It has been an exciting and challenging time for The Running Charity. In the space of a year we have grown from one development programme in Kings Cross to delivering our service across all of London and with some of the most well-known homeless charities in the world.
Sported have played a vital role in the development of our work, so when they asked me to write about our recent expansion in Manchester I was only too happy to. However it then led to me needing to pause and reflect on just how we had actually did it, which to be honest was easier said than done.
Essentially it boiled down to three things, luck, the passion of others to make a difference and the willingness of the charity to take a calculated risk.
The first stroke of luck was that during last year’s Virgin Money London Marathon a viewer was paying attention to the bits many people go and make a cup of tea during. Claude, our Programmes Officer and former graduate of our programmes, was featured in the build up to the race. Claude had joined us after eight months of rough sleeping, he had transformed his life through running and fitness and was about to become The Running Charity’s first Programmes Officer and run the marathon. George, a working professional and avid runner, got in touch and said how can I become a volunteer for you, up here in Manchester?
The answer I had for George was simple, but the execution would be a different matter. The essence of the conversation was that we ran nothing in Manchester and that if he did want to help set up something it was going to take loads of hard work and perseverance! The only positive note was that, unlike when we founded The Running Charity in London, we can help navigate the pit falls and share our good practice as we jointly develop in Manchester (cue the expected “oh sorry I am too busy but good luck”). Surprisingly George ran, but not in the way I thought he would, he ran with it and was determined for it to succeed.
We offered George as much support as we could give (we are a full time team of two – so it was limited) and helped him to lay the foundations of our work around his home life and his work life. New partnerships were created, new friends made and nine months later (yes nine months) we launched three drop-in sessions in Manchester, Rochdale and Oldham.
As a young charity we don’t have a pot of gold and a huge service history to throw a pile of money at something and hope it works. We are a charity that strives to do things the “correct” way, to develop sustainable work, to evidence it and then hope that we can secure the funding to lay more solid foundations.
What was very much an organic process is now turning into a blue print on how the next person can lay the foundations in Nottingham or Glasgow or wherever we can find people with the passion to make a difference.
If I could dish out some advice without it sounding like generic management consultant nonsense what would it be? I am coming at this from the perspective of our work but I think the points are universal enough to apply to a variety of organisations:
1. Be bold! (Now I am already going against my management consultant promise) Look at ways you can do new things rather than why you can’t it’s easy to stay in your comfort zone. If The Running Charity were not open to trying something different then we would have stood still and wouldn’t be supporting new people that will benefit from our work.
2. Get your message out there! Whatever way you do it – be it social media, websites, job boards or through word of mouth – let people know that you are open to expanding.
3. Be honest! Anyone who wants to help us expand gets a very real picture of our work, the time it will involve and what we expect. The young people come first and if a volunteer is going to run a mile its better they do that now rather than further down the line once you have made commitments, invested time and resources. This also applies to partners let them know the reality of what you are doing but what you have achieved and are working towards.
4. Don’t let your ego get in the way! What has worked in London may not work in Manchester or wherever you decide to go next. Let local people guide your new work. They will understand the subtle differences in their city and your new partners know your new clients better. I would advise to be quiet, listen and learn. I am there to emphasise the ethos of our charity, the collaborative process of the work and the feel of our sessions not to dictate the terms of how the sessions should run.
5. Empower! Now I wish I could claim that my input was the deciding factor for our success, and success is a relative term. We are still in our infancy and our volunteers need to learn but with guidance and support. George is everything we could have hoped for and then some, but it was essential for him to do it his way and not rush it, there was no pressure to tick lots of unnecessary boxes.
There are still many things that we can do better, still ways we can improve our service, but I don’t think these thoughts should ever stop. Our members change, their needs are often shaped by external factors and it’s vital as a service we respond to that.
I am very excited for what the future holds for The Running Charity and with the support from organisations like Sported and the recognition now that engaging in sport is not the end result but can be used as means to help empower people to improve their circumstances, the future bodes well for the Sport for Development sector as a whole.
For more information about The Running Charity, please visit www.therunningcharity.org or contact Alex via email firstname.lastname@example.org
Support former member of their programme, Steven, as he takes on The Virgin Money London Marathon to raise funds for The Running Charity’s expansion http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/StevenOltay