Running has been a great solace for me. It has played a crucial part in my mental wellbeing when I was dealing with my dad’s terminal illness and eventual death. Its given me a sense of achievement in realising my goal to run the 2016 Boston marathon, and setting up my own business focused on running. Becoming the Colchester Goodgym Trainer was a fantastic next part of the story, and this blog describes my experience of Goodgym in Colchester so far.
Volunteering is something that I’ve often taken part in and enjoyed. From serving cooked breakfasts for the homeless in Whitechapel, to building a footpath in the Surrey Quays garden, doing good honest work that helps others is very fulfilling.
However, I’m often faced with a sense of doubt about the impact this has; “Does it really help others?”, “Is this more for my own sense of warm fuzzies, that for those in need?”. Its like when you give clothes to charity – are you doing it to help others, or are you doing it to clear your home and make space for more new things?
So, earlier this year, I became the Colchester Trainer for Goodgym Colchester. Goodgym is a group of runners who run to do good. This is either with practical tasks, or by befriending isolated older people.
We meet every Wednesday evening at Leisure World, and we run to our task. We have helped several charities, churches and community spots throughout Colchester and below I’ll talk about a few of them.
Colchester Foodbank provides much needed sustenance for families in Colchester who are facing financial hardship. To the extent they are needing to make a choice between food or heating. They have one member of staff, and the rest of the Foodbank is run entirely by volunteers.
When I went to check out the venue, it was my first time visiting the foodbank. I was taken aback by just how much food is there. But also, as someone who really values quality nutrition, I was upset that the food packets are entirely pre-packaged food. Fresh food is donated from time to time, and there is a ‘treat’s shelf that people can choose from.
It was really heartening to see that a packet of corn flakes is considered a treat. And that tinned meat is a necessity in these food parcels.
Whilst it was an education for me, it was also an education for the volunteers at the Foodbank. That first run was really quite an emotional event for all involved. And the Foodbank volunteer made a thank you speech. One of the first things she said was that she had always thought runners were quite selfish (understandable as most often when you come across runners and you’re not running, they run past you barely acknowledging you). But that the work we’d done (cleaning the foodbank) had made such an incredible difference in a short space of time.
Our first run for Rivercare left me thoroughly confused. We were running to Colchester Canoe Club, who are an established Rivercare Group, to collect litter pickers and bin bags, and then we had a HUGE section of river to clear. We found a pizza box with a slice of pizza still in it, that Tom enjoyed, and all in all filled several bin bags of litter. I then learnt that Rivercare finds groups who are already in existence, sets them up with the necessary equipment and lets them run with taking care of a part of the river, so the Canoe club was one of these groups.
My first impressions of this task was that it looked like community service – this is from watching too much trashy American TV. But secondly, why do people drop litter? There are bins everywhere! And what about the countryside code?? You take your litter home with you! There was a section were there were at least 10 doggy poop filled bags. The doggy litter bin was about 20 metres away! I mean, really, who did they think would clear up after them?
Whilst we made a really noticeable difference to the appearance of the riverside, this task can be really frustrating, as you walk along the same section a few days later, and litter has returned.
Rivercare is part of Keep Britain Tidy and David, who’s in charge of the Rivercare of the Colne was delighted that we could take charge of his missing piece of the puzzle – We are now in charge of the Castle park stretch of the River Colne, from the Middle Mill Weir to East gates. We return to this task about once a month, and despite it being fairly boring on paper, ‘picking up rubbish’, we always seem to find interesting things, and it provides a great opportunity for runners to talk to one another. On our last litter pick, we found 2 tyres, an inner tub and a wheel. Often runners seem to have the most fun doing this task, perhaps because we get to move around whilst we’re litter picking
What David says, also, is that its great to get volunteering amongst younger people. So often, its older people that go out to volunteer, often because the opportunities to do so are during the working day. With Goodgym, you can get a workout, and a chance to help your community in some way. Its win win.
Toward the end of the summer, I was really struggling to find tasks. And in addition, almost everyone I was reaching out to didn’t get back to me, or things fell through at the last minute. I’m quite used to this in my business, but its even more frustrating when you’re offering to help for free and it becomes a chasing game. I didn’t really know what Emmaus was, but one of my clients suggested I contacted them. All I knew was they sold second-hand furniture in the town centre.
I figured we could do some moving of heavy things, but when I contacted Emmaus Colchester, their MD, Keith wanted to have a chat with me. So I happily went to meet him. He educated me on what Emmaus does.
Its a halfway house for homeless people. In return for doing honest work in their shops or in their community, they are provided with accommodation and a small allowance.
The people in the community are called companions.
Keith was concerned for the companions’ social well-being. Whilst they had a full working day, what happens after 6pm?
They don’t have loads of money, and a lot of evening activities cost money. He asked if his companions could come running with us. I thought great! Why not? Goodgym is free unless you choose to donate, and it would be fantastic to be helping these people find fitness and some social interaction.
On the first run where Emmaus companions joined us, 6 companions came. This really boosted our numbers that night, but unfortunately, due to the problems I’d been having setting tasks, what was supposed to be a short run session ended up being our longest run yet, as we ran to Severalls’ business park to deliver posters for Colchester Hospitals Charity.
A few weeks later, we ran to the Emmaus warehouse to help them sort through their clothing display. And here we really benefited from Sue. who has lots of fashion retail experience. helping to arrange the clothing well. In fact, she was so engrossed in the task that she went back the next day to volunteer some more and help sort the warehouse out.
Not only are the tasks at Emmaus fantastic fun. Its really great to see the companions who are having fun getting back to fitness and rebuilding their lives.
Its been a real honour being the Goodgym Trainer for Colchester, we’ve got a great bunch of runners who are joining our regular runs, but we need more to ensure the success of Goodgym in Colchester, and here’s where you might be able to help…
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Angela Isherwood is the founder of I Run Success
She is a REPs Level 3 Personal Trainer, a Run England Running coach, and a multiple marathon runner. She is a London Marathon Good for Age runner, a Boston Marathon Qualifier, a parkrun Run Director and Trainer for Goodgym Colchester.