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Staying social when we can’t be social

Updated: Apr 18, 2023

When lockdown hit, our Jog Derbyshire groups rallied round to remain connected online. James Illsley, jog leader at Jog Derbyshire group Rogue Runners Ripley, tells how they socialised digitally during 2020…..

Interrupting Couch to 5k

“When Rogue Runners Ripley was established in autumn 2019 it started as a small group of friends who wanted to run together. We all knew how important running was to our mental and physical health and enjoyed the shared experience group runs brought us. It wasn’t long before this ‘small’ group ballooned into an even bigger group. Over 70 people attended the first session of our first Couch to 5k program at the start of the year. Unfortunately, those people didn’t get to complete their program as intended. The first national lockdown meant that the course had to finish on week 9.

“The national lockdown was challenging for many people, as I am sure we all know. As a group, our first thoughts were for our Couch to 5k participants. They had been progressing so well and would not be able to complete their graduation run at Brierley Forest Country parkrun in early April. We’re lucky we have a very active Facebook group. Anyone who posts anything about running can be assured of a friendly and supportive word from lots of different people. A plan was immediately set for the final three weeks of the Couch to 5K course. It was posted on the group and we encouraged people to run themselves and post their runs, in order to graduate virtually. We were delighted when nearly 40 people completed a run and graduated from their program.”

Retaining social interactions

“Once we’d finished our virtual graduation in April, thoughts quickly turned to the rest of the group. We asked our members how we could best support them. One thing that came as a surprise to our leadership was running was only the second most-valued thing we did. The overwhelming thing people valued most about our group was the social interactions and the friends they’d made through running. This was what the vast majority of people were missing most.

“As a result, the Rogue Runners’ leadership decided to try and help. We started off with a ‘Post Box Challenge’ towards the end of March. The premise of this was quite simple, to take a selfie of yourself with a post box on one of your runs. This proved quite popular, so we set about coming up with more challenges.”

Sharing ideas

“At this point, I should probably say not all of our challenges were original ideas. Thank you to all the groups and individuals who shared challenges through social media, to allow us to pinch or adapt their good ideas. Rogue Runners Ripley are active on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and it’s been great to see the variety of activities running groups have been up to across the country. If you have seen some of our ideas and used them, we hope you enjoyed doing so.

“Around the same time, we also thought it would be fun to create a music video. We decided the Elton John track ‘I’m still Standing’ was appropriate for the time we were all living in. At first we weren’t sure how many people would be interested in taking part, but were delighted to find lots would. Not just our runners, but their partners and children. The Facebook group was buzzing with chat about which part of the video people were going to recreate. It was great to see! If you’d like to check out our finished work, you can do so here

“As we got towards the end of the first month of lockdown, people were starting to find their feet and becoming more hopeful. We capitalised on this mood, by asking our members to be active in different colours on different days and post their photographs. As usual they didn’t disappoint. We used these images to make up our own Rogue Rainbow, to celebrate hope in the midst of the difficult times.”

Working around restrictions

“Our weekly challenges were starting to become very popular amongst our members. Our Facebook group was alive with chatter, despite us all being remote from one another. We also had to be mindful that there were worries around whether you could exercise for more than an hour a day. So anything we set had to be achievable in that time. Our next challenge (and one of our favourites!) was our COVID-19 relay.

“The premise of this was quite simple – six teams, seven runners, seven days. Each member runs on a separate day and runs as far as they can in 19 minutes – oh, and they must carry a comedy baton at all times! This made for some fun photos and banter in the group. We actually ended up with eight on each team as it proved popular. We did seed the teams to make it a fair contest. The wining team covered a total of 31.86km, just 0.32km ahead of the second placed team. A second relay took place later on in lockdown as everyone enjoyed it so much.”

Getting the family involved

“One thing that became apparent to us, as we looked through the pictures posted to our group, was the increasing number of people doing our activities with their family. This was so nice to see and something we became mindful of when setting them. Over the following weeks, we issued Bingo cards for people to tick off locations as they were out and about. We also challenged them to spell out phrases using the first letters of street names and asked them to go on scavenger hunts. The start of May saw the 75th anniversary of VE Day. We hosted red, white and blue days in order to create a fabulous collage that was shared on our social media pages at the time.

“As lockdown #2 hit, we wracked our brains for challenges for the group. We’d pretty much exhausted our repertoire of activities, so had to come up with something new. There was also the added complication that many of our leaders were very busy with their day-to-day jobs and couldn’t commit to come up with something new each week. A brief comment on an ultra-marathon Facebook group from someone that was intending to run every square on the Huddersfield Monopoly board, gave us the idea to come up with Riplopoly.”

Seeing the benefit of social media

“Our members loved the idea and many set about ticking the squares off. The leadership started thinking this idea could actually benefit the wider community and keep them active during this new lockdown. So we decided to share the board publicly on our Facebook, Instagram and Twitter feeds. We were amazed at the response as lots of different groups, organisations and individuals shared our posts. A running club in St Helens picked up the post and created their own version for their local area. The same happened in Swanwick.

“We attracted a number of posts to our public Facebook page from people in the local area who were not Rogue Runners Ripley members, but had also decided to take part. It was lovely to see them sharing their pictures of their families and pets taking part in Riplopoly!

“We all know that bad press that is often afforded to social media. While this can be true, it also can be a force for great good. Social media has certainly kept our group more connected, over both lockdowns so far. It’s enabled those who cannot be together to at least connect virtually to stay in touch and still feel they are part of a collective in these challenging times.”

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