With so many wonderful community initiatives out there, why not make the world a better place while you run? Here are just three ways you can give something back…
GoodGym is a community of runners who combine getting fit with doing good in the wider community. “It came out of me not doing any exercise and thinking I could do something more useful than just running on a treadmill,” explains GoodGym founder, Ivo Gormley. “So I started running to deliver the paper to an isolated older man called Terry.” A Group Run involves running to a community project or organisation, helping out, and then running back again – taking part in anything from tidying a community garden to sorting food boxes for disadvantaged families. Or you could try a Mission Run (helping out an elderly person with a one-off task), or Coach Run (running to visit an elderly isolated person).
It’s a brilliant way to make a difference to somebody’s life, putting your running to fantastic use. “Every time you go for a run, you’re probably going past the house of someone who’s isolated and lonely,” says Gormley. “Stopping for a chat once a week can make a huge difference to their life and give you a bit more motivation for an extra run.”
And there are huge physical, psychological and social benefits for you, too. “I think it’s just another way to get involved in running – it’s an adventure,” says Gormley. “You’ll meet some nice people, explore some new places and help a local project.
“It’s a really good way to add a bit of variety into your running, too. It’s always OK to just turn up for the group runs – trying it out is really easy and you’ll always get a friendly welcome. Most are women and GoodGym is open to everyone. Group runs range from 3K to 10K and we’ll always stop halfway to help a local community project. It’s a different project every week in most areas.”
WHERE? GoodGym currently operates in 38 areas across the UK, although four more are starting soon and a further 69 are at the proposal stage. Visit goodgym.org for full details of all locations.
GET INVOLVED: Visit goodgym.org to see if it operates in your local area. For the Group Runs, you can simply sign up and turn up on the evening. To work with isolated people, you will need to go through a background check and training. GoodGym is free, but there is an option to pay £9.95 per month (far less than a traditional gym membership), to help cover the charity’s costs.
Co-founded by director Alex Eagle, The Running Charity works with vulnerably housed 16-25-year-old women and men. “We use running to make a difference to the lives of homeless people in the UK,” says Eagle. “I’ve worked with socially excluded and homeless people since the age of 16, and have witnessed first-hand the power running and fitness can have.”
Alex and his dedicated team are determined to offer these young people the chance to fulfil their potential.“Our members are just like any other young people – they have dreams and aspirations, and are often so determined to improve their lives. It’s a real injustice that they are often prevented, or have their chances severely limited, because of forces outside of their control.”
The Running Charity works alongside a range of homeless charities, to support young people in all areas of their lives, and they have also started a mentoring programme. “The female graduates of our programme were feeding back that a running mentor would have really helped them at the start, and also provide someone to feel safe with when they wanted to run more,” explains Eagle. “It’s also really important for The Running Charity to offer runners that wonderful opportunity to just help someone with something they have a passion for.”
Mentors run and exercise with their mentee, and together they set their sights on a race they would like to do. The charity trains and supports its mentors, and organises and pays for entry to the event. “We hope that crossing a finishing line together is as transformative for the mentor as it often is for the mentee,” says Eagle.
If you volunteer as a mentor, you will never feel alone, and the charity will support you every step of the way. “We have just recruited a female- specific support worker, to help support each mentor and mentee,” says Eagle. “Our mentors do a great job and it’s important that they always feel supported themselves, in order to give the best experience to their mentee in return.”
Helping a young person turn their life around is hugely rewarding, as Eagle and his team can testify to: “We’ve had young people who have gone from a life of substance abuse to being clean and now pushing to do ultramarathons. One of our first graduates is now a full-time employee, who in turn now helps look after mentors. “But there are loads of great smaller stories too: earning someone’s trust; enabling someone to forget about their problems for a few hours; and reducing someone’s isolation are all incredibly valuable.”
WHERE? The Running Charity currently operates in London, Nottingham and Manchester, and is soon to launch in Newcastle.
GET INVOLVED: If you’re interested in finding out more about how to become a running mentor, to help change a young person’s life with your next run; or if you’re interested in fundraising for The Running Charity, please visit therunningcharity.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org. “We are also reaching out to running clubs who may consider supporting us, so if you are involved in a club and would like to learn more, then we’d love you to get in touch,” says Eagle.
Running is a great way for everyone to stay physically fit and improve mental health, and guide runners make that possible for blind or visually impaired individuals. “No- one should be discriminated against and everyone should have the same opportunities, regardless of their circumstances,” says Logan Gray, national partnerships manager at British Blind Sport (britishblindsport. org.uk). “Visually impaired people are just as able to run as sighted people and just as able to experience all of the benefits that come with regular exercise. They just need someone to guide them to do so.”
Gray overseas the charity’s relationship with England Athletics (englandathletics.org), which has launched a Find A Guide database, helping to make running accessible to visually impaired people across the country, and it also runs Sight Loss and Guide Running workshops, to train more volunteers. “Anyone who is a keen runner and wants to help people can get involved,” says Gray. “Ideally, we always want the guide runner to be faster than the visually impaired runner, so they can exercise at the level they are comfortable. But many of the runners using the Find A Guide base for the first time will be starting from a low level, so marathon experience is hardly essential!
“A good guide runner will be patient, supportive and have strong verbal communication skills. Runners with severe sight impairments need audio cues, for example warnings when stepping down from kerbs, turning corners or ducking under any overhanging branches.”
WHERE? You can become a guide runner in your local area! Simply check out the British Blind Sport or England Athletics websites for details of training and taster days.
GET INVOLVED: “We’re always looking for supporters who can help us to ‘Make a visible difference in sport’, whether that’s by volunteering their time or fundraising for us,” says Gray. Call British Blind Sport on 01926 424247, email email@example.com or visit britishblindsport.or.uk