A York teenager on an epic charity run has won the support of star Olympian Dame Jessica Ennis-Hill.
Jonny Cole, 15, is running 5k every day during February to raise money for Bereaved Children Support York.
Jonny lost his own dad seven years ago, and has braved hail, snow, wind and rain to pound local pavements and help fund much-needed counsellors for the children’s charity.
So far this month, he has run 90km (56 miles) and raised £1,500 – smashing his original £100 target.
He’s been boosted by the support of Dame Jessica, who tweeted a link to his Just Giving page with the message: ‘Go on Jonny! Please support this incredible young man’.
Joseph Rowntree School student Jonny began his mission after the charity set its members a 28-day February challenge to try and do something positive during lockdown.
He said: “I genuinely thought when I started running that I’d get a few donations from family and friends and feel better for having done something good. But the total keeps going up!
“Jessica Ennis’s tweet was a big surprise – a really big thing. I’ve had so much more support than I thought I would get and I’m just really grateful. I was a bit unfit when I started because of lockdown but now it’s getting easier.”
200+ children helped
Jonny is one of over 200 children to have benefited from Bereaved Children Support York, which was set up by his mum Jo in 2016 after her husband Neil died suddenly from a heart attack when Jonny was eight.
Pre-lockdown, the charity ran drop-in peer support sessions as well as social trips and activities for children and their parents, which were attended by people from all over Yorkshire.
It is now trying to bring people together online where possible. It also employs four bereavement counsellors on a sessional basis, although these are currently only available to people who live in York.
Jonny said: “When my dad first died there wasn’t much support for me in York so my mum set up the charity to give people like me somewhere to go.
“When I was young I thought I was the only unlucky one but it helped to know other young people had gone through it, too.”
He added: “Having the group helps with your mental health because you’re switching a negative thing into a positive thing with other people. All this running has been good for my mental health, too.
“It’s helped stop me staying in all the time and has given me a bit of purpose. I’m hoping the money will help us to pay for more counsellors.”
Lockdown makes things harder
Mum Jo said: “I thought Jonny was pretty insane when he first suggested his daily 5ks. He really has been out in all weathers – like the bitterly cold and snowy days we’ve had recently. I’m immensely proud of what he’s achieved – it’s amazing.”
Jo, 46, who runs the charity despite managing her own multiple sclerosis, said the lockdown had made things particularly challenging for children who are already dealing with bereavement.
“What they’ve been through before all this was bad enough but now the pandemic means there’s stuff about death and dying all the time, plus they’re isolating and away from school, their friends and their support networks.
“We been helping families who’ve been bereaved during the pandemic and that’s extra hard. But then for kids who are five or ten years down the line, it might not be as raw and all-consuming but it does affect them because as they get older they understand it more and need to process it all over again.”