Stott MBE and Tim Baillie MBE won gold and David Florence and Richard Hounslow silver, in the two-man canoe slalom final, while doing his role.

Fast forward to the World Slalom Championships, at the same venue, in 2023, and Keith was a volunteer again, this time with the media team.

He got to finally meet Etienne and quiz him about the day. 

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Jan with Maggie at an event in 2015

“It was lovely. He was happy to chat and I liked the detail about [the 2012 final]," he said.

“He insisted I held his gold medal and I refused [at first] because I didn’t win it, but he was more than happy.”

Keith said paddlesports are special because of the accessibility of its current stars and their humility.

“You get to see what it means. All that dedication and time. That’s the nice thing about volunteering.

“[With volunteering] you get to do something completely different for a set time, with some responsibility.

“You meet like minded people and it allows me to challenge myself mentally.

“[Above all] I’ve done something nice, I’ve helped people. It’s good for me.”

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