Successful Irish running group bringing migrants together with local residents launches in London
Life & Style

Successful Irish running group bringing migrants together with local residents launches in London

AN initiative founded in Ireland which uses running to help refugees and migrants connect with wider society will launch in London this weekend.

The Sanctuary Runners was formed in Cork in 2018.

It uses running, jogging and walking to bring together asylum seekers, refugees and other migrants with local residents to promote “solidarity-through-sports”.

Founded by former Irish Post sports editor Graham Clifford, the initiative has experienced huge success in Ireland with 30 groups now in place across the country.

Focussing on solidarity rather than charity, the Sanctuary Runners has over 4,000 regular participants - with about a quarter being current, or former, asylum seekers or refugees.

Participants come together to run, jog or walk regularly, often participating in parkruns – timed 5km courses which take place on Saturday mornings – as well as road races, half marathons and marathons.

The movement had 1,700 Sanctuary Runners participating in the 2021 virtual Cork City Marathon in June and has a number of Irish Olympians involved - including the likes of bronze medallist rower Eimear Lambe, Race walkers Rob Heffernan and Olive Loughnane, golfer Leonie Maguire and Irish running legend Sonia O’Sullivan.

Olympians Rob Heffernan, Olive Loughnane, Marian Heffernan and Claire Lambe celebrate their participation in the Cork City Marathon 2019 with fellow Sanctuary Runners (PIC: Clare Keogh)

The first Sanctuary Runner outing in London will take place at the Fulham Palace parkrun on Saturday morning, November 6.

This parkrun takes places at Bishop’s Park, Bishop's Avenue by the River Thames. Participants are asked to arrive by 8.30am.

“As an initiative its fairly simple,” Mr Clifford explained.

“Everyone is welcome, of all abilities and we just share a positive half hour together running, jogging or walking at our ease.”

He added: “With us will be some migrants currently seeking international protection in the UK.

“For many this will be a rare opportunity to take part in some structured exercise and to meet others. Its relaxed, its important and its needed.”

The Sanctuary Runners was chosen as one of the leading nine solidarity-through-sports initiatives in Europe by the European Commission in 2019 and the plan is to develop groups in the UK and across the world.

There are already plans to set up groups in Brighton, Swansea and Glasgow.

“Our core values are solidarity, friendship and respect,” Mr Clifford explained.

“If these values are championed then societies can move forward together.

“If they are absent, you inevitably end up with divided and parallel societies which benefits no one. This can lead to isolation, misconceptions and fear.

“So, this is a non-political, secular and positive initiative which enables people to come together as individuals putting aside the labels.

“And, of course, it’s all so good for one’s physical and mental health.

“So, we’re really hoping those in the Irish community in London will join us either on November 6, or on a subsequent morning when we run together.”

To find out more or to support the Sanctuary Runners click here.

To register your interest to join the London group email [email protected].