Can running change your life? If you’re a woman affected by or vulnerable to homelessness, lacing up your trainers and taking part in of the weekly sessions run by A Mile In Her Shoes really can make a difference. Founded in 2013, the charity provides a vital role in boosting these women’s self-esteem and creating confidence via volunteer-led running groups. Participants are provided with everything they need to join in – trainers, leggings, sports bras and running kit ensure that there’s no barrier to enjoying getting active with a group of like-minded women. We spoke to Martha – one of the run leaders at A Mile In Her Shoes – to find out more about the important work of this fantastic charity, and how you can get involved.
Who comes to AMIHS events?
A Mile In Her Shoes is specifically for those who identify as women who are either are or have been homeless or affected by issues of homelessness, so we have links with other charities helping homeless people such as St Mungo’s and Crisis. However, there isn’t really a specific ‘type’ of person who comes – the women I have met are all very different, although they do have similar traits.
These are women who have determination and strength. These are brave women. There is also a spirit of togetherness when these women come together which is pretty magical. I think that is what makes the AMIHS sessions so special; it is a collection of women from every possible walk of life coming together to achieve something together despite everything else.
Why do you think running has such an impact on people?
It comes down to the fact that running can be freeing. When we run, we go back to something we did without thought before we were told to slow down and behave. Running is not just an activity, it is also about all the feelings related to that activity. Running is hard work, it’s a bit ridiculous and it’s also so, so natural. As anyone who runs will tell you, it’s wonderful and painful.
What happens during an AMIHS run?
I think that really depends on the run leader, what they enjoy and what they have learnt that the group enjoys. I think it is important that we don’t call it a run. A run would imply that we do a cheeky 5K and then all head off home – it isn’t like that at all. In the groups that I do, a typical session would be a four minute run to measure week-on week progress in distance and speed, followed by some sprint intervals. The spaces we use for the sessions – parks for example – mean you have to get quite creative sometimes. I do a lot of exercises involving squats, press-ups and lunges as well. Mostly because I think they are great but also because it keeps people together which I feel is one of the reasons people come to the group – to feel that collective spirit.
I find that people like certain things more, so we do them consistently but we always try and doing something new. At one of my groups recently someone brought a hoola hoop which we all tried. Everyone else got it quite quickly apart from me – I still haven’t got it! There is definitely a lot of laughter and smiling which goes on at AMIHS as well. The most important thing about a AMIHS run is that everyone can come and participate. We do different exercises for different people and every session is different. The groups are warm and supportive and you can do as little or as much as you want.
How did you come to be involved with AMIHS?
I worked with the charity’s founder, Nicola, when she was setting things up and thought it was such a brilliant idea. Until about 3 years ago I didn’t really do any form of exercise, but thanks to friends encouraging me I started exercising and it completely changed my life. I love pushing myself further and further and becoming stronger and stronger. When Nicola told me about her idea, I knew I had to get involved.
What do you get out of helping AMIHS?
My reasons for being involved are quite selfish. I suppose it comes down to the fact that I love being around women. As someone who was bought up by women I feel get a lot of inspiration from women and the way they do and are. I have met some of the most inspirational women through volunteering with AMIHS. Women who humble me and inspire me and have taught me so much about what it is to be and get on.
How can people help – or become more involved with the charity?
First of all, by becoming a run leader! We desperately need qualified run leaders to support with existing groups and start new ones. It is so much fun and you will get a lot out of it. As an aside I also have new bragging points – I am now a qualified person of running, I have a Leadership in Running Fitness qualification.
Otherwise by donating. We are always looking for high quality pre-loved running gear – especially shoes and larger sized clothing – for our runners. Check the website for more information on how to get involved
What’s next for AMIHS?
To keep growing! To become more sustainable with a wider network of volunteers and more run groups starting up. Sadly, we are going into a time where cuts are being made and more and more services are being taken away from the most vulnerable. Women and homelessness services will be hit very hard by the proposed cuts. This is a small way of resisting those cuts and making a little bit of a stand against them.
For more information on the charity, see the A Mile In Her Shoes website. You can also follow on Twitter @inhershoeshq or find the charity on Facebook. If you’d like to donate running kit, there’s more information here.