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Running Charity coach Claude Umuhire: Sport helped me beat homelessness...now I’m inspiring Hackney’s young people

PUBLISHED: 16:00 15 February 2018 | UPDATED: 09:56 16 February 2018

Training at Well Street Common, runners including mayor of Hackney Phil Glanville, coach Claude Umuhire, Colette Allen, director of Hackney Quest, and runners from the Gazette - along with volunteers and youngsters from Hackney Quest's running club prepare for the Hackney Half. Picture: Polly Hancock

Training at Well Street Common, runners including mayor of Hackney Phil Glanville, coach Claude Umuhire, Colette Allen, director of Hackney Quest, and runners from the Gazette - along with volunteers and youngsters from Hackney Quest's running club prepare for the Hackney Half. Picture: Polly Hancock

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Claude Umuhire leads running sessions for disadvantaged young people on Well Street Common. Having once been homeless, he knows all too well the difference running can make to a young life. The Gazette went along to find out more (and get in some training for the Hackney Half).

Claude Umuhire from The Running Charity (L) with Hackney Quest's young runners, volunteers, and mayor of Hackney Phil Glanville (centre). Picture: Colette AllenClaude Umuhire from The Running Charity (L) with Hackney Quest's young runners, volunteers, and mayor of Hackney Phil Glanville (centre). Picture: Colette Allen

Since Christmas, a motley crew of flimsy Gazette staff have been engaged in a secret project to which they are perhaps ill-suited.

Their goal is to run the Hackney Half in aid of the Winter Night Shelter. They have three months to get fit. Some are doing better than others.

Last week, their clandestine mission took them to Well Street Common on a freezing Monday night, where they met running coach Claude Umuhire.

For Claude, running is much more than a way to get sore knees after work.

Coach Claude Umuhire leads training for the Hackney Half on Well Street Common. Picture: Polly HancockCoach Claude Umuhire leads training for the Hackney Half on Well Street Common. Picture: Polly Hancock

The 27-year-old leads a free weekly running club for disadvantaged young people that meets at Hackney Quest HQ, just off Well Street.

It’s part of his work with The Running Charity – the organisation he credits with his own journey off the streets and into his dream job.

Eight years ago, a breakdown in relations with his family left a teenage Claude sleeping rough.

“I was homeless for almost a year and I couldn’t see a way out,” he says. “What I feel like I was lacking was self-confidence and self-belief.

Training at Well Street Common for the Hackney Half. Warming down, Gazette editor Ramzy Alwakeel, mayor of Hackney Phil Glanville and Hackney Quest director Colette Allen. Picture: Polly HancockTraining at Well Street Common for the Hackney Half. Warming down, Gazette editor Ramzy Alwakeel, mayor of Hackney Phil Glanville and Hackney Quest director Colette Allen. Picture: Polly Hancock

“Being young and homeless, when you’re thinking about the future you’re only thinking about the next two hours.”

That’s when a representative of The Running Charity visited the centre in Euston where he was staying. The group wanted to set up a running programme to help young homeless people. As well as keeping them fit, it would help them build a network, and develop confidence and self-worth.

“At first he said he wanted to train someone to do the London Marathon,” remembers Claude, “and I was like: ‘Hell, no!’

“But when you’re homeless you’ve got not many options, so I decided to give it a go.”

Runners for Hackney Quest after finishing the Hackney Half in 2017. Picture: Colette Allen/Hackney QuestRunners for Hackney Quest after finishing the Hackney Half in 2017. Picture: Colette Allen/Hackney Quest

Fast-forward to 2018 and Claude has not only run marathons but enjoyed them. And he says learning to set goals through sport is what got him handing out CVs and applying for jobs. It paid off: eventually he landed an internship at a government agency,

To watch a smiling Claude sprinting around the common, leading warm-ups and motivating teenagers to exercise on a Baltic February night, it’s hard to believe he ever doubted his ability.

“I learnt a lot from running,” he explains. “I gained a lot of self-confidence because I was setting physical goals and achieving them.

“Saying what you’re doing to do, doing it, and getting a reward is something that a lot of young people we work with have never got.

Sales manager Patrick Dunne and account manager Peter Bailie training for last year's Hackney Half. This year they will be joined by the rather less experienced Gazette editor. Picture: Polly HancockSales manager Patrick Dunne and account manager Peter Bailie training for last year's Hackney Half. This year they will be joined by the rather less experienced Gazette editor. Picture: Polly Hancock

“So we try to instil the feeling that hard work does get rewards, and encourage them to go out and be adventurous about their goals.”

It was Hackney Quest that first approached Claude to run a project on the common.

The charity, which will celebrate its 30th birthday in November, runs programmes to help the borough’s young people find and fulfil their potential. It has a recording studio and a pool room; it runs art, music and sports sessions and much more. It conducts research, runs mentoring projects and brings together people of different ages and backgrounds to improve community relationships.

“I see myself in the young people we work with,” says Claude. “I see this untapped potential that just needs a catalyst. I feel like the work we do is that catalyst. I jumped at the opportunity to give that to other young people.”

The running club meets at Hackney Quest off Well Street. Pictured, children at the Hackney Quest centre helped unveil a new mural this week combining self-portraits of young people into a single artwork. Picture: Colette AllenThe running club meets at Hackney Quest off Well Street. Pictured, children at the Hackney Quest centre helped unveil a new mural this week combining self-portraits of young people into a single artwork. Picture: Colette Allen

Hackney Quest director Colette Allen says the partnership has done wonders.

“We’ve had children aged eight up to 17,” she said. “Getting them out and building relationships with our volunteers and the Running Charity has been really positive.

“Someone like Claude who’s from a background of homelessness is very inspirational for them.

“It’s about building up confidence and health, and belief in themselves that they can achieve something – that’s what I love.”

"It’s about building up confidence and health, and belief in themselves that they can achieve something – that’s what I love."

Hackney Quest director Colette Allen on The Running Charity

Although it’s focused on the young people, anyone is welcome at the Monday night sessions.

“It’s about building up a community of friends and runners. That’s what we are about – introducing people that might never have known each other.”

The Running Charity is always looking for volunteers. E-mail info@therunningcharity.org if you can help.

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