Heather Shore – CBJ Spotlight reporter

An Instagram trend encouraging users to run 5 kilometres, donate £5 to the NHS and tag 5 friends has taken social media by storm. The simple premise has developed into a multi-million-pound campaign.

The idea was initially set up under the name “Run for Heroes” and developed as a way of encouraging exercise during COVID-19 lockdown, whilst raising money for the National Health Service.

Olivia Strong, 27, created an Instagram account to document the participation and money raised through the challenge. With an initial goal of raising £5,000 for the NHS – the campaign is now almost at £5 Million. Donations to Run For Heroes are processed via Virgin Giving Money.

In an interview with ITV, Strong said her inspiration came from going on her daily run and wondering whether herself and all the other runners could do something positive and raise money for the NHS.

The campaign has an overwhelmingly positive response, encouraging non-runners and seasoned sprinters to lace up their trainers and run for a good cause.

However; as the tag gained traction online, many people voiced their concerns about various aspects of the challenge – from lying about completion times to funding Richard Branson.

1. Participation does not have to be through running

The principle of the tag is to run 5 kilometres and donate money afterwards. However, this can also be completed by walking or cycling. This is more inclusive and allows people to have a leisurely approach to the challenge without the pressure of fitness levels.

Emily lives near the Yorkshire Moors, and decided this challenge would be a good way to get out and walk with her family and dog – rather than run the route.

Emily Taithe – Run for Heroes participant

2. Does Richard Branson directly profit from donations?

Olivia Strong set up a Virgin Money Giving page to allow online donations for the NHS. However, this has caused concern about how much profit Virgin will make from the proceeds. Charity donation pages like Virgin Money Giving and Just Giving take a small percentage cut of the donations – to cover expenses of running the host site.

Virgin strikes a particular chord with donors, as boss Richard Branson has famously sued the NHS in the past, claiming upwards of £2 Million.

In retaliation to the claims, Branson tweeted stating that Virgin will not profit from any of the donations via the host site and that campaigners should continue to use Virgin Money Giving.

Almost £30 Million has been raised for the NHS via Virgin Money Giving alone. In a statement to The Daily Mail, chief executive David Duffy announced that the £130,000 expenses cut from the donations will be waivered with Duffy even saying some of his own salary will go towards donations.

3. The NHS should not be viewed as a charity

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused significant strain on the NHS and worldwide healthcare facilities. A positive and supportive response from the public has been to fundraise in any way possible to support the service.

Run For Heroes is among the many high profile fundraising campaigns with donations towards NHS. Alongside this campaign, Captain Tom Moore has raised over £27 Million via donations for the health service.

“I honestly don’t feel like any of us will actually see this money?” – Hannah P

The NHS is one of Europe’s largest employers, with over one million staff members ranging from specialist practitioners to administrative clerks. Hannah works in NHS administration and is one of the thousands of employees sceptical about how crowdfunding figures will create a visible difference within the health service.

Hannah P’s response to questions about NHS fundraising impact

Whilst these incredible and remarkable feats are to triumphant and courageous amongst the turmoil we are facing there are worries that the “Blitz Spirit” towards the pandemic is ignoring the fact that the NHS is meant to be funded appropriately through taxes and National Insurance contributions.

Whilst the budget has increased since the 2009 crash, this does not reflect the demand on waiting services, salaries and advanced restorations needed to thousands of NHS services. The new funding deal has been established as a way of easing pressure, but not making ends meet.

The NHS, whilst having localised charity trusts, is not a donation-based service – and the coronavirus pandemic has highlighted how underfunded and stretched the NHS has been left. On April 2nd 2020 – the Government announced that the £13.4 Billion debt would be written off the service, a move which will potentially see a positive change in the way our national pride of healthcare is funded.

4. It’s easy to manipulate running times

As with many trends on social media, the underlying urge for competition and comparison has unfortunately risen through the Run For Heroes challenge – as many participants are being called out for questionable and false running times.

  • The UK average 5km time is 38:12 minutes for females and 29:08 minutes for males
  • The world record 5km time is currently 12:37 minutes
  • Smart watches and running applications can track your distance and time via GPS

Completion of the 5km challenge requires participants to share either a selfie after their run, a screenshot of their distance and time as recorded via GPS.

Twitter user - @Alannahg99
Run for Heroes participant – @Alannahg99

However, these applications make it very easy to manually edit the running time. Instagram user @Alannahg99 shared her running time of 12:05 minutes for 5km – which is considerably faster than the world record. Alannah later took to Twitter to state that this was a joke and an example of how people can exaggerate their running times and make the challenge unnecessarily competitive.

5. Social distancing is being made difficult for runners

In late March, the UK government significantly tightened restrictions on social distancing. Whilst the public are allowed outside for one form of exercise per day, this must also be in line with the 2 meter social distancing rules.

“You should be minimising time spent outside of the home and ensuring you are 2 metres apart from anyone outside of your household.” UK Government Official Guidelines

Many runners have voiced their concerns, as they run solo but find that other pedestrians are refusing to move over or enable the social distancing measures to be fully complied with. Some runners have even reported that they have been told off or pushed into the road by other pedestrians.

Eliza Brackenridge-Jones shares her experience of trying to socially distance whilst running.

Eliza Brackenridge-Jones – Run for Heroes participant 

The positive and inclusive message of this campaign has reached hundreds and thousands of British citizens, encouraging activity and fundraising. However, large scale tags and trends like Run For Heroes must be completed with good regard for government recommendations with activity, a positive attitude and the understanding that NHS funding really lies within the government and national insurance tax.

Heather Shore’s 5km Challenge

The campaign can be completed in respect of social distancing guidelines, and the principle of NHS donations can be carried through to other charities of your choice. I chose to complete the challenge and donate £5 to a smaller local charity – The Yorkshire Cat Rescue, who are amongst the thousands of animal welfare charities experiencing a mass decline in funding.