Imogen McIntosh is taking on the Great Bristol Run on Sunday 25 September for Aid Box Community, a local charity that started at her kitchen table.
Scrolling through Facebook at her Bristol home in 2015, Imogen saw an image that would change the course of her life – and for the many families who have come to rely on the support of Aid Box Community.
The photo of little Alan Kurdi’s body washed up on the beach became an image that encapsulated the tragic experience of over a million Syrian refugees desperately travelling to Europe in search of safety. For Imogen, seeing this image shocked her into taking action.
Aid Box Community first started in Autumn 2015. In the seven years since, the charity has grown significantly and, in 2021, helped almost 2,000 refugees in and around Bristol.
This autumn, Imogen and a group of 23 others will be taking part in the Great Bristol Run 10k to raise much-needed funds.
The story of Aid Box Community
“I couldn’t believe what I’d seen when I came across that photo of little Alan. As a mother of young children at the time, it really resonated. That’s when my awareness of people stuck in camps trying to get over to the UK really began,” explains Imogen.
Soon she was heading to a refugee camp in Dunkirk to deliver donations. Her Facebook posts about her plans sparked a rush of contributions from her friends, family and the wider community. That first trip saw Imogen and 30 volunteers set out with eight trucks and 350 aid boxes, plus thousands of tents, sleeping bags and other items.
The name, Aid Box Community, was born when Imogen created a system of packaging donations together in box plastic boxes that would make them easier to distribute among refugees.
The donations kept flooding in and Imogen was able to coordinate a team of volunteers on the ground at the camp for the following nine months, who were there to “respond to basic needs and keep people alive.”
When a French charity took over work at the camp, Imogen returned to her usual routine back in Bristol, but started hearing about refugees who’d reached the UK and were struggling as they grappled with the asylum system.
“After all the trauma they’d been through to reach this point, they faced so many challenges once they tried to get into the system here. It was horrendous,” Imogen adds.
In 2017, Aid Box Community became a registered charity and continues to run a hub for refugees and a free shop where they can pick up donated items. The charity also runs activity groups for men, women and families and has taken refugees on retreats and holidays. Its befriending programme has so far matched 184 refugees with local people as a means of offering friendship and support, helping them to feel part of the community.
“Following the Afghan crisis and then the war in Ukraine, it’s been a particularly challenging year for Aid Box Community and demand for our services is running high. We’ve had to open up two extra days a week and have queues every morning down the road for our free shop.”
As a charity that largely relies on donations from its community of supporters – and in the face of reduced funding from grant sources – Imogen hopes that taking part in the Great Bristol Run will help to raise both awareness of the work that Aid Box Does, plus the funds it needs to keep up the level of support so many depend on.
The power of running
Imogen has found running to be a source of stress relief ever since she was a teenager and she’s always aimed to run a few times a week “just to clear my head.”
“The beauty of running is that I can fit it into my daily routine quite easily. I often double up running with walking my two dogs, or if I’m working from home, I might have a window to grab my trainers and get out for a run in between meetings.
“Once you start using it as a means of stress relief, it becomes quite addictive and I can feel it when I haven’t been for a run in a while.”
Some of the Aid Box Community runners will be joining Imogen in the 10k, while others are taking part in the family run.
“It’s great to have that choice of how far people want to run and who they run with. For us, it’s about doing something positive that hopefully raises some much-needed funds at a time when our services are in more need than ever.”
The Great Bristol Run 10k starts in the city centre and takes runners past the vibrant waterfront, before crossing on to Spike Island, through Wapping Wharf and looping round the beautiful Queen Square at the half way point. Runners then cross over into Redcliffe before rounding the historical Castle Park on a final section through Old City, before the grandstand finish on Anchor Road.
The Half marathon route takes runners past the vibrant waterfront and out along the beautiful and peaceful Avon Gorge passing under the world famous Clifton Suspension Bridge, before joining the 10k route at Spike Island.
Entries for the Great Bristol Run 10k, Half Marathon and Family Mile which tale place on Sunday 25 September are now open at greatrun.org/Bristol.
You can donate to Imogen and the Aid Box Community team via their fundraising page for the Great Bristol Run: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Imogen-McIntosh2