Last year INEOS said it wanted to inspire thousands of children in the UK to give the TV, the Internet and video games a rest – to get off the sofa – and start enjoying life outdoors. It was an ambitious plan. A huge challenge. But INEOS is not one to run from a challenge. And with the help of little feet, INEOS’ GO Run For Fun campaign has been making huge strides.
One of Britain’s most successful Olympic athletes has publicly backed INEOS’ ambitious plans to create the biggest children’s running initiative in the world.
Double Olympic gold medallist Sebastian Coe, who was chairman of London Olympics’ organising committee, told guests at the launch of INEOS’ GO Run For Fun Foundation that much had been written about the importance of creating a lasting legacy of the 2012 Games.
“GO Run for Fun is exactly what we were talking about,” he said. “INEOS has picked up the torch and run with it in the most profound way.”
He was speaking just minutes before 500 children, aged five to 10, from 11 schools celebrated the national launch of GO Run For Fun with a 2km race at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park London, in the shadow of the Olympic Stadium.
The run, which mirrored events that have been held all over the UK since August last year, coincided with the launch of the GO Run For Fun Foundation, a new charity aimed at encouraging Britain’s youngsters to run for fun.
Earlier INEOS chairman Jim Ratcliffe had also addressed guests and potential sponsors.
“I do not feel comfortable asking for money,” he said. “But there has been such an insatiable appetite for us to stage these events that we cannot cope with the demand.”
INEOS, which has invested £1.5million (€1.9m, $2.5m) to ensure the campaign’s success over the next three years, said there was enormous potential for it to grow way beyond the initial aim of 100,000 children.
The Foundation is the first step to securing vital funding from government and businesses so that the GO Run For Fun team can run even more events with schools and local clubs across the UK and beyond.
“Children used to be a lot more active when I was young,” said Jim. “We used to cycle, run or walk everywhere. Today they have a lot more distractions, and spend more time indoors playing on games consoles and smart phones than outside playing. It also doesn’t help that governments sell off school playing fields.”
The World Health Organisation now regards childhood obesity as one of the most serious global public health challenges for the 21st century. And obesity is linked to diabetes, heart disease, cancer and dementia. And more worryingly for the UK, Public Health England says 30% of children aged two to 15 are now overweight or obese.
“The biggest health issue in my parents’ day was smoking,” said Jim. “Now it’s obesity.”
INEOS’ campaign is about encouraging children to get active, and start running again. For fun.
So far the campaign has won an army of supporters, including some of Britain’s best athletes - Brendan Foster, Baroness Tani Grey Thompson, Colin Jackson and Sharron Davies.
Teachers, whose schools have taken part in one of the all-inclusive events all over the UK, are equally as impressed and understand the importance of leading by example.
“I think teachers can be huge role models in encouraging children, who may never have run before, to take part in events like this,” said Claire Snailham, a teacher Ivy Chimneys Primary School, Epping, Essex.
Claire, whose father was a PE teacher, escorted 90 children to Olympic Park for the celebrity-led fun run. “The children didn’t take any notice of the rain,” she said. “It was so exciting for them to be running at Olympic Park and they loved it mostly because it was for fun and not just a competition for the fastest runners.”
The run, which was started by Sky Sports News presenter Charlie Webster, also signalled the start of the race to find sponsors.
And that, by all accounts, is now going well too, with INEOS’ a number of companies already inspired to offer their support for the upcoming year.
“We have had positive support from quite a few companies already and we are in discussion with many more,” said Leen Heemskerk, the Chief Financial Officer at INEOS O&P Europe (North) who is also leading the GO Run For Fun campaign. The appeal for more support, though, did not end there.
On June 5, Jim – plus 20 school children and one very large mascot called DART – lobbied politicians at the Houses of Parliament about the growing need to tackle childhood obesity.
“Parents worry about their children’s increasingly inactive lifestyles and we want to help them,” said Jim. “But decisive action is needed by the Government immediately in support of kids, to give them the opportunity to do more exercise. Inactivity can no longer be ignored.”
He said despite the number of reports highlighting the problem, little had been done by any of the political parties.
“I met a number of parliamentarians and they all agreed that something must be done so it is disappointing that there is so little action being taken on this issue,” said Jim.
The parliamentary reception was hosted by Alex Cunningham and provided Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, Charlie Webster and Brendan Foster, with an opportunity to remind politicians of the need to build on the Olympic legacy and agree a clear policy.
GO Run For Fun goes on tour
Continental Europe also got a taste of INEOS’ GO Run For Fun campaign this summer.
Events were held in Rolle (Switzerland) home to INEOS’ head office, and in communities close to INEOS sites in Antwerp (Belgium) and Köln (Germany).
In all, more than 3,000 children aged between four and 12 took part in 11 runs.
On hand to cheer them on and ensure each event ran smoothly were hundreds of staff from all three sites who willingly turned out to act as first aiders, marshals and hand out T-shirts.
“It was heart-warming to see so many big smiles on the little faces,” said Katrien Poppe, Personnel and Communications Manager at INEOS Oxide who helped to co-ordinate the events with Nadine Ceustermans from the Geel site in Belgium. “Everyone was very enthusiastic.”
The events in Belgium proved so popular – more than 1000 children, aged between four and 12, took part in six runs – that the local athletics clubs and schools are already asking INEOS to run them again next year. “The organisers were all very surprised at how fit Belgium children are but obesity is not really a problem in Belgium,” said Katrien.
In June 1,500 children took part in four events in Germany. Olympic medallist, pole vaulter Björn Otto attended the first run. “It is very important that children get an early interest in sport because sport in any form is important for the future and development of children,” he said.
The Dietrich-Bonhoeffer-Schule in Pulheim was one of the schools which took part. “It was a wonderful event,” said teacher Steffi Nickel. “And I am so glad that I encouraged my class to take part in it.”
Dr Anne-Gret Iturriaga Abarzua, Communications Manager at INEOS in Köln, said childhood obesity was now becoming a problem in Germany. “Many schools already have a yearly sponsored run as part of their curriculum,” she said.
The Swiss event saw 800 children from schools and sports clubs in Rolle, Nyon, Vich and Lausanne run 1.6km at the at the football ground in Rolle.
“Getting Children excited by running at an early age is so important and means that they are more likely to continue later in life,” said Marisa Lavanchy, the Swiss record holder for the 4 x100 metre relay who started the race with Lausanne Hockey Club defender Federico Lardi. “Go Run For Fun is a wonderful initiative that helps achieve this. Who knows we might be encouraging the next generation of Swiss champions.”
GO Run For Fun is planning to include more venues in its programme next year as it builds on a successful 2014 programme, which has attracted more than 35,000 children to date.