The 401 Foundation Gets Back to its Roots at the Great Bristol Run

Charity takes on challenge to raise funds for new mental health app

A team of runners will take on the Great Bristol Run Half Marathon on 25 September, to raise funds for an ambitious new app that will help people find sources of mental health support in their local communities.

The app is the vision of the 401 Foundation, a Bristol-based charity set up by Ben Smith, whose 401 Challenge saw him run 401 marathons in 401 days, raising more than £330,000 for two anti-bullying charities. During the challenge (which he began in 2015), Ben met and ran with more than 13,000 people from communities across the UK and, from his chats with them, he discovered there were many mental health initiatives all around the country that were struggling to stay afloat.

The 401 Foundation was launched in 2017 to support grassroots mental health projects.

“We’re based in Portishead, but we’re a national mental health charity and our objective is to support local mental health initiatives with financial aid. Essentially, we help localised groups of people who have ideas which, when implemented, could improve mental wellbeing in their communities.

“We’d reached the point of handing out grants when Covid hit and we lost so much funding. But we have an amazing network of supporters and we’ll be in a position to start giving grants again very soon. In the meantime, we’ve been thinking about the wider impact we want our charity to have and that’s where the new app comes in.”

A pioneering app

The 401 Foundation’s Wellbeing App will signpost what’s available in a local area to support an individual with their mental health.

“At a time when you feel lost, alone and overwhelmed, finding the energy or knowing where to start looking for help can seem like an impossible task, so we hope our app goes some way to making that easier,” explains Ben.

“While we’re talking about mental health a lot more these days, the NHS is so stretched and when, for example, a man who’s never opened up before is told he has 6-12 months before he can talk to someone about it, it’s debilitating. And while national mental health charities do a great job, there’s nothing that signposts what’s available to help someone close to where they live, which is why it’s so important to make those initiatives more accessible. Even if it’s just helping someone to find a new activity or group to join as a stop gap until they’re able to talk to a mental health professional.”

Over the next decade, the 401 Foundation’s ambitions also include building a Wellness Network of 200 voluntary ambassadors who will work closely with mental health initiatives across the UK and Northern Ireland that apply for grants with the charity, as well as liaising with donors and fundraisers. There are also plans to create 20 Wellness Hubs around the country where local community projects can promote what they do, grow and become sustainable.

Running for mental health

Running has played an important part in Ben’s own mental health journey. He first started running 11 years ago having recovered from a transient ischaemic attack (TIA) at the age of 29. Otherwise known as a ‘mini stroke’, a TIA is caused by a temporary disruption in the blood supply to part of the brain and, in Ben’s case, he temporarily lost his sight, hearing, the use of an arm and his ability to talk.

“It was like a wake-up call,” says Ben. “I was 18 stone, smoking 40 a day and living a life that I thought other people wanted me to live, rather than being true to myself. I was bullied at school and had suffered with mental health difficulties for years. Even though I knew I was gay, I felt the need to cover this up through fear of being attacked.

“Lying there in the BRI (Bristol Royal Infirmary), I knew it was time to change. I started to process everything and to ‘unconditionalise’ how I’d been behaving for the past 10 years. I ended my marriage to my ex-wife and came out and, about a year later, a friend introduced me to Southville Running Club.”

Ben was very sceptical about joining the Club before his friend took him along.

“But that first night I was there, something just clicked. A fire lit inside me and I wanted to do more. It was the support of my running club that gave me my confidence back. I needed that opportunity to step out from my life and have that time for myself. I dealt with all the issues I went through and saw a councillor, but my ability to do that came through running.”

Through the 401 Challenge, Ben saw much of the world and was determined to enjoy the experience.

“It wasn’t about running fast, I wanted to enjoy what I saw and to have the chance to talk to the people who joined me along the way. As well as raising money, I felt that I’d bottled the positivity I got from running and gave it to others. And the 401 Foundation is all about people.”

Close to home

Taking part in the Great Bristol Run is a fitting challenge for the 401 Foundation given its roots in the city.

“The Great Bristol Run is close to our heart because it takes place in our home city and running is such an amazing fit for our organisation. Our runners are from all ages and abilities and that’s what’s great about the running community – it’s not just one size fits all. We all support each other and that’s what running is about.

“I’ve done the Great Bristol Run Half Marathon a couple of times, but this is going to be the largest number of fundraisers we have in an event to date and it will be the first race that will drive everything going forward for our charity.”

As well as 19 runners taking part in the Great Bristol Run, the 401 Foundation also has 15 joining the Great North Run on 11 September.

To donate to the 401 Foundation runners, visit:

An inclusive celebration of running, the Great Bristol Run also includes a 10k and the Great Bristol Family Run. Starting and finishing in the heart of the city, the route weaves past the vibrant waterfront, plus beautiful Queens Square, historical Castle Park and Old City. This year, runners can look forward to a live start line DJ, pumping out a high energy set to help them find their groove for the challenge ahead.

And for the first time, an Après Run zone in Millennium Square will feature more great music, as well as food and drink stalls, ensuring the celebrations continue long past the finish line.

Entries for the Great Bristol Run 10k, Half Marathon and Family Run which take place on Sunday 25 September are now open at