A Generation Inspired?
As the Pride of Britain Awards celebrates our unsung heroes, Richard Ellis reflects on how the inspiration of London 2012 can be extended beyond the world of sport
"Aspiration," said David Cameron in his conference speech, "is the
engine of progress." Quite right. But what is the engine of
aspiration? What makes people decide to set their sights higher, to
raise their ambitions and to lift their game? The answer, surely, is the
prospect of success.
It is only when the rewards of success are
apparent and when the path towards it is clear that people decide to
push themselves harder and do the best that they can. Take the Olympics.
Many young people will have seen the achievements of Britain's
Olympians, and the rewards that those achievements brought with them,
and will have decided that they want those rewards for themselves. Their
ambitions have been fired. More than that, they have role models from
whose experiences they can learn. The successes of 2012 are inspiring
the efforts of 2013-2015 and will produce the successes of 2016 in Rio.
Success; inspiration; aspiration; more success. It is the ultimate in
The crucial point, however, is that this
should not only be true of sport. It should also be true of our national
life more generally. The hopes and dreams of most young people are
centred well away from the athletics track and the next generation of
entrepreneurs, inventors, soldiers, professionals, public servants and
volunteers need their inspiration too. They need to know how to get from
their classroom to their own individual successes. They need to know
what they have to do and how hard they have to work – and they need to
be convinced that it will be worth their while to make the effort.
GB has shown us three practical steps that we should take to provide all
our young people with the inspiration that they need.
Celebrate individual successes
people are to emulate success they need to know what success looks like
and how it was produced. A sprinter who wants to be the best in their
generation has a ready role model in Usain Bolt. They know that his
training programme is likely to repay study. Other walks of life need
their role models too. Happily, Britain will find these easy to provide.
already produce vast catalogues of success. The New Year and Queen’s
Birthday Honours lists are packed with British heroes and inspirational
figures. So are the Queen’s Awards for Industry. Ditto the gallantry
awards presented to members of the emergency and armed forces. We have 'gold medallists' aplenty – the problem is an embarrassment of riches.
people receive our national awards and we cannot learn from all of
them. Those charged with producing our various lists of honours and
awards should select a small cadre for special mention. These should be
the most impressive soldiers, business people, professionals,
scientists, public servants and volunteers. They should come, as far as
possible, from across the country and be representative of the whole
nation. It is these people whose successes will provide the much-needed
inspiration and example to our young people.
The Honours System
has been much in the news in recent months. To be sure there are many
ways in which it could be improved, but it records our citizens’
achievements with commendable ceremony and thoroughness. It provides a
rich source of inspiration – we should make the best use of it.
Put these stories in front of children
stories of our civic gold medallists should then be taught in our
schools. The recent account of how a British soldier won the Victoria
Cross, or how a British scientist made a great discovery, or how a
British industrialist founded a leading company, could inspire young
people to consider careers in the armed forces, scientific research or
business. These should include people whose contributions are less
obvious and the stories of hard-working public servants, those who
work in charities or in the voluntary sector will also inspire many.
They will also demonstrate the important lesson that success and
achievement are not always glamorous and that it is possible to make
real and valuable contributions to society in seemingly small ways.
should teachers be left to carry the whole burden of this new process.
Just as Olympians have been visiting the nation’s schools so those on
our various Honours lists should be encouraged to go into the classrooms
and tell their stories first hand. This will bring major
achievement in a range of fields within the day-to-day experience of
Britain’s schoolchildren – inspiring them to replicate this success and
showing them how to go about it.
Set success in a national context
inspiration should be available not only to our children but to all of
us. An annual Celebration of Britain, focussing on that year’s particular
successes – Nobel prizes, military heroism, sporting triumphs – would
be useful boost to national morale and would help us all to set our
sights high. It is easy to imagine how an event in the Royal Albert
Hall, perhaps held on the Queen’s Official Birthday, could become a
valued part of our national life.
Success follows effort, effort
follows aspiration and aspiration often follows inspiration. If we want
greater and more varied success we need to provide greater and more
varied inspiration. Britain will not find this difficult but we need to
get on with the task.