6 years of 5K Your Way, Move Against Cancer. A toast to our volunteers.

A few weeks ago at a conference I was privileged to be asked to share the story of Move Against Cancer charity. One of the questions I was asked to reflect on was my proudest moment since Gemma and I co-founded 5K Your Way in 2018. I found this hard to answer – I have too many stand out memories and I’ve met too many incredible people to pick out just one. But as I turned back the clock and metaphorically took myself on a walk down memory lane, I realised the common theme of all the memories that came to mind was the generosity, passion, dedication and entrepreneurial spirit of people who give up their time and energy to support, drive and develop Move Against Cancer.

As an organisation, we now have over 460 volunteer ambassadors. That’s crazy. Over 460 people who believe in what we do enough to want to use their free time to promote, support, inspire and empower others to Move Against Cancer. Over 460 people who want to actively challenge the myth that ‘Rest is Best’ for those living with and after cancer. Over 460 people with no hidden agenda who are proud to raise the flag for Move Against Cancer and ask nothing in return.

In the early days of 5K Your Way, Gemma and I knew all our ambassadors personally. I still remember all those phone calls, and I find it mind-blowing that 6 years down the line, so many of those early ambassadors are still proudly supporting their groups. Many of them, Lizzie and Tony in particular, have been fundamental in the strategic development of the initiative. Now, as I’m far less involved in the day to day running of 5KYW, I don’t know many of our ambassadors. If I’m honest, I miss knowing their stories personally; I miss having the opportunity to ask them what made them want to not just join our community, but also be a driving force within our community. Yet actually, as I reflect, I take huge pride in seeing the power of Moving Against Cancer from the stories our ambassadors share. I love seeing how our very small, but exceptional, core team works with our enormous volunteer team to create magic. And I take huge pride in watching 5K Your Way grow legs of its own. In February 50 ambassadors arranged an extra meet up, entirely independently of Move charity HQ, at Bushy Park parkrun in Feb to celebrate world cancer day. This was just before Georgie, our 5KYW lead for 4 years, left to go travelling and I remember we both chatted and reflected on our pride in realising that 5KYW has now built so much of its own momentum, powered by volunteers.

I’ve always been in awe of our volunteers who do so much for so little recognition. I still am. Yet it’s only recently, that I’ve realised how volunteering can also be hugely empowering for the volunteer, not just those they support. It’s bonkers it’s taken me this long to realise this. Using my time for what I think of as my passion project gives me enormous happiness. Why would it not give others the same happiness? It was the amazing Whittingham family who really drummed the power of volunteering into me, at the same conference I mentioned earlier. Steve has prostate cancer, and together with his wife Cathy and his 3 daughters have been part of 5KYW as a family for the past 2 years. While I’d just swanned in for an afternoon to do my talk, meet some people and go home again, Steve, Cathy and their daughter Lauren had all taken 2 days of holiday as a family to travel to Manchester, put themselves up in a hotel, stand at the 5KYW stand and talk to interested people about what we did. I asked them how and why they had got involved with the charity and what they told me nearly brought me to tears. The whole interview is worth a watch, not least because it’s a powerful example of the ripple effect; you don’t always know the impact of your actions (in this case Tony Collier, talking on the radio) yet so often, the ripples of something positive spread farther than you ever realise. But also, because, while they are doing so much for the charity and asking for nothing in return, their words helped me to understand that volunteering is also helping them.

Steve:  “As a family of 5, we get involved with 5KYW, well, as part of our lives now really….”

Lauren: “It just gives us something to focus on as a family. Obviously, that diagnosis was devastating for us all but to have something positive to focus on really, really helps. The people you meet, the people who my dad has met who are going through the exact same thing, you know it just means so much.”

Cathy: “I don’t actually know whether we would have got through 2 years otherwise. It gives us something to focus on. We don’t actually have to think about what’s going to happen eventually. It’s just great. We meet such lovely, lovely people. We really do”.

I like to think that Move Against Cancer helps people to focus on what they CAN do during and after cancer treatment, not on what they can’t do.

I like to think that we are changing the perception of what is possible with cancer.

I like to think that the reason we have over 460 volunteers is because movement really does matter.

And now, I also like to think that, while Move Against Cancer simply wouldn’t exist without volunteers, volunteering opportunities are themselves perhaps also tangible benefits of the charity, something I perhaps hadn’t fully appreciated until now.

Happy 6th birthday 5K Your Way.

And if you are a volunteer, thank you.

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