Housing

The Running Charity is keeping young homeless people moving despite Covid-19

How do you operate a running group when the nation is social distancing? We find out how these Big Issue Changemakers adapted

the running charity

The Running Charity was named among The Big Issue’s first cohort of Changemakers in 2019 for their work with young people experiencing homeless. That work involves group training runs, one-to-one running and mentoring sessions, fitness workouts at hostels and participation in ParkRuns or races like the Manchester Marathon.

So how does a charity that uses hot, sweaty, close-knit group activity evolve to keep running through lockdown?

Via a mix of tenacity and technology. The charity, which has hubs in Manchester, Leeds, Brighton and London and has been running – literally – since 2012, adapted services to include workouts for hostels via Zoom, online yoga sessions, virtual group runs – held as usual Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings but with young people checking in online before running individually and sending pictures or maps of their runs and comparing notes via WhatsApp.

They have set up drop-in social chatrooms, women-only group workouts, counselling referrals and daily fitness challenges, plus personal development sessions to help the young people plan their weeks – so vital during lockdown – and daily or weekly calls according to need. Women’s Programme Coach Carmen To has even constructed Lego ParkRuns to inspire people on their 5k weekend runs through the lockdown period!

She told The Big Issue: “The main focus of my role at the moment is to ensure the young women are supported wherever in the country they are,” she says. “One of the biggest obstacles is encouraging them to join us in Zoom sessions, as access to a good internet connection or being confident on camera are reasons they might not want to participate. Keeping in contact is key. We find ways to make them feel valued and listened to.”

The charity’s volunteer mentors are also maintaining contact. Firefighter Tomas has been working on the frontline throughout the crisis but is still there for mentees Rafik and Yousof. “I usually meet my mentees in a park where we can run together. If they feel safe enough to express any issues regarding their mental health or anything else, I’ll listen and offer advice around keeping fit and maintaining their physical health,” he says.

“My belief is that keeping physically healthy has a real positive effect on one’s mental health.

“TRC’s work is even more important right now. Although everyone is rightly focused on Covid-19, mental health issues are growing. During lockdown we have been meeting via WhatsApp video calling, doing bodyweight exercise workouts, breathing exercises and yoga sessions to help them with anxiety and stress during this strange time.”

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