The City Runners Story: Home Sweet Home

This is the third in the series of blogs about the history of London City Runners, written by the club’s founder, Tim Navin-Jones. Here, he describes how LCR found its forever home.

ENTERING THE UNKNOWN

As our club has grown, it has been moved on for one reason or another no less than 8 times. It clearly started to follow a cycle that was not sustainable, so Kerry and I realised we had to go big or go home. To do this we had to enter a whole new world we knew NOTHING about. We’d never run a café or a bar and we knew from the start that we’d need a WHOLE lot of help and faith. 

We looked like hawks for every property that came available. We needed somewhere in SE1 (the middle of London) that had space to fit all our runners and was affordable; it was like an oxymoron! We spoke to various friends and connections from the club such as developers, property people and bar owners. We employed an accountant, printed business cards and started to network like crazy. While doing this, the Marquis of Wellington pub where we were meeting at that point explained that the club could no longer meet there as they had various football and sports events showing on Tuesday nights. Thankfully, a friend in the Bottle Shop arranged for us to be hosted in their bar which was a railway arch just across the road. 

PUTTING YOUR MONEY WHERE YOUR MOUTH IS

There were so many dead ends we explored before we set our eyes on the railway arch at 130 Druid Street. After Kerry and I viewed it, we wanted it and we wanted it bad! I’d previously worked for a charity (called VSO recruiting volunteers) and I had to use ALL my savings to take the ultimate risk and put an £11k deposit down and make it happen. At this point, we had no alcohol license and no real concept as to how we could afford the £42,000 a year rent! It was an immense risk but one that we were willing to take. 

My silhouette the day the contract was signed and we had the keys

BIG ANNOUNCEMENT AND RALLYING THE TROOPS

The minute I’d signed the papers it all got very real! A bit like signing up for a marathon when you realise it is something you REALLY need to train for. We’d hardly told a soul in the club and one night we suggested on social media that everyone should turn up to the Bottle Shop as we had a big announcement and they didn’t want to miss it. For all they knew, it could have been to dissolve the club, but people were intrigued and hundreds turned up. Kerry and I stood up on a little stool in front of all the runners and annouced that we had little surprise… OUR VERY OWN HOME! To see this new home, we asked them to follow us and we walked into the railway arch immediately next door! It was like walking into a dark, damp and mouldy cathedral and it was absolutely priceless seeing the looks on people’s faces, everyone was so excited and supportive. It was a life changing moment.

From here, Kerry and I really started to put the cogs in place to realise this dream. We crowdfunded and were thankful for the incredible non-stop kindness of our members. We drove around random warehouses all over London trying to find cheap furniture and sourced electricians and builders. Bit by bit we worked out how to run a business and started to harness the power of the awesome volunteers who’d been part of our community over the last decade. 

SALT OF THE EARTH

Just like Parkrun, the LCR community only exists because of the volunteers who choose to give back into it. For months we all worked together in far more ways than I could summarise in this blog. One of the many amusing stories was when, thanks to a member called Wan, we managed to get our pick of all Cambridge Analytica’s furniture after they went into liquidation for illegally using people’s data to rig elections. This is the reason the chairs around the bar are office-like! Volunteers were painting, donating, building and advising in so many unique ways. One selfless volunteer called Shelley very kindly gave up her invaluable time to give us legal aid to get the alcohol license. There’s no way we could have got this without her. Before long we were becoming a bar in our own right and one of the jewels in our crown was our espresso martinis. One Saturday we sold about 200! There are so many volunteers who have helped this community to thrive that I can’t possibly name them all, but they know they’ve become part of our fabric. It’s taken an astonishing team effort.

Volunteers helping transform the arch from its filthy mouldy state with no water or toilets

VENTURES

The sheer variety of events we’ve had since we were officially opened in July 2018 is mind blowing. One of the most notable parts of our club to really flourish was the Couch to 5k programme, which relies totally on runners who want other people to appreciate the joys of running by giving them the confidence and support to give it a go. 

The then-mayor of Southwark even did the course and we got on the BBC news with Carol who does the weather! We had a great number of charity events and started working with organisations like London Sport and England Athletics, hosting EA Volunteer of the year awards with a three course meal. We had pub quizzes, plogging (litter picking) runs, live music and even my 40th birthday and my Mum’s 70th!

We worked with brands such as Brooks and Runners Need and had the privilege of meeting many of who’s who in the running world such as Andy Baddeley (fastest ever parkrun in 13.48), Lee Emmanuel, Jo Pavey, Paul Sinton-Hewitt (Parkrun founder) and Brendan Foster (who was one of my childhood heroes and who officially opened the arch). 

We’ve also had visits from the local MP Neil Coyle and have had non-stop support and encouragement from our ward councillors William Houngbo and Humaira Ali. One of the best things though was when other running clubs and communities completely embraced us and we’ve hosted huge events with Midnight Runners and the Serpentines. We’ve also worked with Bad Boy Runners, Project Awesome, Runthrough and many more. 

Brendan Foster CBE officially opening the arch

BUMPS IN THE ROAD

Setting up a business isn’t easy. It is true what people say that it takes a lot of grit and hard work and there are times when your passion gets truly put to the test and you have to put everything on the line. We had to deal with suppliers that completely let us down, builders who took our money and ran, and a toilet that got smashed to pieces by a vandal. There were other infuriating moments like a water company who threatened us legally with a bill for over £20,000 even though the meter, as it transpired, wasn’t attached! Our area was also tragically the victim of a second terrorist attack. 

There were countless incidents in the bar where members of the public who have had one too many haven’t been the best version of themselves! Nothing was as testing, though, as one particular group of drunks who came in doing the beer mile on a Saturday in March 2019 before we had any security.  I asked one of them to leave before getting hit in the head from behind. I woke up weeks later in hospital with a fractured skull and a brain haemorrhage. This was another pivotal time where the members of the club showed their true colours and unconditional support. The people close to me dropped everything to nurse me back to recovery. These were dark times and I’ll always be thankful for the love and kindness I received from so many people.

In the next blog, I’ll talk about the gift of life with our beautiful daughter Thea and how we’re going to move forward as a community through one of the biggest challenges yet: the worldwide coronavirus pandemic.

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