Today is the day. One hour from now, there will be a massive opening ceremony in London shown live around the world on TV in High Definition. The Olympic Games – known as London 2012 this time around – are being hosted by the United Kingdom for the first time since 1948.
People have all kinds of expectations from an event this big. Many will be exceeded, others may be disappointed, some will undoubtedly be agitated and even up in arms – but despite some controversy, this event is one which cannot easily be ignored, especially when it goes out of its way to come to your own city, town or village.
And that’s what happened, in effect, just before 12 noon on Saturday 30th June 2012 when the Olympic Torch Relay rolled into Bloxwich, its first port of call in West Midlands before wending its way across the borough via Walsall and Willenhall.
I have to admit I wondered beforehand what the response might be from the people of Bloxwich. Would it be a damp squib? Greeted with polite indifference? The subject of protests? In the end, I was amazed by the astonishing public turnout of as many as 10,000 souls to see the torch go by, carried by several people, some of whom had travelled around the globe to visit Bloxwich and Leamore.
Imagine that for a moment, if you will, and wonder how they must have felt, strangers in a strange land, unsure of the welcome they might have received; worried perhaps about protestors, or worse yet, whether anyone would turn up at all. Imagine being dropped off a bus on a foreign High Street thousands of miles from home and being surrounded – or not.
Well, our guests on 30th June need not have worried. Their way was prepared for them, and the welcome they received was immense as the rain swept on its way north and was followed by sunshine and smiling faces. They were welcomed with open arms – and a myriad of cameras!
And it seems to me that a major part of the true Olympic spirit – nothing to do with the rampant commercialism and petty politics that so often seems to come to the fore – is about reaching out to others in peace instead of war, something this country has had quite enough of, thank you. In many ways the goodwill generated is far more significant than the sporting achievements, and we should all be thankful for that.
I thought after writing the Bloxwich Telegraph report on the Torch Relay that it would be interesting to find out what the Bloxwich and Leamore Torchbearers thought of their visit to our home, and what memories they might take back with them, whether they would travel near or far. Memories to last a lifetime, made in moments of flame and wonder. Here they are.
The Torchbearers’ Tales
I have tried to contact all of the Torchbearers on our leg of the relay, asking them if they would like to comment on their visit to Bloxwich and Leamore and perhaps say something about themselves. Not all have responded yet, so I have therefore published below the comments I have received so far, and will add others if and when they are received. They are published in order of distance travelled to Bloxwich!
For more general information about all of the Bloxwich and Leamore Torchbearers, please view our previously published page via this link.
Kris Richardson of Bloxwich
Distance travelled: 0 Miles!
Kris’s location came as a bit of a surprise, as the official information was simply that he was from Walsall. As it turns out, we are delighted to reveal that the first Bloxwich Torchbearer is actually a resident of Bloxwich, so that should please those who were wondering why no Bloxwich Torchbearers were present on the day!
Kris had this to say about himself and his experience as an Olympic Torchbearer:
“I am 16 years old, and have Cerebral Palsy.
“I grew up just down the road from Bloxwich in Coalpool, but now live in Bloxwich itself.
“I was put forward by Julie Hykin, who works for Walsall Health Transition Team. When I started working with the team I was very shy, withdrawn and isolated. I had no self confidence due to being bullied at school because I have a disability.
“I have spent the last 2 years attending all the workshops, and become more confident. This confidence allowed me to change schools and begin trusting people again. This new-found confidence allowed me to take part in a short disability awareness film entitled ‘What you lookin’ at?’
“It also gave me the confidence to accept the responsibility of being a Torchbearer, it was a huge honour and I am very proud to have been able to take part, especially in my home town.
“I think the people of Bloxwich should be proud of the turnout that they gave the Olympic Torch, it was a great day for everyone.
“Many thanks again for getting in touch.”
Callum Pattinson of Stoke-on-Trent
Distance travelled: 28 miles
Callum Pattinson comes from our old County, Staffordshire, so it’s nice to have him represent the county in this way. He was one of two Torchbearers to visit Leamore, and took on the first half of Somerfield Road.
I met him after the event, at the Party in the Park, in Bloxwich Park – where he also met the Mayor of Walsall, Councillor Dennis Anson and his Mayoress Mrs Kate Anson.
Callum had this to say about his visit to Leamore:
“I thought it was ace, it was an honour and a privilege to be a Torchbearer.
“Lots of people came with me and even two of my teachers from school turned up, Mr Wilkinson & Mr Figgis, it was great.
“I thought the people of Leamore were brilliant. It was a fantastic day that I will always remember and I have an Olympic Torch to keep.”
Callum’s proud mother, Tracy, went on to say:
“Can I just add that Callum is using his torch to fundraise for our local hospice and cancer unit which helped Callum’s grandma (my mum) whilst she was ill.
“He’s taking his torch to local schools, businesses and police/fire stations and is asking for donations in exchange to be photographed with his torch.
We are all incredibly proud of him.”
Editor’s Note: If anyone would like to donate to the hospice and cancer unit for which Callum is fundraising, I would be pleased to pass on your contact details via his mother. Please email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Giles Birt of Shrewsbury
Distance travelled: 32 miles
Giles travelled from another neighbouring County, Shropshire. He was one of two Torchbearers I was able to photograph personally, as he passed the Olympic Flame on to Thierry Laurent on Bloxwich High Street, by the entrance to Church Street (see below).
Giles is an active sportsman and is closely associated with the history of the modern Olympics, being Chairman of the Wenlock Olympian Society since 2008. He also has business connections with Bloxwich.
Giles said this of his experience in visiting Bloxwich as a Torchbearer:
“It was such a special occasion and it goes without saying I was extremely honoured to carry the torch.
“The atmosphere on the High Street was immense, with both the Police escort team and the other sponsors telling me that it was such a fantastic leg to run.
“I am in fact no stranger to Bloxwich, working as I do for Lowe & Fletcher Limited with our plating operation, Lowe & Fletcher (Metal Finishing) Limited which has been established for many years in Fryers Road on Leamore Industrial Estate.
“I shall certainly never look at Bloxwich High Street the same again and I can’t think there will be a more generous reception for the Torch throughout its journey.
“Thank you for chronicling the events and thanks to the people of Bloxwich for making it such a celebration.”
Editors Note: Giles attached a post-script which will be of interest to many:
“PS As a measure of the inspirational power of the Torch I have already committed to making it a trio of Olympic Challenges for a trio of Charities, with two marathons to run – firstly in Much Wenlock, (birthplace of the modern Olympic movement): the Wenlock Olympian marathon (8th July) followed by the Athens Classic marathon (the original course ending in the 1896 Olympic stadium) on 11th November.
“The Charities I have chosen to support are:
- Help for Heroes http://www.helpforheroes.org.uk
- Severn Hospice http://www.severnhospice.org.uk
- Jiashan Charity Association (a Charity association in China close to our factory there where funds will be directed to support disadvantaged children).
“I have started a Virgin Money Giving page which has a more information and is set up to receive the Help for Heroes and Severn Hospice donations. The link is: http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/GilesBirt. Donations to the Chinese charity will need to be made direct to me c/o Lowe & Fletcher Limited, Westwood Granary, Bridgnorth, Shropshire, WV16 5LP and I will take them out to China later in the year. (Cheques payable to Lowe & Fletcher Limited : Jiashan Charity Assoc.)”
Chris Bridgman of Nantwich
Distance travelled: 41 miles
Chris Bridgman is the manager of the Wingate Centre in Nantwich, Cheshire, and is home of The Wingate Special Children’s Trust.
The centre exists to enrich the lives of children and young people with physical and learning disabilities. The centre offers specialist accommodation and a fully fitted gymnasium.
Chris had this to say about his run as a Torchbearer in Bloxwich:
“The reception we all received on the Saturday from the residents of Bloxwich and visitors was phenomenal. As we drove along the route to our various drop-off points you could not but be moved by sheer volume of spectators lining the A34.
“The extent to which residents had decorated their houses and themselves added to the carnival atmosphere. With true British Grit everyone appeared determined to enjoy and savour the moment whatever the weather and were eventually rewarded with what you may just call a reasonable summers day!
“The residents of Bloxwich and Walsall made what was a very memorable day even more spectacular and will long live on in my memory.
“As a Torchbearer you are carried along by the well-oiled machine of the procession and do not fully appreciate the event in its entirety. You can only appreciate the groundswell of goodwill and support as you first wait for ‘the kiss’ to transfer the flame and as you travel along your route and in this regard they gave this in abundance!
“Thank you Bloxwich and Walsall!!!”
Thierry Laurent of Roswell, USA
Distance Travelled: 4,108 Miles
Thierry comes from Roswell, near Atlanta, Georgia, in the United States of America (no, not the Roswell famous for space aliens, that’s in New Mexico!). He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease about 4 years ago.
Thierry works for IHG, which is a UK based company and official hotel service provider for the London 2012 games, who had the opportunity to nominate a number of employees to participate via a global nomination process. In many years at IHG he has always supported the Make a Wish Foundation, and now more recently he has become a member of the Michael J. Fox Foundation.
Thierry is very thankful to IHG for the opportunity they gave him to come to Bloxwich, which he says was a moment he will never forget.
He was also the Torchbearer I met first of all, as he was getting ready to receive the flame from Giles Birt.
Thierry was keen to say this about his experience as a Bloxwich Torchbearer:
“I have to admit that the entire experience was truly amazing. I was completely overwhelmed at the reception by the people in Bloxwich as I stepped off the bus.
“At first, I was stunned at how many people came out in the pouring rain to see the torch run. It was at that point that I fully understood the impact this event had on the people of Bloxwich. A great honour for all of us, not just for me, the Torchbearer.
“I only wish that I would have had more time to spend with the crowd pre and post run. Especially post run. Would have been nice to have a pint or two with a few people to celebrate. There were so many people who wanted photos with the torch, and I hope that everyone had an opportunity to do so. If not, I’d be more than happy to come back and share some stories with everyone over drinks!
“I have to add that I am extremely thankful to my wife, Jill, and our 20 month old (fraternal) twin boys for making the trek with me all the way to Bloxwich. I love them dearly. A special thanks to my mom for coming as well.”
Tanya Fouche of Johannesburg, South Africa
Distance travelled: 5,698 miles
Tanya comes from Johannesburg in the Republic of South Africa. She has the distinction of being the Torchbearer who has travelled furthest to meet us, in this case in Leamore!
She was also the last on our leg, before the relay went into convoy mode – destination Walsall town centre.
This is Tanya’s Torchbearer’s Tale:
“Arriving in Birmingham on Friday afternoon after travelling for 19 hours the reality that I was finally in England to carry the Olympic torch suddenly hit home. I had always dreamed of taking part in the Olympic games as a child and this was suddenly the realisation of a lifelong dream! Although I must say much of the day felt like a dream because it was too good to be true!
“I had followed the Olympic torch relay on the internet and had seen many exciting photos, but nothing could have prepared me for what I experienced in Bloxwich! As we drove along the road in the Olympic bus, there were people standing in the pouring rain happily smiling and cheering for us – I was amazed by the spirit that these people were showing in the rain as well as by their excitement to see the torch.
“One of the most touching moments for me was when I got off the bus [in Somerfield Road, Leamore] – the crowd went wild! They received me as if I was a celebrity in their own community and were cheering and bustling to take photos with me. (If you watch episodes of Idols when the finalists go home to visit their own towns and are welcomed as hero’s you will begin to understand how I felt!)
“There were so many elderly people who kept telling me that this would be their last opportunity to see the Olympic Torch and it was then that I realised what a great honour it was to have been selected for this task. A real highlight for me was seeing the meeting of old and young – so many grandparents were out in the street with their grandchildren teaching them all about the significance of the Olympic Torch.
“It was clearly demonstrated to me how great the communities of Bloxwich and Leamore really are – big smiles, words of encouragement and literally lots of love were shown to me!
“Having being selected to carry the torch because of my work with children, I was especially moved by the little children with their home made torches out to see the real thing!
“When my torch was lit [from Callum Pattinson’s torch] and I took off down the road, the cheers were deafening and it was a moment in my life I will never forget. The cheers continued for the entire leg of my relay and the crowd seemed to swell the
further down the road I got! I have never felt so honoured to do anything before. For the entire time down the road the crowds cheered and waved and created an atmosphere that made me laugh and cry all at the same time!
“So many people have thanked me for carrying the torch through Bloxwich and Leamore, but I am the one who must say thank you. Thank you to the hundreds of people who lined the streets to welcome and encourage a stranger to their home. But thank you especially for giving me the honour of sharing this momentous moment with a community that clearly understand that the Olympic Torch represents the coming together of the world where we are united for a time as equals.
“Lastly, I hope that every time the Bloxwich and Leamore community think of the Olympic Torch that passed through their streets, that they will be reminded to pray for the children in Africa. SO many children are abandoned and alone on our continent due to various circumstances – war, poverty and Aids being the chief contributors. Many people think they can do nothing to make a difference, but just your prayers will make more of a difference than you will ever realise!
“I will carry the love of Bloxwich and Leamore back to Africa with me and always be reminded to share it thanks to the Olympic Torch relay.”
Editor’s note: I asked Tanya if she would like to recommend a charity that helps children in Africa, and she said: “I have worked with a number of homes, but if there is an opportunity to gain some visibility for any organisation, I would love for people to look at the work The Salvation Army is doing in Africa – they have a number of Children’s Homes and are doing some amazing work in South Africa and Africa
MORE INFORMATION ABOUT THE TORCHBEARERS
If you would like to find out more about the Bloxwich and Leamore Olympic Torchbearers as a whole, including those from whom no comments have yet been received, please check out the page dedicated to this information, which you can read via this link.
My thanks go to Kate Goodall at Walsall Council, who helped with contact details, to Ian Morton-Jones of Walsall Council for advice, and of course to Walsall Flickr Group member Gary Crutchley, Alan Hough (uncle of Callum Pattinson) and Torchbearers Giles Birt and Chris Bridgman for additional photographs.
Particular thanks go to all of the Torchbearers for coming to see us in Bloxwich and Leamore, for their kind comments and for their help in compiling this feature.
I wish them, on behalf of the people of Bloxwich, Leamore and Blakenall Heath, who did us proud on Torch Relay Day, the very best for the future – and I hope some of them come back one day, perhaps as Thierry Laurent suggests, for a pint in one of our famous Bloxwich pubs!
And as for the London 2012 Olympic Games themselves – Go Team GB!