Let’s get behind the torch relay

LOCAL support must be galvanised in time for the arrival of the Olympic Torch in north Northumberland next June, a meeting of movers and shakers has heard.

Around 20 representatives from businesses, charities, social groups and tourist attractions gathered at the Alnwick Garden to launch a community effort to make the 2012 celebrations a landmark event for the town and surrounding area.

They were joined by Nigel Walsh, cultural development manager for Northumberland County Council’s 2012 Team, and Jo Edwards, senior development officer for the council and Northumberland Sport, who are working with the London Organising Committee (Locog) at county level.

Together, they aim to encourage as many different community groups to take part in events leading up to and including the historic moment the flame reaches Alnwick, where it will stop over the night of June 14.

That will be accompanied by a massive roadshow, backed by official sponsors Coca Cola, Samsung and Lloyds TSB and laid on with support from BBC Radio 1.

Outlining the role of the county council as an enabler to allow communities to develop their own plans to celebrate the event, Mr Walsh said: “The four key aims of the Olympic event in Northumberland are to develop a distinctive event for the Torch relay; to promote sport and culture; to inspire local young people to gain skills for life and to raise the profile of the county on the world stage.

“The aspiration is to attract at least 15,000 people to the evening event. The venue will be determined on convenience, access and capacity, and must have a proven track record of handling large events.

“The evening roadshow will last between 90 minutes and two hours, featuring a six-metre-high stage and giant LED screen.”

However, the town’s deputy mayor Geoff Watson said it was vital that the whole town was included in the celebrations, rather than the focus being on a particular venue.

“It’s quite clear that the evening event is not going to be held in the town centre – I think we can all guess where it will be,” he said. “What I don’t want to see is this event coming through the town and going straight out the other side.

“There has to be something happening in the town itself. We need to do this together.”

He was echoed by mayor Alan Symmonds, who highlighted the importance of Alnwick not simply being a backdrop for the torch and the need to have full community involvement and exposure in the national media.

Ian August, representing Northumberland Estates, suggested a ‘circle of activity’ in Alnwick to connect the town to the Castle and Garden during the event.

Clerk to the town council, Bill Batey, suggested more meetings to brainstorm ideas to fed back to the county task force, which met on Tuesday.

It was agreed to meet on the last Thursday in August for a progress report and Mr Walsh said a contacts list would be provided so that task force members could be contacted in the interim.

Members agreed to think of ideas for the torch celebrations ahead of the next meeting.