Running for my Life
Running, by faith and with endurance, from mental illness to marathon runner, charity campaigner, and brother in Christ

The above photo is taken outside the The Connection at St Martin-in-the-Fields (I hope they don't mind my lifting the image from their website), Appropriately, it is on the page which tells you what they do, and reading what they do will hopefully make it very clear why they are one of my charity partners for Running Wild 2017.

Located alongside the iconic St Martin-in-the-Fields Church,The Connection is at the heart of the highest concentration of homeless in the UK. Digressing back to my run commute, but with a purpose on this occasion, last Wednesday morning, as the cold snap kicked in, I counted no less than 28 rough sleepers (well they weren't all asleep, who could be with that kind of fear and vulnerability?) in a stretch of around 0.4 miles between the start of the Strand and Covent Garden Piazza. It was freezing out there that morning and I had already run 8 miles so just imagine having been out there all night.

The purpose of The Connection is that of helping people leave behind life on the streets through street outreach teams, a day and night centre and specialist services. And on Thursday, during my lunch break, I had the privilege of seeing some of these services first hand.

I've visited the fundraising and events team at Mind on many occasions and it is always very humbling to be welcomed as I am, they are an amazing team and charity and they have my support until the day I die; without Mind, I am not alive today. However, as a national HQ where the team is based, it is nevertheless walking into an office, a place of work. Walking into the Connection on Thursday could not have been more different.

This was walking into a different world to the privileges that so many of us take for granted. The reception team, overloaded yet so welcoming, are the first contact for the hundreds who come through the door every day. They are the welcome to safety and a service which not only looks to get people in from the streets but is dedicated to providing holistic plans and solutions which will keep people off them. This is one of the key reasons why I so want to support them this year and beyond in their work.

I had spoken to Sonja from the fundraising team on a few occasions and it was so easy to see her love of what she does upon meeting her in person. Introduced to the rest of the team, it is clear that they have such a passion for what the Connection is doing and a real desire to be part of that journey not only on a wider level but seeing first hand every day the impact on individual lives at close quarters. In that few moments, I was made to feel part of something very special in the way that the team really wanted to know me and thank me for supporting them ... and I haven't done anything yet!! What struck me is that ethos of being so welcoming; that is what can allow the Connection to 'connect' with people who are often too proud or scared to seek support.

Speaking with Sonja, I understood that they know they can neither help nor save everyone, but changing even one life every day makes such a big difference. The facilities in the day centre are varied, and include showers, access to warm and nutritious food (at a very low price, I recall a slice of toast being 10p), showers and laundry facilities. Dignity and respect for a few hours. I had the privilege of meeting a long term service user in their art centre; talented, warm, friendly, engaging but nonetheless homeless. Is that his fault? No. Is it proof that hard work and investment can provide him with some purpose and hope in life? Yes.

There is an NHS centre on site and beyond servicing those immediate needs, what I loved was the access to PCs and Employment Skills Training. With my background in recruitment, I am hoping this is an area in which I can support them considerably along with my team at The Night Centre sleeps up to 45 people every night brought in by the Street Outreach team. I have spent a few nights, recently, volunteering with street outreach teams; it is not only humbling, but damn hard. The truth is that volunteers merely see into the window of the harsh reality that the staff see every day and night.

The Connection at St Martin-in-the-Fields was the obvious choice for me when choosing a homeless charity to support. It has links with a church I visit regularly and is located a stone's throw from where I work. In truth, those reasons don't hold up under the closest scrutiny. What does hold up a little is that I have slept rough and would not wish it on anyone; what stands up more than anything is having seen at close quarters that this is a charity committed to serving the homeless people of London and changing their lives not only for the night but permanently.

Please take the time to explore the website and their work, and if you are local perhaps commit to giving just a little of your time. And perhaps even more, you might be kind enough to make a small donation to my fundraising for 2017 in support of the Connection and Mind. Whether you donate £2.17 or £20.17 (£201.70 would be cool too!!!) for 2017, every penny will change lives.

Let's cut to the chase here: London has a huge problem with homelessness. I know it, you know it, Sadiq Khan knows it. It is not for me to discuss the politics around affordable housing, what I can tell you is that there are organisations doing incredible work to try and make a difference and create housing options for those who need it most. I know this having worked for a leading social housing group in Network Homes, and I cannot speak highly enough of them. But it is quite evidently not enough; 8,000 people slept on the streets of London last year and that number is only rising.

I have spent the last several years campaigning and fundraising around mental health awareness, and continue to do so. Mental illness carries stigma and stereotypes, as does homelessness. 8,000 on the streets are not all substance abusers or those who can't be arsed to get a job. It can happen to anyone! And as I have written before, the link between the two is inextricable. According to Homeless Link, 80% of homeless people will report a mental health issue. It's devastating enough that 1 in 4 of us will experience a mental health problem, so when this suddenly becomes 4 in 5 in the homeless population, we are talking about a real crisis. And the crisis belongs not just to those on the streets, not just to the government and policy makers, not just to charities, but to every one of us to make a difference. Why? Because it is our duty as human beings, and because we can.

Running Home

I didn't actually run into work on Thursday, I had a business networking event (I love that phrase!) at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre. However, it was my double run day for the week as I increase my mileage to train for the London 2 Brighton Challenge. It meant lifting my posterior from the comfort (and WARMTH!) of my bed at the unearthly hour of 5am to do my run closer to home and to be able to come back and 'refresh' (that's shower and change in English!) before heading out to work ... erm, network! Actually, I have to say it was a great event run by Blackbridge Communications about employer mission, values and branding which is relevant to the moonlighting I do as a day job! Anyway I digress ...

Usually, I would "run commute" into the office at the crack of dawn where we fortunately have facilities for me to 'refresh', which is something I suspect my colleagues greatly appreciate although they also have to put up with my smug exclamations of having run the 9.3 miles into work! They think it's a bit mental that I would leave home at 6am to run into the office when I can leave home at the same time and use public transport to get there about 15 minutes later!! And they are right, I am mental, and have the certificate to prove it!!

On a double run day, I also run home, something which I look forward to a little less than the beautifully peaceful morning commute. In truth, navigating the first couple of miles away from Covent Garden beyond Parliament and Vauxhall Bridge via the chaos of Waterloo Bridge / Strand or Trafalgar Square, depending on which way I go, is a surefire way to land me with a homicide charge as my vocabulary becomes increasingly blue underneath my breath fighting through the scrum of pedestrians unable to walk in a straight line because they are so busy looking into their phones. Yes, shoulder and chip!!!

I continue to digress however. In the verbal diatribe above, the single most important word is home. I get out of my warm bed at HOME, I go to work and run HOME. I have a HOME ... well I rent one which gives me a very nice and secure roof over my head.