The prospect of finding accommodation during the Olympics left many visitors to the capital desperately trawling through websites looking for hotels and rooms to book in the months before the Games. Chief among these were the Games Makers, the helpers recruited to work at the Olympic Park during the festival.
Yet often, those intent on being part of the Games found only extortionate prices, as London's hoteliers and homeowners looked to take advantage of the Olympic influx.
One alternative for the volunteers was to camp, with a number of temporary facilities popping up all over east London, including one at the ground owned by Eton Manor Rugby Club in Wanstead.
(Left to right) Games Makers Hilary Orr, Kirsty Hawkins and Tracey Khalil
"The best thing about camping, besides the price, is that it’s social,” said Games Maker Tracey Khalil, sat outside her "town hall" tent on Wednesday morning.
“We’re all meeting lots of new people and the location is perfect. It [the campsite] is only two stops on the [Central] line from the Olympic park, which is especially helpful when you’ve got 6am starts and 11pm finishes.”
"It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity," she adds.
The 48-year-old from Norfolk is one of a legion of 70,000 volunteers helping at the London Games. She applied to be a Games Maker in 2010, and was accepted after an interview a year later.
“It was a very long process,” said Kirsty Hawkins, 54, from Somerset, also a volunteer.
“We all applied back in 2010 and had to wait for our official interview before it was confirmed.”
The pair, along with Hilary Orr, 46, from Gloucestershire, met on a Facebook group set up for Games Makers looking for places to stay during the Olympics.
LOCOG, the Olympic organising committee for London 2012, asked helpers to organise their own accommodation for the duration of the Games, leaving many of the volunteers, particularly those who live outside the capital, to fill rooms, houses, hotels or, in the case of Khalil, Hawkins and Orr, temporary campsites.
Eton Manor Rugby Club has space for 350 tents
Originally a Boys’ Club set up at the turn of the 20th century by a group of philanthropic Old Etonians, Eton Manor Rugby Club has developed into one of the most renowned sports clubs in East London.
Due to its Wanstead location - the suburb is only three miles from Stratford - setting up a campsite for Olympic visitors was an obvious though challenging move for the Eton Manor committee.
“We originally had plans for 750 camping spots,” said Ian Lovett, 40, the treasurer of the Club, “but we quickly realised we had to scale it down.”
The Club's committee eventually opted for 350 spots, of which 80% are taken by Games Makers.
Ian Lovett, the treasurer of Eton Manor Rugby Club
Most of the camping areas set up around the Games have no official affiliation.
“We originally had a website saying ‘Olympic Campsite’,” said Lovett, “but we quickly got an email by some officious type at LOCOG demanding we take it down.”
Still, without ventures like the one organised by Eton Manor, many Olympic helpers would have been unable to afford to volunteer for the Games. The Rugby Club is charging £10 per tent per night, far less than the hotels and rooms located similarly close to Stratford.
The club, which is staying open throughout the Olympics and Paralympics, will use the money raised to reinvest in the club and the community.
Lovett said there was some initial concern from the local residents, but by staying in touch with the Residents’ Association, they made it clear that the campsite would not turn into Glastonbury.
(Left) Games Maker Adrian Smart and his friend (right) Paul Rosten
“Wanstead is a lovely place,” said Adrian Smart, perched on a fold-up chair outside his tent. The 36-year-old from Worcester adds: "The guys from the Rugby Club have been very welcoming. The only downside is the road.”
The M11, which stretches from London to Cambridge, sits to one side of the camp, out of view but easily heard.
"Still, it's not too bad," admits Smart, who applied to be a Games Maker as he wanted to be “part of the Games”.
“I’m too old to be an athlete, but I can still take part in the Olympic experience,” he adds.
The residents relax in the club room watching the Olympic action
On the process for becoming a Games Maker, Smart praised the organisers: “They did a really good job of getting the right people and putting them in the right job. They picked smiley, welcoming people… that’s why it has worked.”
Sallie Sumnall, 60, from Chichester is certainly smiley. She is camping along with her husband, 65 and was invited to meet the Queen on Saturday.
"The campsite is wonderful," she said. "It makes staying at the Olympics a great experience. Everyone is very nice."
Much has been made in the press about the friendly welcome given to visitors by the helpers on the site.
“We are the face of the Games,” said Khalil. “It’s important that we give a good impression.”
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