Wigan charity Joining Jack reflects on a year like no other for its fund-raising events

One year ago, thousands of people should have been resting their tired legs and admiring their shiny medals after completing races at the Run Wigan Festival.

Wednesday, 24th March 2021, 7:00 am

But instead, the event had been postponed just days earlier due to the coronavirus outbreak, a decision that left organisers from charity Joining Jack “absolutely heartbroken”.

And the day after the running spectacular should have taken place, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the country was going into lockdown.

It has been a tough year for the charity, which relies on its flagship events to fund vital research into Duchenne muscular dystrophy.

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At the start of the Run Wigan Festival in 2019

Organisers of the Run Wigan Festival had seen other large events take place, such as the St Helens 10k and Cheltenham Festival, but felt they had no choice other than to postpone as the pandemic became worse.

Melanie Whitehead, head of events and fund-raising, said: “Within a week or two it escalated so much and there was no choice but to cancel. That was the start of it.

“Even though we cancelled, our first discussions with the trustees were about the 10k and the bike ride not being under any real threat, because hopefully by then some things would be back to normal.

“We put the plans in place for Run Wigan Festival to be combined with the Wigan 10k for a weekend of running.”

No-one expected the pandemic and restrictions to remain in place for so long, and they did have to cancel that summer’s Wigan Bike Ride and September’s Wigan 10k.

Instead, the charity diversified and offered participants the chance to take part in virtual events instead, covering the distance by themselves to earn their medals.

People around the world took part in the virtual bike ride, as they did not have to travel to Mesnes Park like they would usually for the event.

The decision to turn both the Wigan 10k and Run Wigan Festival into virtual events was popular too.

Melanie said: “Pubs and shops were reopening, but there weren’t any mass participation events. It wasn’t possible to get thousands of people together for an event. The decision was taken to stage the 10k virtually, which was the first time we had to do that in eight years.

“We had another brilliant response. Considering the position that so many people have been in, with losing jobs, losing family members, being ill, they have been fantastic at supporting Joining Jack.”

It was a welcome boost for Joining Jack, as fund-raising had almost come to a standstill during the pandemic.

It was perhaps no surprise when the charity announced earlier this year that the Run Wigan Festival would not be taking place due to the ongoing restrictions.

Instead, people were asked to take part in a new virtual event called 13 For 13, where they could run or walk 13.1 miles - the distance of Wigan half marathon - throughout March to celebrate the 13th birthday of the charity’s namesake Jack Johnson.

More than 400 people signed up and entries are still open for anyone who wants to take part.

Now staff at the charity are looking to the future, as the national lockdown is eased according to the Government’s road map.

Preparations are now taking place for the ninth annual Wigan 10k, which organisers are hoping will go ahead as usual on Sunday, September 5.

Entries have been pouring in, with people even signing up every minute at one point.

Melanie said: “The first light at the end of the tunnel was when the schools went back and the first box was ticked on the road map. We were able to open registration for the 10k.

“We are cautiously positive. I think it feels more like getting back to normal. We have to monitor how things go. There will be a lot of other events taking place.”

Steps will be taken to ensure the event is Covid-secure, following advice from UK Athletics and the World Health Organisation.

The charity relies on the money raised at these events to pay for vital research, so it is hoped people will be willing to return to the start line.

Melanie said: “The three virtual events raised nearly £50,000, which is brilliant in these times, but it would have been over £100,000 in a normal year.

“Because there have been quite a few deferrals for each of the events, it will have a knock-on effect.”

The return of other mass participation events will also give the charity a cash boost.

Melanie said: “It’s not only our events, it is the large national and regional events that people take part in and raise money for Joining Jack. They haven’t taken place either. There are no dinners taking place, no-one running in the London marathon - it’s across the board.

“All charities are in the same position. With our charity relying heavily on mass participation events, it’s had a big effect.

“We just hope that there is the appetite out there for people to support our charity in future and take part in events.”

Sign up for the virtual 13 For 13 challenge at runwiganfestivals.co.uk and go to www.wigan10k.co.uk to register for the Wigan 10k.

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