Region makes Mo-st of the Games
A visit by Olympic champion Mo Farah to Longleat at the weekend stirred memories of a summer that not only saw success on the track but lit up the economy in the West.
The long-distance runner brought his wife Tania, newborn twins Aisha and Amani and seven-year-old Rihanna to the Wiltshire adventure park, and got a tour around the Safari Park from deputy head keeper Ian Turner.
Mr Turner said: “Mo was brilliant with everyone we met and it was a pleasure to have the opportunity to show him and his family around the park.
“We’ve already named one of our newborn Roan antelope after him and we’re now looking at also naming one of the lion cubs which we recently had born here Mo as well.
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The trip was on the eve of a major conference in the West that gets under way today to study the long-term legacy of the Games in the region, but new figures show Somerset alone received a £9 million boost from the torch making its way across the county.
Research compiled by Team South West said local businesses supported the construction of Olympic venues and provided goods and services valued at more than £50 million in the South West.
There was widespread cynicism about what benefits the Olympics could bring to the region, with the sporting focus on the capital.
But David Fursdon, chairman of the South West England Board for the Games, said the “challenge” was in securing a legacy in sport, education, culture and communities as well as economically.
He said: “The South West performed so well through the Olympics from the very beginning of the torch relay with crowds lining the streets and people flocking to the evening events to Weymouth and Portland running a very good games which was very efficient and well organised.
“Let’s not lose that enthusiasm because all the structures will disappear including the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and our own team.”
Today’s conference, at Somerset College of Arts and Technology in Taunton, is thought to be the only one of its kind in the regions. The keynote speaker will be the Minister for Sport and Tourism, Hugh Robertson. Other speakers include Lady Cobham, chairman of Visit England, Simon Jutton, a senior manager at the Arts Council and Andrew Hanson, from Sport England South West.
Mr Fursdon acknowledged that the question would “always be how much money will be available and where it is coming from”.
He added: “I will be challenging the people who are responsible for taking the legacy forward to make sure they do take the opportunity because you couldn’t get a better launch pad.”
Mr Fursdon stressed that sporting, cultural, education and other activities born form the 2012 Games would continue and that the South West had gained a reputation as a place to do business, to visit, to train, and to host large-scale, high-profile events.
He added: “Our message is that it’s far from all over. The six years of dedication that went into planning projects and programmes have ensured that they will carry on well into the future.”
A new report outlining the region’s successful activities has been published today tueswhich gives links to the organisations that will be taking projects and programmes forward. The document has been produced by Team South West and is available at www.teamsouthwest.co.uk
Of the counties in the South West that have supplied economic estimates from the torch relay, Cornwall, where the relay began, reported an estimated £21.4m extra boost to the economy, with Devon behind on £13m and Somerset reporting £8-9m.
Bath Tourism Plus also reported a record number of online bookings in May – worth £137,000 to the accommodation sector – and VisitBath had a record 235,000 website hits.
On the ground, the relay attracted 25,000 people to Taunton, and 15,000 to Swindon and Marlborough. Cheltenham was visited by 30,000 people and 24,500 ‘clicked in’ to the evening event at Cheltenham Racecourse. It was estimated that 15-20,000 lined the route into Bristol, with about 7,000 people across Millennium Square and the Amphitheatre and an estimated another 7,000 within sight of the harbour.
Across the world, millions saw the relay on TV, as well as watching Farah complete his heroics. But despite the glare of fame, he was still impressed when he met rescued elephant Anne at Longleat. The Olympic star said: “We had a really good time.”
Olympic champion Mo Farah at Longleat yesterday. Celebrity torch bearers such as former Chelsea footballer Didier Drogba, who took part in the relay in Swindon, helped raise the profile of events