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Taming the giant: Brian Gray on London's Olympics

Venues boss reveals how the world's biggest sporting event was managed

Brian Gray
Brian Gray

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When the Olympic Games were staged in London in 2012, many talked about the wins and losses, and the jaw-dropping opening ceremony. What slipped past was the work that went into ensuring a smooth show.

Brian Gray, head of venues facilities management at the Olympic Delivery Authority, was behind making sure everything was in place for what is arguably the most prestigious sporting event in the world.

“I think the key priority was to ensure we had early engagement. The FM element was brought in three or four years before the Games,” explains Gray.

“We also were very fortunate in that the ODA finished all of the major venues a year before the Games. That gave us a genuine opportunity to understand the building and ensure we had time to train our staff to be able to do the facilities management during the Games period,” he adds.

Understanding the organisers — the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) — was important.

“We did some very intensive workshops with LOCOG where we sat down and said, ‘what do you expect, what is your priority, if something goes wrong what is important to get fixed quickly’. This was so we could determine what resources to apply to the Games period.”

Since the sport venues were not being used extensively prior to the Olympics, Gray and his team carried out tests. “LOCOG had a series of test events, so we used those as learning opportunities. So a test event could be a five-day world series. We used those to determine what resources we needed for the Games, and what critical spaces we needed.”

He adds: “Along the way, we continually refined our service levels from what we’d learned at test events so that when we got to the Games, we were confident we got it right.”

The FM team also had to think of items they might need on hand during the Games, which were not typical to other events. Gray gives the example of needing a spare diving board, or track equipment for cyclists, and more.

He explains why this was crucial: “We couldn’t afford to lose a second worth of broadcast, so power could not blip and on the field of play everything had to be spot on throughout.”

He continues: “It was like a sleeping giant, the Olympic Park. It flipped from that to being the busiest period of time these venues were ever likely to see. And [it had to be] low-risk and nothing could go wrong.”

Because the Olympic Games’ FM required a short-term contract, the ODA used consultants, and Mace Macro was one of the firms called in to provide FM expertise.

He explains the ODA also used the construction companies to deliver the FM. “Because they built them, we wanted their reputation to be at risk as well.

We didn’t want them to build it and walk away so that if something went wrong, they would say, ‘oh it was the maintenance company.’

By using the construction contractors, we had the advantage that we could bring back some of the people who’d worked on the original build, and retained the knowledge base of the building. You might not do that if it was a 15-year contract, but for a short-term, it was absolutely the right decision.”

The team increased staff during the Games by 500%, so Gray had to ensure new members were familiar with the building, which was done through training.

“Now we’re working to hand all the venues to the Legacy; they’re going to reconfigure the venues for its final Legacy use and take on the facilities management of it,” explains Gray.

“At the end of this, there was no question about delivery. Did we deliver? Yes. Could we prove it? Yes. Did we prove it? Yes, and we beat our service levels. That was all to do with planning and relationship management, and then the critical element of this to me was communication and people,” concludes Gray.

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