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Sporting chance in the game of life

It's not just the athletes who are in training for the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester - 1,500 volunteers will be putting in the hours too, writes Michael Prestage

The Commonwealth Games in Manchester in 2002 will be the biggest event of its kind ever held in the UK. More athletes from across the globe will take part in more sports than at any previous games. The event will also be a cornerstone of the Queen's Golden Jubilee Celebrations, To ensure success, an army of volunteers will be needed and 1,500 of them will be prepared for the task ahead by 18 further education colleges in the North-west.

The volunteer programme was initiated by the games' organisers, Manchester 2002, and is being run in partnership with the colleges. An initial 30-hour course leads to a level 1 Open College Network qualification. The students can then take a further 60-hour course and, for the first time, every successful candidate will receive a new qualification, a BTech in volunteering. It is hoped this will help the student find work in the burgeoning leisure sector.

The courses are being funded as part of the games' Economic and Social Legacy Programme, which aims to ensure permanent benefits for local people from the event.

The volunteers programme is targeting people living in disadvantaged areas, ethnic-minority communities, and young and unemployed people.

Mumtaz Bashir, programme manager, said: "We want the games to provide quality opportunities to individuals who might not otherwise have come forward because they lacked the qualifications, experience or confidence."

She hoped the chance to study for a qualification would give some a taste for further education.

The volunteers need trining in health and safety, first-aid and customer care. They should also be able to act as ambassadors for the event.

Ms Bashir said: "There has been a good response so far and the first students finished their basic 30-hour course last week.

"At first a difficulty was making kids aware of the games and the opportunity to be a part of it. These are kids who often don't plan ahead for the next two hours let alone two years. Many fell out of the education system at an early age. This is a chance to help them get back on board."

Jane Price, a spokeswoman for Manchester 2002, said it would be a "once-in-a-lifetime experience". "I worked as a volunteer for the Olympics in Sydney and, apart from learning new skills, it has provided me with memories that will last a very long time."

Sports fanatic James O'Connor, 19, from the Langley Estate in Middleton, near Manchester, intends to see some of the sporting action as a volunteer. And he hopes the course at Rochdale College will help him get a job in the sports and leisure industry.

He said: "It's hard to find a job on Langley so I thought I'd give this a go. My favourite sport is boxing and I'm hoping they'll need volunteers in the boxing hall. I've enjoyed the course because it's been hard, but also fun."

Rugby league player Jenny Russell, 17, is from the same estate, and hopes the course will help her CV. "It is good that as many local people as possible are being given the chance to take part," she said. "Nobody ever bothers with the estate and it has a bad name."

Terry Morley, course tutor at Rochdale College, said: "The kids love it because they know they are going to be part of history. They have worked really hard."

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