Panda Q&A with Alex Eagle, The Running Charity CEO

Mar 2, 2016 11:51:03 AM

Those of you who have completed our 2016 ecommerce salary survey will have already seen ‘The Running Charity’ is one of two charities you can donate £1 to upon completion. So we thought we’d let you find out more about this amazing charity, which strives to help homelessness amongst youths by promoting fitness and wellbeing to inspire the youths they work with. We (the marketing pandas) caught up with CEO Alex Eagle to talk about the origins of The Running Charity and what’s coming up for them…

Marketing Pandas (MP): Tell us a bit about your background, before The Running Charity came to be.

Alex Eagle (AE): I was from a sports for development background having worked for Millwall Community Trust for a number of years. There, I managed and delivered programmes across Lewisham and Southwark.

In 2005 until last year I worked front line with homeless young people, helping to improve their life skills, health and wellbeing at an incredible charity called New Horizon Youth Centre. I also spent a few years on The London FA Equality Advisory Group supporting the organisation equality governance and inclusion work.

MP: What fuelled your decision to set up The Running Charity and what were the initial goals?

AE: In 2012 James Gilley (co-founder), a passionate runner with endless enthusiasm and passion came to New Horizon Youth Centre looking to see how we could work together to get a group of young people to run The London Marathon. He had recently lost a friend who had become homeless and passed away through a drug overdose. James was determined to do something that honoured his friend’s memory.

I was very focused on marrying the motivational benefits of consistent exercise with structured development plans that can help young people address the underlying issues that can compound homelessness.

The initial goals where quite simple: try and cultivate a consistent group of attendees, offer them a really supportive and nurturing environment and see where it took us.

The first programme began with 12 young people, they were either rough sleeping or living in night shelters, they were unemployed or not in any form of education and within 6 months they were all housed, they were all employed or in college.

There were also huge improvements to their self-esteem, punctuality and communication skills which has helped them over the long term to navigate difficult situations. These 12 are still involved with the charity in some capacity now.

We knew around a third of the way through that first programme that we had something quite special that could really make a difference to young people’s lives.

MP: Before you founded the charity, did you feel the issue of youth homelessness was represented enough?

AE: Youth Homelessness is increasing year on year and it gets some attention but arguably not enough and in the world's 5th largest economy, it’s a terrible indictment that there is even an issue with homelessness. This is a really solvable issue; like all problems it often just needs a shift in priorities.

Our focus and message is one of celebrating our young people’s achievement. The Running Charity does not try and push the destitution, the isolation and the neglect that our young people have experienced. The young people want to celebrate what they are or have accomplished and it’s our duty to represent that.

The Running Charity and its members will challenge the perception and the stereotypes that are often perpetuated around young people and people who experience homelessness.

MP: We’re sure there are countless inspiring stories from your work, but is there a particular case that sticks out and highlights all the hard work paying off?

AE: A young man named Steven is probably the story with the most striking impact, he joined as rough sleeping, a heroin user and was weighing just 7 stone. Steven now is now 13.5 stone, a level 3 personal trainer, housed, employed and about to run The Virgin Money London Marathon (he also tells other young people off for smoking and is a strict vegan now).

Steven's incredible journey is a testament to the strength of the individual but on top of this I think it really demonstrates the power of running and fitness to provide a focus during times of hardship and struggle. 

MP: How quickly do the youths on the running programme engage with the activities? Are there any barriers to break before they immerse themselves in the programme?

AE: The barriers can be subtle or profound, from a lack equipment to serious drug misuse. Our young people’s journeys often have their ups and downs but we remain a constant for them.

I believe to really address long term issues you need to offer people time to grow. It is essential to work with people to empower their own self transformation (which is not always a popular concept in today’s fast paced society) we are not a 6 week employability programme. People often band about terms such “hard to reach” “socially excluded” our members can often some of the most vulnerable people in their age range. They are often victims of crime, sexual exploitation, physical and emotional abuse. Experiences like these take time to heal it’s our desire to make a lasting change not tick a box.

Simplifying it; if you have been eating a bad diet and smoking for 2 decades a week of wheatgrass smoothies and a yoga retreat is not going to turn you into a bastion of health! We are not the crash diet we are the long term healthy nutritional changes that really makes the difference.

MP: How does The Running Charity drive awareness to reach a wider audience? Any exciting campaigns coming up that people can get involved in?

AE: Steven is running The Virgin Money London Marathon for The Running Charity and he will be a lead human interest story for The London Marathon, we have set a target of raising 5k to help us expand our work. In a year we have gone from 1 programme in Kings Cross to being close to launching our 5th programme in London as well as expanding to Manchester, Oldham and Rochdale.

The Running Charity is inundated for our work across the UK and beyond. We are trying to make sure we can fulfil that demand!

MP: How can people register their interest in the charity and, more importantly, show and maintain support?

AE: Supporting Steven is a really positive thing, every penny counts! We are also looking at bringing in a team of fundraising champions for Steve’s campaign that will champion his story with their contacts.  

Volunteer wise, we are always looking for qualified fitness professionals to deliver our sessions, we can refer people on running courses so that’s always an option for anyone that has a real passion to be hands on.

On a more grand scale we are also working on an expansion programme that utilises volunteers to set up sessions in their communities. The aim is to provide all the training, materials, support mechanisms that will help lay the infrastructure for a wider expansion…. Only the bold or gluttons for punishment should apply!

MP: We hear The Running Charity will be turning two this year as a registered charity. Congratulations! What other exciting things are in store for 2016?  

AE: 2015 was a really steep learning curve for us as a charity, we have laid sound governance and strong financial controls. 2016 is really about the expanding of our work across the UK.

We have already secured a really positive corporate sponsor which we aim to announce soon but we are looking for an exclusive team of lead corporate backers that can help us take something that changes lives to the next level.

A big thank you to Alex for taking the time to speak with us. Do check out The Running Charity to learn more, and remember you can support it by completing our salary survey too! 

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