Our Second BT Storyteller Interview: Calum Graham on Sports and Community Development

SONY DSCCalum Graham is a sports and community development worker in Gretna, Scotland. He manages a Special Olympic team and is set to carry the Olympic Torch through Gretna on 21st June. He’s one of the 100 BT Storytellers selected to tell their Olympic stories – more about the scheme at https://www.btlondon2012.co.uk/storytellers/index.php

– Could you tell me a bit about the torch run?

Yes, if you actually go to the 2012 site you can see who nominated us, and what they said. On the 21st of June I’m running with the torch in the runaway wedding location, on Gretna. And I’m also part of the torch relay team here who are organising it, you know, the safe route through. So it’s all hands on deck at the moment, but yes, very much looking forward to it.

– Fantastic!

I know.

– Could you tell me a bit about why you decided to apply to be a BT Storyteller and what it means for you to be taking part in that?

Basically, you know, I’ve seen it in the papers, and the option came up. And I just thought… ‘Why would you be like to be involved, and how you would tell the story?’ And basically my job is sports development, in the south of Scotland, and I do a lot of work with children and things. And obviously, the Olympic Games, it’s never going to come here again in our lifetime. And it’s just a great way of… to me, it’s going to make my job easier. It’s a great way to – not even inspire a generations, but to inspire generations. It’s just using the Olympic Games to motivate people to get involved in sport, to live healthier lifestyles, to be more physically active. And I just thought it was a great way to being able to tell the story of the Olympic Games. It’s been a great move for me because I’m doing the rounds of more or less every school in the region, I’ve talked about the Olympic Games, I’ve talked about the values of the Olympic Games, and the meaning of the flame and all that… I went into all of my personal experiences which I’ve experienced over the last year, being part of the programme, a visit to the Royal Albert Hall on the big night just a few weeks ago… And it’s just been fantastic, it’s been absolutely – it’s not just been great for me personally, it’s been great for my job and helping get that message out there. I think it’s just captured the imagination.

– That sounds great! So you said you run a disability sports team, could you tell me about that? Is that for kids as well?

No, what it is, we in Annandale and Eskdale, we set up a charity. It was to help people with physical and learning difficulties to get involved in sport. And basically we set it up a number of years ago, we raised some funds for it, basically to offer giving people a chance to have a go who otherwise wouldn’t get the chance. And it’s grown out of all proportion now, because we take football teams to national competitions, and we take – we have weekly athletics, coaching, swimming, tennis, football: they’re doing everything. And what we’re doing as well is, we’re working a lot with learning difficulties. We’re actually taking a team to the Special Olympics, which is next year, in Bath. So it’s a big journey from Scotland – it’s a lot of work, taking two coaches full of people with learning difficulties down there – but it’s still worth it at the end of the day just to see what they get out of it.And on top of that, I actually took part in the first race in the Olympic stadium, at the end of March, and I was lucky enough to get some signed framed pictures from people like Chris Hoy and Jessica Ennis and Mo Farah and Steve Redgrave, and auctioned them off as part of my run. What I did was I put everyone who sponsored me into a special draw, and I made quite a bit of money! And that all goes back into the disability sports group, and that goes to raise the money to take them to Special Olympics and to do the things we do with them. And obviously I’m satisfied just to see the pleasure they get with it.

– Great, great.


– So do you think that the Olympics and Paralympics are going to do a lot for the sense of community in the country?

Absolutely. No I mean, like, kids…. actually what I’m experiencing where we are is, it’s actually bringing communities together. Because there’s events taking place, there’s things happening. Every weekend, we’re involved in something – either we’re doing something, or schools are doing something. And it’s crazy the way people are just becoming involved in community engagement. And people becoming involved, and volunteers, people just wanting to help and it’s just – yeah. To me, it’s the best thing that could have happened to the United Kingdom in years, in years.

– That’s great to hear. Could you tell me a bit about the modern technology, that we use to be able to talk about the Olympics – do you think that’s helpful for vulnerable people, like the people you work with?

Absolutely. The reason is because, well obviously, not everybody’s able to be able to get out there and see the Torch Relay, for instance. You know, they can’t get out there and actually… I know I’m doing some help, I’m setting up a lot of them – I’m actually helping a lot of them to get out to see the Torch Relay – but I do know some aren’t able to get out. So what we’re doing is, we’ve organised workshops. We’ve got this man that works for the Mac group, he’s going to give us a workshop, helping them to make their own torch. But the thing is, they’ll be able to sit wherever they are, turn the computer on, and then be able to watch it all live on the BBC website. I mean, that’s just terrific. And obviously I have a BT Storyteller site, so anything I write and anything I do, it goes up on that site there. It just makes life so much more accessible, and communication is so great nowadays. Communication for everybody’s great.

– What do you think people will be feeling when they’re watching or listening to that Olympic coverage?

Oh! Well… Do you know the seven values of the Olympic Games?

– I’ve heard of them, don’t know if I could name them all…

Well, let me reel them off – Respect, Excellence, Equality, Courage, Inspiration, Determination and… oh, there’s another one! But inspiration, to me is the word. The whole thing’s inspiring. I’ve been lucky enough to be in the Olympic Park three times already, and even just… Well, I’m from Scotland, and even just when you get off the train in London, there’s a buzz about the place. It’s just totally inspiring. Especially with the Torch Relay coming up as well, everybody’s beginning to feel a part of it. I keep telling people that my Olympic journey started a year ago, when I got to spend the day with Seb Coe and Daley Thompson, but for everybody in this area, their real Olympic journey starts probably on the 21st of June when we get the Torch Relay. I just think that’s… You can feel the buzz now, you can feel people getting excited, and I just think on the 21st of June it’ll really kick in. Although, I mean, it’s doing great now. I’ve done sport programmes, and it’s all Olympic themed, and kids are asking questions about Olympics, and which Olympic athletes will be there, and saying, ‘I want to do this now’— It’s just great, it’s just great.

– Great, great. If I could just ask you one quite general question to round things off…


– If there’s a key message for community in the 21stcentury, what do you think is going to be important in the years to come?

A key message for…

– Community.

Yes… Just community cohesion. I mean, everybody pulling together. If you give us two minutes I’ll give you a real answer, but – community cohesion, just everybody working and supporting each other. I think, you know, where the structure of local government’s going, everybody now… they’re decentralising things. So just everybody supporting each other and the community in what they do. Volunteering and that sort of thing!

– Great! Well thanks for talking to me, that’s really interesting to hear about.

Not at all.

Find out more abotu Calum Graham at https://www.facebook.com/calum.graham.35