“Events are the seeds; legacy is the tree”

National Inquiry calls for legacy to be put at the heart of events, including creating a UK City of Sport to create long-term transformation for people and communities.

A decade on from the London 2012 Games and looking forward to 2023 bringing national events including the Coronation and Eurovision, an independent Inquiry set up by Spirit of 2012 is calling on policymakers, event organisers and funders to implement five recommendations and two practical actions that will really build event planning around the interests of people, communities and places.

The Inquiry’s 5 key recommendations which it hopes will lead to a step change into the way events deliver long-term benefits for the UK are:

  1. Long-term impact and a clear plan for “what next” will be the driver for the decision to bid or host a major event

2. The long-term impact of events must be underpinned by demarcated funding, accountability and governance

3. Greater attention must be paid to who benefits from events and who is left out

4. More events will be designed and curated with a broad range of stakeholders to build common ground across divides

5. Events that use volunteers will have a clear strategy to boost longer-term community volunteering

In addition, the Inquiry calls for these principles to be implemented through two actions. First, the government should launch a new UK City of Sport competition. Calling on politicians, sports councils, councils, schools, the media, faith and civil society to back the proposal, Spirit of 2012 highlights such an event’s potential not only to boost the population’s health, but also to increase volunteering and bridge social divides.

The Inquiry notes that watching elite sporting events is not enough to generate participation within communities. The ‘if you build it, they will come’ approach of assuming people will watch and be inspired to become more active doesn’t work, but intentional long-term planning, like a City of Sport competition can help with a sustained approach to community involvement in getting and staying active. In order to find out how successful events have been on delivering legacy promises, including how successful they are in encouraging people to get and stay more active, Spirit of 2012’s Inquiry also recommends the formation of a UK research-based “events observatory”, dedicated to gathering evidence and data on the long-term impact of events.

Speaking about the recommendations, Sir Thomas Hughes-Hallett, chair of Spirit of 2012’s Inquiry, says:

“Too often organisers approach events like fast fashion, with all the focus on what to wear on the night only to then toss all that effort away. The London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games showed what you can achieve when you focus on long term legacy from the beginning, but ten years on we know we could have made even more impact with a different approach. The UK’s reputation for executing world-class events has gone from strength-to-strength, but we’re still missing out on some of the really long-term benefits of that investment. Last year alone, we have hosted the late Queen’s Jubilee, the Commonwealth Games, Coventry’s City of Culture and the Women’s Euros. Our Inquiry shows how we can build on this reputation, by taking global leadership on making long term legacy the focus.”

The charity, set up by the National Lottery Community Fund to build on the legacy of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, launched the Inquiry into ways to ensure events engender long-term social and economic benefits for the communities in which they’re held. Despite organisers’ hard work, and in some cases significant investment of taxpayer money, major events have not always resulted in long-term benefits for the communities that host them, particularly when legacy remains the responsibility of the Organising Committee that is disbanded almost as soon as the event is over.  

Since the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, the UK has hosted two Commonwealth Games, two Jubilees, and three UK Cities of Culture, as well as numerous internationally acclaimed sporting events and cultural festivals. Research conducted as part of the Inquiry shows half of UK adults watched the Birmingham Commonwealth Games and in June, 44% UK adults (23.3 million people) took part in at least one Platinum Jubilee event. These events can act as catalysts for wider change; however, this does not happen automatically.

The Spirit of 2012 Inquiry suggests practical, workable suggestions to support those responsible for running events from policy makers to event organisers and charities, to avoid missing future opportunities. It urgently wants to see next year’s significant events, from the coronation of King Charles III to the Eurovision Song Contest, going beyond an exciting moment and creating long-lasting impact.

Starting in September 2021, Sir Thomas Hughes-Hallett was supported by 25 Inquiry members, consisting of academics, politicians, community leaders and event organisers. Research was gathered via 14 geographically widespread and diverse focus groups of event volunteers and members of the public, four hearings to take evidence from experts, an open call for written evidence and six stakeholder meetings, with participants including local councils, cultural and sports organisations, academic experts, business and civil society organisations.  

Speaking about the importance of the Inquiry on future events, Ruth Hollis, CEO of Spirit of 2012 says:

“The Inquiry’s findings and recommendations are particularly timely. As well as the opportunity to influence the planning of regular events, this year the UK will stage a major and historic national event in the coronation of King Charles III. It also sees the 75th anniversaries of the NHS and the arrival of HMT Empire Windrush, and the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement. These milestones will be widely celebrated as landmarks in modern British history, and we need events now more than ever to work harder for the nation and catalyse positive social change.”

The Inquiry team believes that successful events can deliver stronger, happier and more thriving communities but it needs leadership, celebration, planning, encouragement, and funding. It urgently calls for anyone in the process of planning an event to put creating long-term impact as the ultimate goal and implement the Inquiry’s five principles of success from the outset.