On Sunday 26th April, London was supposed to wake up and cheer on thousands of athletes, participants and fun-runners as they ran through the streets on an early spring morning.
Like most other events, the London Marathon has been postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic - something which risks the £67 million it raises for countless charities every year.
In response, the UK’s mass participation sector has come together to ensure that those charities relying on their events don’t lose out, especially at a time when many of the country’s charitable foundations are at risk.
Senior figures from the likes of Human Race, parkrun, The Great Run Company, Run 4 Wales, Grounded Events, London Landmarks, Virgin Sport, Limelight Sports, Threshold Sports, Running High and London Marathon Events have all come together to put their collective weight behind the 2.6 Challenge, which aims to inspire the public to raise money and save the UK’s charities.
“There’s no rule book for how to raise £67m in three weeks,” said Nick Rusling, CEO, Human Race and Co-Chair, 2.6 Challenge. “So we’ve had to learn on the go, but it’s working and a massive part of that is the product. We pulled it together very quickly. and principally because of the urgency around the crisis for charities and that’s focussed our mind on making it happen.”
Just a month ago, events were being postponed and cancelled, and an announcement that the London Marathon would be postponed was made on the same day as that of the Manchester Marathon. Together with other events taking place across the next few months, the impact on charities from the postponements and cancellations is thought to hit £100 million.
The sector decided to do something about it, using existing networks and relationships to create something new to support charities.
“I chair a sustainability group across the industry,” said Rusling, “and we essentially came together and said ‘Let’s not try and make our events more sustainable individually, let’s collaborate and share and improve together as an industry’.
“But there’s a slightly more pressing topic here, which is all the charities and there was a quick, unanimous feeling amongst the industry to try and do something about it.
“There’s now 100 people working on this project and I’ve probably only met ten of them in person! And yet we’ve come together with the most amazing culture and spirit. There’s no sensitivity and there’s real clarity.”
That collaboration has taken place at a time of lockdown, with a diverse group of organisations working on one project: to get the British public involved in an activity and donate to a charity of their choice to help keep those organisations afloat.
“One of the joys is seeing what challenges people come up with, related to 2.6, 26, or 260,” said Rusling. “And it doesn’t have to be exercise - we’ve got people doing so many different things like eating challenges or putting on 26 items of clothing - but a lot of people are doing fitness related things as well.
“Most importantly, you think about which charity is important to you, and then you donate to that charity. The flexibility of allowing the public and businesses to select their own charity means that anyone can be involved - and as a result we can save the UK’s charities.
“The urgency to get the cash to them within a week after this will keep them going and keep their services and everything they do in society alive.”
That urgency has been shared across an industry that’s been willing to muck in and do their bit - something organisers are hoping the public will do, too.
One of the benefits of having so many organisations active in the mass participation sector coming together on a project like this is that relationships and contacts can be shared, leading to the creation of a huge network of people getting involved.
“We’ve just been hitting the phones,” said Rusling. “And it’s been just the most heartwarming series sales phone calls, basically. People have just got it: we’re talking about CEOs of some pretty complicated businesses who have just kicked things into action.
“I spoke to the European Tour, for example, and they just said, ‘we get it, just leave golf to me!’ And then spoke to the R&A or England Golf. Or people who’ve said ‘I’ll take on the property industry’ and it’s been an amazing response from very senior people who’ve got cut through and going to their respective industry press.”
Across the sport industry, others have pitched in to lend a hand - and perhaps more importantly their own expertise.
Three UK agencies have worked on the project pro bono, each working on an area of their own speciality. Studio Republic have created the website and worked on marketing; LiveWire Sport are running all of the social media, while Mace are handling the PR.
“It’s really taken on a life of its own on social,” said Rusling. “We’re continuing to do a massive job on people of influence, sports stars, celebrities, influencers, giving them a script, getting them to film themselves doing a challenge and getting them to nominate a charity.”
On Sunday, the proof will be the response as well as the money raised. The public’s creativity as well as its generosity will be on display as people decide not just which charity to donate their money to, but what activity they will perform while they do so.
“I’m hopping 2.6km… which I think is going to hurt,” said a rueful Rusling. “I thought it’d be funny but I’ve realised it’s going to hurt… but i’m doing it for Cure Leukemia and Women in Sport, where I’m a trustee.”
“My mum’s got really bad arthritis but she’s doing 26 lengths of her front path, so I’ll film her from afar as she does her bit - she’s loving being involved.
“But it’s also an event weekend! So we’ll be working. We’ve got various workstreams and it’ll be an observation and reaction exercise as we stare at screens on social media and spot opportunities and hopefully it’ll take a life of its own.”