15 awesome UK running collectives you need to know about right now
© Track Mafia
From empowering women, to creating spaces for people of colour, these are the UK running crews who are changing the world around them, one run at a time...
Not a lot of people know this, but the UK is now home to some of the most innovative and inspirational running crews in the world.
Every day, clusters of people come together to run, but also to create change in themselves and the communities around them.
We’ve known for a while that running can be the spark for immense personal growth, but when groups of people come together for the common good, its force for positive change is close to unstoppable.
Here's a guide to some of the most inspiring and vibrant running collectives in the UK right now.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the following groups may not be operating as usual during this time. Contact the groups individually to find out more about their current operation.
What’s the story: “I started it when I realised that there weren’t any spaces that I felt comfortable enough to run in,” says founder Sahra-Isha Muhammad-Jones. “Hearing stories from mainly Muslim women, realising there haven’t been spaces for us to run without being questioned about our faith or how we run or dress. I made a Twitter account and got hundreds of responses from women explaining how they want to run, or that they do run already but didn’t feel it was safe outside, or feel comfortable enough to go to other running clubs."
What are you most proud of: “It’s just beautiful to see people grow. Some might have a goal to just run, or to reach 5km, and sometimes they surpass that and go from 1km to 10km. Also to see a form of sisterhood being created: making friends with others, knowing you can go to each other for advice and tips."
How to get involved: “Normally, we run every Tuesday and Sunday [in Wimbledon]. During Ramadan, we did a virtual series where we had a bunch of talks and yoga sessions – just things to keep that spirit going. We also have an online group where we check in with each other, and if someone is running, they post it and we cheer them on."
Where to click: “Find us on Instagram.”
2. A Mile In Her Shoes
What’s the story: “We’re here to empower women to get moving and find their feet as they move on from homelessness,” says founder Nicola Miller. “I saw how transformative running had been for women around me, and my experiences volunteering at a homeless shelter made me ask: how might running and fitness change lives for women experiencing homelessness? All of our activities are inspired by running and the empowering effect it can have."
What are you most proud of: “Any time a member lets us know how attending our sessions, or the support they've received from a volunteer or coach, has made them feel more confident to deal with the challenges in their life, or how strong being able to wear and keep suitable kit for exercising in has made them feel, it reminds me how much impact we can have on people's lives."
How to get involved: “We're still growing and as such, we look for volunteers where we have new groups being set up. At the moment, however, we're focusing on sustaining our current programme before we expand any further. The best way to help at the moment is to donate to, or fundraise for, our charity. You can donate via our website."
3. ChasingLights Collective
What’s the story: “The collective was created and developed to focus on the aspects of running and movement that are often ignored and can lead to injury,” says CLC’s Nav Kiani. “We explore the connection between movement and mind, and how the tools can be utilised in the management of your state or your stress levels."
What are you most proud of: "Our community and the connection created within the crew – plus the way our ethos has been embraced across the running and movement community as a whole."
How to get involved: “We hold weekly sessions (normally on Wednesday evenings). People can just turn up and we welcome all levels and backgrounds as we encourage diversity in our community."
What’s the story: “We set up initially to try and get more women into ultrarunning, to change the ratio which typically stands at 80 percent men and 20 percent women,” says Sorrell Walsh. “We wanted to provide a safe, encouraging space for women to train together and reach a goal collectively, together. Endurance sport is a great pathway into realising your capabilities, potential and strengths, in all aspects of life, and we wanted to show that realisation to as many women as we could."
What are you most proud of: “From training young women in Tulse Hill to run their first 5K, to seeing our community members work towards the goals that they once thought of as impossible, we're proud of so many things."
How to get involved: "Come along to one of our runs which you can find on our website, or feel free to send us an email at email@example.com."
5. London Frontrunners
What’s the story: “The Frontrunners movement is about encouraging running among people from the LGBT+ community and their allies all around the world,” says co-president Jamie Keenan. “There are a number of Frontrunners clubs in the UK – we set up in 1995 as part of the international Frontrunners movement, which began in San Francisco in the mid-1970s."
What are you most proud of: “We are celebrating our 25th anniversary this year. The club can be very proud that something that started as a small group of friends going for a run after work has become the biggest LGBT+ sporting club in Europe. We have over 500 members of all abilities and compete in a range of competitive running events, and we have a great social side, too!"
How to get involved: "As soon as we are able to, we'll publish all the details on our website. We have new runners at every one of our runs – everyone is always welcome."
6. Run Dem Crew
What’s the story: “I started RDC in 2007,” says Charlie Dark. “I fell in love with running and just wanted to share it with my musical and creative community to encourage them to lead a healthy lifestyle. Ahead of the London Olympics, the idea was to try to build a fitness community in east London that would make use of the facilities. And also a way of working with young people, transporting them safely from one area to another. And allowing a kind of informal travelling, mentoring programme."
What are you most proud of: “I’m most proud of the diversity of the people who walk through our doors. It’s definitely a reflection of the type of people who live in London, and the multicultural-ness, and the creativity that you find here. I’m most proud of the projects that we’ve done with young people and the things they’ve gone on to do as a result. I think it’s giving a lot of people purpose, opening the doors to different opportunities."
How to get involved: “We were meeting once a week on Tuesdays, but we’ve got a big crew, so with social distancing, it’s unmanageable.
“We’re embarking on a season of self-development because running is not enough to get you through Covid. The fact that you can run a fast marathon is not going to help you keep your job, or cope with being furloughed. In light of BLM and those protests, running doesn’t necessarily empower you to be able to speak confidently about your views. So we are taking a period of time to not run collectively as a group together, but to explore the other stuff that you need to be doing to survive in London during this time."
Where to click: "Keep updated on our Instagram.”
What’s the story: “I was already running Run Dem Crew West on Monday nights, which was road running, but then three of us decided to have our own track session on a Thursday,” says Cory Wharton-Malcom (aka Bit Beefy). “People noticed we were getting faster, and started asking if they could join and we said, ‘No, you can’t! This isn’t a club or a crew, it’s just people training.’ As the weeks went past, we were convinced to let others come along as long as it was a very chilled, relaxed vibe. That kind of continued and still does continue.""
What are you most proud of: “We do a lot of community work, in schools and at races. We’ve also organised night races where we've taken over a go-kart track, an underground car park... we've even taken over Westfield, and Wembley Stadium! Over the night, there’s a league, and whatever team is at the top of the league wins a grand to spend on whatever they want and we take them under our wing, working on life skills, and mentoring.”
How to get involved: "Prior to lockdown, we used to run on Thursdays at 6:30pm at Paddington Rec."
Where to click: "Keep an eye on our Instagram to find out more."
8. Fly Girl Collective
What’s the story: “I’ve been running for nearly 10 years now, but I hadn't come across many other Black women so I was curious to explore why that was the case,” says founder Matilda Egere-Cooper. “I wanted to create a space in the community exclusively for Black and Brown women where they could feel encouraged and empowered to explore running, fitness and wellness, to help address that ethnicity gap."
What are you most proud of: “I’m proud of the fact that so many women have decided to come on this journey with me. It’s been encouraging to see that some women who are curious about long-distance running have either signed up for membership, or have signed up to the newsletter. It’s shown that there are women who want to be active but are really keen to find faces and spaces that represent them."
How to get involved: “Prior to corona, we were meeting up twice a month for members, and a monthly meet for people who just wanted to hang out at our social runs. We’re based all over London, and when we do our challenges via social media, we get people from all over the country, and sometimes globally, to participate. We just launched a wellness campaign which saw more than 100 women express a commitment to looking after themselves this summer so social media is probably the go-to if people want to get involved in what we do."
9. Still Waters Run Deep
What’s the story: “Back in 2013, three friends wanted to explore Manchester and get to know it through fitness,” says Liisa Dudgeon. “None of them at the time had done much running and thought it was a good way of interacting with their surroundings. They didn’t want to make it into a traditional running club. It’s always been rooted in creativity. We try to make each run different. We’ve done all sorts like scavenger hunt type things, trying to find the artist Invader’s mosaic tiles around the city."
What are you most proud of: “The community and Manchester is quite important to us, so we recently did a project raising funds for Shelter, with specific merchandise that was linked to the city and homelessness."
How to get involved: “We have a Monday run in which the location start point changes every week."
10. Your Town
What’s the story: “The journey began with an idea I had called ‘Give Your Town The Runaround’, which was an event in my hometown of Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire,” says founder Mark White. “It was centred around running but also a chance to support and showcase all things local. Your Town was born out of that in 2015. Since then, we’ve created social running gatherings across three towns, local to our hometown. Because of the interest in Give Your Town The Runaround, we created a scaled-down version of it called Your Town Get Together, and now we’ve got six towns across the UK taking on the model.”
What are you most proud of: “Our commitment to just showing up and behind-the-scenes work has been quite powerful. It would’ve been very easy to get disheartened along the way. [The work we do] gives a sense of community, which is important in towns, because cities get so much attention. But towns matter as well. Where we live is important. And we try to share that.”
How to get involved: “Before the pandemic, Your Town Runners met at 7pm in Hoddesdon and Cheshunt on Tuesdays, and in Hertford on Mondays. They’re free, social runs for all ages and all abilities.”
11. Black Girls Do Run UK
What’s the story: “My friend Tasha Thompson and I were running a 16-mile race and we only saw one other black lady, and three black men,” says Linda Agyemang. “There was a marshal showing runners where to go. We ran past the marshal and thought we were going in the right direction but we didn’t see any more runners. So we came back to the marshal and saw her guiding somebody else down the road and realised we were running the wrong way. We said to her: ‘We didn’t realise that we had to go this way,’ and she said: ‘Oh, I didn’t realise you were part of the race.’ So we said: ‘But we’ve got our numbers on!’
“We completed the race and we were a bit disheartened about what happened. We saw there weren’t any running clubs for Black females over here so we decided we would set up an Instagram [account]. We weren’t sure about the name – we thought it was quite bold – but that’s what we are: we’re Black girls that do actually run. We know Black girls run because many of them are top athletes, but we weren’t talking about them, –we’re talking about the average regular runner."
What are you most proud of: "The group is about encouraging everyone to run whatever distance they can. So we have people of mixed ability in there which is great. We did the Vitality Big Half together, and were part of the diversity campaign, and lots of people ran their first half-marathon – people that [at first] couldn’t even run around the park actually managed to do that. That was a very proud moment."
How to get involved: “We’d [normally] run a couple of times a week, and on Saturday mornings we have a big group so that people interested locally can meet us. We also have members outside of London, so we have virtual runs, and we communicate with each other via a WhatsApp group, in order to keep everyone active during this time until we can meet up again."
12. CALM Running Collective
What’s the story: “The collective is a real mixture of both people affected by suicide and those raising money or awareness about it,” says coach Ollie McCarthy. “It’s bringing people together around the shared passions that they have, providing them with human contact, community, to get together and do things they love and feel better for."
What are you most proud of: “We did the British 10K last year which is a run around central London – there were 450 runners, plus a load of people who had been involved in CALM running for a long time. It’s impossible not to see the bright orange vests we run in anyway, but it just seemed like there were CALM runners everywhere. It was a very special day."
How to get involved: “At the moment it’s hard because the collective is quite a new initiative and it's people from all over the country who are involved, so we haven’t been able to sort out a central run. The format has been that people run races, and certain races where we have higher attendance, like the London and Brighton marathons, would see more of the CALM team go down there and make it an event."
How to get involved: “We were meeting once a week on Tuesdays [in London], but we’ve got a big crew, so with social distancing, it’s unmanageable."
What’s the story: “I started running to deliver a newspaper to an isolated older neighbour called Terry, who was stuck on his own,” says founder Ivo Gormley. “So I’d bring him the newspaper on Tuesday and Thursdays. For him, it was a visit on a day when no-one else would see him. So I tried to expand that idea to how you could use your run or exercise to help your community, which is a really good motivation to do a bit more exercise, and even more so if you have 40 or 50 people around you."
What are you most proud of: “That it’s a fun, friendly, supportive thing to be part of, and anyone can get involved. We now have 20,000 members in 58 different cities in England and Wales and we run to help food banks, isolated old people, schools, parks, playgrounds, all sorts of charities. So we try to make it easy for you to get a good workout but where it also helps your community.”
How to get involved: “In normal life, we’ll meet up for a group session at least once a week in each area. We’ll do things like sort donations for a food bank, help with parks by shifting earth, laying wood chip paths, digging, clearing green spaces by getting rid of rubbish, planting, weeding... Most of the tasks have a physical element as well, and we aim to get the job done as quickly as we can."
Where to click: “The best thing is to visit our website.”
14. We Run Belfast
What’s the story: “WRB was started in 2018 by people who love to run,” says Andy Agnew. “Having experienced Run Dem Crew in London, the crew was founded in Belfast and continues to hold weekly runs and meet-ups. Twenty years ago, you wouldn’t have visited Belfast after dark. Twenty years on, and we’re heading out every week in the dark to explore our city with a group of forward-thinking runners.
"Many people overlook the importance of community, but statistics show that it’s one of the most important things for your mental health. This is especially important for Northern Ireland, where we’re facing a suicide epidemic and exist in what is widely considered a PTSD state (post-Troubles). Running is not going to fix this problem, but it can go a long way to helping people clear their heads, and possibly move towards a state with more positive mental health."
What are you most proud of: “What I'm most proud of is the experience people have when someone comes through our door for the first time. It's a pretty daunting thing to come down a little side street and into a donut shop after hours with the shutter down, into a room of strangers. But without fail any one of our members will be straight over to say, ‘Hey!’ We look after runners on their first night, and then we don't stop caring."
How to get involved: “We meet every week at Oh! Donuts. We usually meet at around 8.45pm and set off at 9pm for a 5km. Some weeks we’ll run longer distances, some weeks we’ll take it easy. All you need to bring is yourself – we recommend bringing comfortable clothes for a run and running trainers, if you have them!”
Where to click: “Visit our Instagram for updates.”
15. The Running Charity
What’s the story: “I was working in a homeless day centre for about 10 years," says founder Alex Eagle. "If someone was about to kick off, we’d let them kick pads, or take them for a run. But I wanted to do something that could benefit people for a longer period of time. I had a chance meeting with a guy called James Gilley, who was my co-founder, who’d lost a friend to a heroin overdose. They used to run loads together. So we put on a programme for three evenings a week. Within six months of going on runs, and taking part in activities, those who had taken part had been housed and employed, but there was also a change in their personalities... there was a purpose about them. From there, it went places I didn’t really anticipate... [as it] evolved into something we felt was really making a difference. We now operate in Manchester and London full-time and have volunteer hubs in Brighton and Leeds, and a programme in Newcastle."
What are you most proud of: “The values of the organisation, of putting young people first, has transcended through everything we do. From an impact perspective, statistically, young people leave us with better mental health than when they started. That’s a really positive thing and something I’m really proud of."
How to get involved: “As an organisation, we have a mentor programme, and train individuals to work in our programmes and to buddy up with young people to help support them through their journey with us. We’ve also done virtual races during lockdown from our Facebook page, which people can join up from wherever they are."