This marathon meant more: I was running to connect my community
Posted by Alex Smith on 12th August 2020
By Fay Sibley
Truth be told I’d hadn’t had the best year; in mid-January my relationship broke down unexpectedly and I was left devastated. Instinctively, I turned to running. An activity I believe has “saved” me on more than one occasion. Amongst the chaos in my mind, running provided a calming reassurance – and I focused on putting one foot in front of the other to move forward. By focusing on the physical, I was able to process the emotional and slowly, over a number of weeks, as the miles ticked by, I began to feel a little better, a little more human and a little more me.
Then in early March, the UK government made an announcement which changed everything – they advised us to work from home, as the UK entered a nation-wide lockdown. We were suddenly only permitted to leave our houses once a day, for four essential reasons, removing our usual routines which previously permeated our lives – commuting to our busy offices, meeting friends for coffee, going to the gym and many other activities I had taken for granted.
I found myself slipping back towards the sadness which had threatened to overwhelm me at the beginning of the year. I was unable to see friends and spending long hours at home on my own – trying to make sense of the news which came at us in abundance and the rapid changes I needed to make in my job working for the NHS. However, this time I had my lifeline – running. Exercise was one of the essential reasons people were able to leave their houses, which meant I could continue to run.
Although I no longer work in a frontline, patient-facing role, I work for the NHS in a job focused on supporting people as they age. In response to the pandemic my team paused much of the work we were doing and focused solely on supporting care homes; the residents and their families and the staff who have given up so much to support them. Care homes house some of the most vulnerable members of our society. Often residents are living with complex mental and physical health needs which place them at much higher risk of Covid-19. Care homes face many challenges – lack of funding, high turnover of staff, poor IT systems are not new; however, those challenges have been significantly amplified by the pandemic and brought sharply into public focus.
The work we were doing was hard. We spoke to care home managers and their staff who described their anxiety over the safety of their residents, their own families and themselves. We felt their anguish as they said they had taken the heartbreaking decision to suspend all visits to the home and we cried as we listened to the stories of staff holding the hands of their dying residents, acting as family to the people who could not be visited by their own. Despite how hard it was for them, I was overwhelmed by the resilience of the care home staff and their residents and their pragmatic attitude to overcoming the challenges that lay in front of them.
I had been training for a marathon which was due to take place in Dorset in May. Understandably, when the organisers were unable to safely run the event, the marathon was postponed until September and although I was initially disappointed, it sparked an idea in me. Through conversations with colleagues, I learned that care home residents were becoming increasingly isolated, withdrawn and lonely, unable to connect with family and loved ones. I saw an opportunity to combine my work life and my love of running and use my daily exercise to do some good. I decided to take nine smart devices, donated to The Cares Family by LocalGlobe, to nine local care homes in my home town of Colchester, letting them know how much we were thinking about them and giving them a way to connect again with the outside world.
“We have been using the Alexa, the residents have been listening to all kinds of music. Our residents love the fact that they can just ask Alexa to play the music they love listening to – just asking a device. They all find Alexa amazing! We are so grateful for your very kind donation, we cannot thank you enough.”
I’ve run a marathon before, and many other running races throughout my life. All of them have been personal, physical challenges and I am proud of my running achievements. However, this marathon was different. This was a marathon of huge personal significance. I was running with a sense of purpose that was greater than myself, travelling to nine local care homes to connect my community. I was also finishing my journey at the care home that had cared for my grandad at the end of his life. By finishing at Loganberry Lodge I hoped I could thank the wonderful staff for what they had done for my grandad and my family two years previously – replacing the words I couldn’t find with an action I hoped would convey the depth of gratitude I felt.
“We have been over the moon with the Alexa device donated by the lovely Fay. It is being used for residents to listen to all their old favourites and reminisce. Lots of our CDs have been scratched and are unusable so this was and is a Godsend. We are also using it to hold quizzes: Alexa is a hard quiz master. This donation was made all the more special because of the circumstances, the amazing marathon and being the last home because of Fay’s dear Grandfather living at Loganberry.”
The marathon itself was the most incredible experience. Unlike in other races, I relished every step and every step took me closer to the next home and the people within them. I was overwhelmed by the incredible support along the way, from my friends and family who came out along the route and cheered me on, to the staff and residents who waited patiently outside the homes, with a wave and a smile, for me to arrive. This marathon taught me the importance of community, how simple connection can change a day and the importance of giving back to those who have given so much.
And the community gave back too. Through my marathon, I hoped to raise £500 for The Cares Family, through online donations and an lockdown quiz online. I was blown by the generosity and support of so many people – and I ended up raising a fantastic £2,136.16. That's money I know will help The Cares Family continue to help people to find connection and community in a disconnected age – a mission so closely aligned with my own!
“The Alexa device is a big hit with our residents, we have placed it in one of the lounges and the residents are happy to ask for their favourite music and ask it all types of questions. The weather forecast is a big hit along with the headline news so thank you so much.”
If you've been inspired by Fay's efforts, you too can help your community stay connected in disconnecting times. Please donate to The Cares Family here or email email@example.com if you'd like to take on a fundraising challenge of your own.