In the summer, convalescing from my operation, I spent many happy hours watching the Olympic Games, screaming myself hoarse at the telly, encouraging team GB. I actually lost my voice shouting during the women’s 400m final as Christine Ohuruogu raced for Britain, and Newham. Truth is I can be very sentimental, and I usually well up watching our medallists stand on the podium, but when Christine stood watching the Union Jack rise, with the Gold medal around her neck, I unashamedly shed tears. Chatting with Christine earlier this month, as she and her mum visited me for lunch at the House of Commons, I was reminded of just how natural and unassuming Christine is, which makes her success even more gratifying.
But there was another, not so famous, Newham resident, who took centre stage at the Games; Tayyiba Dubhwala, a lovely 10 year old Forest Gate school girl who won a Blue Peter competition that meant she could be part of the closing ceremony in Beijing. Tayyiba said that she had a fabulous and very exciting time, but was relieved once it was all over as she “had performed without mistakes”. David Beckham presented her with a signed LA Galaxy shirt “which was wonderful” and “It was a once in a lifetime opportunity representing Britain, bringing home the Olympics to my doorstep and a moment I will never forget”.
Both Christine and Tayyiba were born in Newham and both have been touched in different ways by the magic of their Olympic experiences. I suspect neither of them will be the same again. For Christine it was the fulfilment of a dream that she has worked so hard to achieve and for Tayyiba it was a life changing moment that I hope has given her enormous self confidence and opened her mind to all kinds of exciting possibilities.
These stories illustrate some of the magic of the Olympics; an amazing life changing experience for those able to participate at whatever level. Those experiences are amazing opportunities, but we want and need much more from our London Games. When London bid for the Games, it was clear that we, as a country, sought to use the games as a way to regenerate and revitalise our community. We saw it as a way to provide for new jobs, training and business opportunities, a lovely park and new homes.
Sadly, at the time of writing, there are a plethora of stories in the press about our Olympics and the credit crunch - that as economic conditions have worsened, private investors want higher shares of profits if they are to remain involved. There are stories about the nationalisation of the athlete’s village and about scaling down the build, moving some sports to existing venues rather than build new ones. More and more commentators are suggesting that we can have the Games but not the regeneration that comes with them – that we can’t afford both.
But if we stopped aspiring to use the Games as a regeneration tool we would let down so very many people including Lucky Mohapi who lives at Focus E.15, who I met last week. He told me that he hopes the Olympics will help him to achieve his dream of owning and running a quality African/American restaurant in Stratford. He like so many other entrepreneurs, young and old, are hoping the Olympics will be the catalyst for their success. And who can blame them? The £9.3 billion investment must be used to improve the skills, prospects and life chances of the people of this area and our neighbouring boroughs.