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The Power of Community

The Power of Community

For International Women's Day, our founder Mel Bound takes a moment to reflect on what this amazing community of women means to her, what goes into building a community that really delivers impact and how our community is the foundation of a huge vision for the future.

7 years. It has passed in the blink of an eye and yet I feel I have travelled a million light years since that desperate post on Facebook in 2014; from a lonely, depressed and extremely unfit new Mum - to supporting tens of thousands of women to get started on their own running journeys, building a global team of volunteers, watching so many incredible friendships bloom (as well as making many friends-for-life of my own...) AND leading a thriving community recognised as one of the most impactful communities in the world.

Pinch me now!

And yet. We are only just getting started on a vision so big I can barely see the edges - reconnecting women with themselves and their bodies, filling them with the self belief that they can literally do anything, creating a world where women everywhere can enjoy the incredible and life changing benefits of moving their bodies more.

Long term behaviour change then? Actually more than that, more than a page of data could ever tell you; because building communities to me is about creating long term feeling change and that's where the really astonishing alchemy happens - (that at times I can't even really explain) but it truly changes women's lives forever.

Community. In its' most basic form, I guess it's is a fairly nebulous concept that in the past roughly related to a group of people who lived in the same street or perhaps shared the same interests.

In 2010 everything changed; the potential to be a part of a community way beyond the local streets where you lived, seismically shifted with the launch of Facebook groups. 

Suddenly it was possible to connect with people the other side of your town or city or even the world, on pretty much anything you were interested in. Octopi anyone? Yep there's a group for that. Saying yes to more adventures? Hell yes. Connecting with awesome women expats? Yep. Cats doing funny things? A thousand times over yes. 

With 620 million groups now available on Facebook, it's fair to say whatever you're into, you can find others that are into it too.

In 2014, my only experience of being a part of a digital community was a Buy/Sell group that I co-founded as a way of selling my kids old clothes and toys as I couldn't be bothered with Ebay. It was a lovely group but largely transactional - and yet it still demanded huge amounts of my time.

Somewhat naively in November 2014, I then accidentally launched my first "real" community - This Mum Runs Bristol. It grew quickly through word of mouth, enabled weekly runs to take place all over the city and soon consumed virtually every waking hour (as well as more hours in the middle of the night than I want to think about). A desire to not let anyone down, or miss a single post meant a slide into a rollercoaster of burnout and exhaustion pretty rapidly. There was no course you could go on, no degree you could sign up for, at the time no programmes or networks of support.

In 2018 that changed with a new strategy from Facebook - communities would become the heart of the platform, a way of bringing people closer together. Investment, new teams, training, huge amounts of resource and care poured into creating a new breed of Community Leader who had the skills to build meaningful and sustainable communities.  

I was the "keeno" keen to get involved in it all, proud to be part of the first ever Facebook Community Leadership Programme, eager to learn as much as I could - and was soon invited to talk on panels and at events about my experience, and with the product teams at Facebook building the features that make running communities easier and more sustainable for community leaders all over the world. I'm not gonna lie, it's been an incredible experience that I am so grateful for!

Over the past few years, I've come to understand that a true community is not "just a Facebook group" nor a badge of honour; or an online space to broadcast words without care; not just a tally of followers and likes on which we can calculate our worth.

No, not any of that.

A true community - the one we are now building and perhaps were from Day 1 - is a destination that leads with heart, and follows up with generosity and love and care; a place where when you arrive you feel seen, and safe and brave enough to be just you. A place that feels like...such a bloody relief.

Back then...wow I was clueless and winging it most of the time (I still am probably)! I honestly could never have imagined the process of building such a place as the community we now have; but even had I known, I would have done it anyway.

You should know though that how it feels building a community like ours, is far different from how it may seem from the outside.

Awards, accolades, interviews and campaigns bely the selflessness, the grit and tenacity, the sleepless nights and screen filled days to carry the weight the foundations of a community must support, the integrity to stay true to a vision so big there are no words to really describe it's worth.

7 years have taught me though that the best communities are built on an openness to share, on genuine acts of kindness, on a desire for things to be better for everyone; and genuine joyous joy when you see that this has become so. 

Even now, nothing gives me greater joy than a random chat with a woman in a queue at the supermarket where she shares her story and that "TMR has changed her life". Or seeing a post in one of our communities where a woman has downloaded our App and done Session 1, and "literally cannot believe I've run for a minute!" but yet she has and it makes me SO proud!

You'll often hear me talk about the power of community. But what I really mean by that is a power that comes from a place where leaders feel strong enough to be weak; allowing others to feel safe to be vulnerable. 

Where honesty and transparency is encouraged and fragility a strength; all of this fostering a sense that quite literally anything is possible, that together we can all do hard things, things that surprise us if we choose  (but also: it's ok to just be).

Community. In the perfectly spoken words of the poet Brandon Leake "a place where intimacy meets fear and we all become better selves, we all thrive because of it not in spite of it". I could not have said it better myself if I tried.

The stories of adversity and judgement so generously shared within the walls of our community have floored me, humbled me, stopped me quite literally in my tracks at times - stories of cancer diagnoses, mental health challenges, anxiety or a debilitating lack of confidence overcome with the support of TMR and running and friendship and connection - while filling me with a steely resolve to Just.Keep.Going.Lady.

Perhaps those stories that have reduced many of us to tears at times have also filled us all with a bravery we didn't know we had?

Community. It is the perfect storm of diversity of thought and discrepancy in backgrounds that creates a sense of harmony making anything possible, any barrier insurmountable. Together, we are stronger.

It's a chance to lock arms and build the brighter, healthier, happier future that we all long for, to overcome the uncertainty or impossibility of taking a path alone.

Yes, this requires an army of altruistic angels prepared to step up and turn me into we and pour their heart and soul into making that happen. And how lucky we are to have our army of community leaders and Run Angels who's sole aim it is to give with no expectation of anything in return, except perhaps the small matter of making each other's lives Better - and yes, with a capital B.

I mean, does it get any Better than that?

Community. As we look to the future for TMR, which after all is all of ours to create, and to our most audacious of goals of millions of lives to be changed for the better; community is the jet fuel to our ambitions, the foot on the gas to overtake those niggling doubts of "can we? and "should we?" Because of course we can and we must. Together, we can take on the world. 

7 years, 37 communities, 650 volunteers, 160,000 runners, 1 App...and we are only just getting started. I can't wait to see where Year 8 takes us. Who's with me?

#thismumruns #WeAreTMR #IWD2022

 

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