Members of one of the North East’s smallest running clubs have completed a 7,000-mile challenge to raise money for an international children’s charity. Team COCO is a club that is attached to Steve Cram’s children’s charity COCO (Comrades of Children Overseas), which suffered a reduction of income of £130,000 in just five months this year due to the cancellation of a full calendar of fundraising events. Over the last few months, 45 of the club’s runners have been fundraising while covering the distance from Newcastle to one of the charity’s projects in Africa. Over the weekend, they reached their virtual destination, raising in excess of £5,000 for COCO.

COCO was founded in 2000 by Steve Cram CBE and British Army Major Jim Panton, and over the past 20 years has grown into one of the North East’s most dynamic and well-loved charities. Led by CEO Lucy Philipson, the organisation works in remote regions of the developing world to provide children with access to the education that is essential for a good start in life, investing in small, sustainable, community led initiatives that can make a big difference at a local level. Since its inception, COCO has raised over £4.5 million to fund its work and along with its partners, has now undertaken 66 transformational projects in 16 countries, positively impacting on the lives of over 200,000 people.

COCO’s closest partner school is Mercy Primary on the shores of Lake Victoria in Kenya. Just before the first lockdown, the charity was fundraising for new classrooms at the school. Team COCO decided to use the limited time allocated by the government for exercise to go on a virtual run from COCO’s head office in Newcastle to Mercy Primary, a total of 7,147 miles. Team COCO members recorded the miles they ran while exercising every day on various apps and each week their totals were combined. Imagining the long run to Kenya, the journey was plotted on online maps.

At first, the combined local miles of nine runners took the team over a virtual Tyne Bridge towards Durham and Darlington. The number of runners on the journey and miles began to grow. Google Streetview links and spectacular pictures of the places the runners visited were shared. Throughout the summer, runs through parks and riverbanks were reimagined. Team COCO crossed the Thames, the Rhine, the Danube and the Bosporus. They followed the Jordan, traversed the Suez Canal and raced through the Valley of the Kings. Runners on the hills of Gateshead or Durham were totting up the miles in the Carpathian Mountains and the Ethiopian Highlands. The often cold, wet and grey local streets were given new horizons as the streets of Jerusalem, Cairo and of Khartoum.

On Saturday 28 November, the 45 Team COCO runners, wherever they were, all ran along the last few miles towards a virtual Lake Victoria. After visiting 15 countries, nine capital cities, and travelling 7,147 miles, they reached their virtual destination.

COCO’s CEO Lucy Philipson said “We are a sociable bunch at COCO and being stuck indoors was really tricky for all of us. Having a joint goal and working as a team really encouraged participation and I have been overwhelmed by the enthusiasm of our incredible Team COCO members. Now that the dark nights have set in and it’s getting colder, knowing that those miles really count was all the encouragement we needed to make it to Mercy. The event may have been virtual, but the effort put in by these dedicated runners and the funds raised was very real!”

If you would like to know more about COCO or join the Team COCO running club, please contact Rosie Smith rosie@coco.org.uk or call 0191 261 7427.