April 2020

Run for Heroes – Leeds alumna's record-breaking campaign

Picture credit: IVP_Studios

Run 5K, donate £5, and nominate 5 others to do the same. It was a campaign that began as a challenge between friends and family members, and has gone on to raise over £5 million for NHS Charities Together.

When Olivia Strong (Politics and Sociology 2015) started the Run for Heroes campaign, raising funds to assist NHS staff in the coronavirus crisis, she set an initial target of £5,000. After surpassing that in just four days, Olivia’s initiative has now broken Virgin Money Giving records for the total raised on an individual volunteer page. Over 600,000 people have taken part worldwide – including the likes of Sir Mo Farah, Princess Eugenie, John Terry, Jessica Ennis-Hill, and Ellie Goulding – and Olivia’s efforts have played a crucial role in helping the NHS to keep saving lives.

It all started when Oliva, like many of us during the pandemic, found herself with more time on her hands than normal. On graduating from Leeds in 2015, Olivia had moved to London to work as a freelance documentary producer. But when lockdown measures were implemented, her work was limited to a two-day week, and she moved back home to Edinburgh. “I wanted to do more to help, and I had the time to do it,” Olivia says. “I was out on a run and noticed how many people were out doing the same. I thought, if we're all out using our one form of exercise a day, why don't we do it for the NHS workers?”

It was inspired thinking. The large numbers of people making the most of their one excursion per day combined well with the general public’s desire to act. “I've always thought 5K is a good distance to run and feel a sense of achievement about, and £5 isn't too much to ask people to donate. If we could get people to do both, and then nominate five other people on social media to do the same, hopefully it would spread.”

Olivia got to work as soon as she arrived home from her run, setting up the Instagram and donation pages for proceeds to go to NHS Charities Together, the umbrella organisation for the NHS' official charities in the UK, who aim to support the welfare and the wellbeing of NHS staff as they fight COVID-19. She then recruited friends and family to take part in the first of the runs the very next day. “On the Saturday morning (28 March) the first participants ran 5K, and afterwards they nominated five other people to do the same, sending photos of themselves holding up five fingers to symbolise the 5K. From there it continued to grow and spread all across the world, and it was so lovely to watch. If running wasn’t for them, people could cycle or walk 5K, which helped to open it up to more people.”

"We want to raise as much money for the NHS Charities Together as possible."

Olivia Strong (Politics and Sociology 2015)
Founder of the Run for Heroes campagin

Nearly a month on, and by now many of us will have seen or been tagged in the challenge on social media. From Tokyo to Toronto, participants have taken part across the globe, and some have even gone on to start similar initiatives in their own countries. The perfect combination of Olivia’s initial idea, plus the support of friends with the right skillsets at the right time, gave the campaign the facets it needed to succeed. “My friend India Pappalardo-Strachan came on board early on, helping to brand the campaign. Alice Roberta Taylor, another friend of mine, works in PR, and she’s taken care of writing press releases and getting us valuable airtime.

“On 14 April, we raised £477,480, breaking another Virgin Money Giving record for the most money raised in a single day. We're now sitting at over £5 million in total, which is just amazing!”

Picture credit: IVP_Studios

Despite how far things have come, Olivia and the team (pictured above – from left to right: Alice, Olivia and India) will not be resting on their laurels, even now they have surpassed the £5 million milestone. “We want to raise as much money for the NHS Charities Together as possible. We've also set up another fundraising page for The Care Workers Charity, which people can choose to donate to instead if they'd like. We’ve introduced HITT & yoga classes which people can participate in from the safety of their own home as well – that way we’re able to include even more people.”

Picture credit:: IVP_Studios

With such a proactive approach, it seems likely that the figure raised will continue to rise. During a time when many of us feel unable to help, Olivia has created an initiative that allows everyone to make a difference. And that, alongside the money she has helped to raise, is part of what makes this so special.

If you wish to take part in the Run for Heroes, you can find out more here.