FIRST PERSON COMMENT: How volunteering has helped Alex in the recession

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University graduate Alex Mair described himself as an inexperienced young person in the middle of the recession, having serious trouble working out what to do with his degree. He tells us about how volunteering has changed that.

I’m writing this article in the comfort of a bright, spacious, white-walled office.

I’m seated at a large wooden, and comparatively tidy, desk. Three other people are typing around me. My colleague is on the phone confirming location details. I’m the media assistant, the colleague on the phone is my manager. A typical scene for a graduate media internship you might think. After all, I am a graduate! Except that it’s nothing of the kind. The office isn’t on Fleet Street, it’s tucked away above a property company in a small Warwickshire town. And I’m not an intern, I’m a volunteer.

My office is the HQ of children’s charity Kids Run Free. The charity was started in December of 2010 by Martine Verweij and Catherine O’Carroll. They were both experienced tri-athletes, Martine had successfully competed in the World Triathlon Championships, and they were concerned by the prevalence of a major social problem of modern times. Children, especially those who live in towns and cities, are faced with fewer and fewer opportunities for physical exercise.

As they grow up in crowded urban areas that are friendlier to cars, trucks and buses than to people, kids are being socialised into an increasingly sedentary lifestyle where it is easier to sit at home and watch TV than go for a jog. This is causing the increase of a raft of health problems, from obesity to heart disease, as children fail to get the exercise they need.

Kids Run Free was set up to provide a way out of this vicious cycle and it aims to help every child realise their potential through running. The charity’s approach is to create sustainable running events that are accessible to children of 0-16 years, and their parents. Events are held in Birmingham, Coventry, Leicester, Leamington, Solihull, Stratford, Nuneaton, and Coalville.

Every month on a Saturday, Kids Run Free goes to a park in one of its eight locations and stages an event for parents and their children to participate in activities such as racing and fun physical games. There are races for children ranging from 0-16 years of age as well as plenty of other activities on offer. The charity’s annual events include face painting, a bouncy castle and even ice cream and candyfloss. Kids RunFree want children to exercise, but they’re not spoilsports!

When she started Kids Run Free, Martine ran the charity out of a spare room of her own home. By the time I joined, Kids Run Free had long since moved out of Martine’s house and had over 3,500 children registered at its events. For 2014, the charity is anticipating more and bigger projects.

I recently graduated from three years of studying in London. I was an inexperienced young person in the middle of the recession, having serious trouble working out what to do with my degree. I found Kids Run Free while looking for voluntary work on Do-it and it stood out instantly from the advertisements for shop work. As I learned more about the charity, I began to see how important Kids Run Free’s work is. Its ambition to help young children achieve their potential in the modern urban world is something I can identify with. As a young person trying to achieve my potential in – yes – the modern urban world, I’m not really that different, and if you’re reading this, the chances are that neither are you. Sometimes the best way to achieve your own potential is to help others achieve theirs.

Email Kids Run Free for more information at