All the world’s a stage

It’s going to take thousands of people to get a baton and an urgent message about climate change from Glasgow to world leaders at COP27 in Egypt

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Bar the running kit, Huw Selley doesn’t look like a man who’s just run 11 Peak District kilometres.

“It was quite nice actually,” he says, barely having broken a sweat. “Beautiful scenery and nicely, gently downhill, not much up.”

A nurse from Leeds, he’s one of two runners who have just made their way from Castleton to Hathersage as part of the non-stop Running Out Of Time relay.

“Children are the heart that runs through this relay. It’s what we’re about, it’s what we’re for.”

Having started in Glasgow at Sunnyside Primary School, the event will see thousands of runners, cyclists (and even a few sailors) carry a baton a total of 7,767km across 18 countries and 732 stages. The journey will have participants navigating across tough terrain and extreme weather conditions, with stages taking place everywhere from Austria’s Stubai Glacier to the deserts of Israel.

The end goal? To make it to Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt, just in time for COP27. There, a message from young people (currently sealed inside the baton, on a scroll) will be delivered to the world’s leaders – demanding better climate education for kids worldwide.

For 35-year-old Selley, taking part is about his own children.

“My daughter Poppy is six,” he says. “She is learning so much about the environment and climate at school.

“She’s always telling me to check if things have got palm oil in when I’m going through the supermarket. I wanted to show her that it’s not just something that school care about but it’s something that her parents care about too.”

He admits that when he was growing up he “didn’t have to worry” about the planet in the same way that his daughter does. “Now, it’s such a big worry and I want Poppy to be enjoying the same things that I enjoyed when I was growing up – going out playing with my friends, getting into mischief and enjoying the world. I don’t want her to be having to think about whether it’s still going to be around for her kids.”

For the team behind the logistics of the run, Selley’s “why” aligns perfectly with theirs.

“Children are the heart that runs through this relay,” Running Out Of Time’s director of operations Hetty Key explains. “It’s what we’re about, it’s what we’re for. This is for everyone but fundamentally young people are at the centre of it. This is about the next generation.”

It’s not the first time that the World Relay, the group behind the Glasgow-Egypt epic, has done something like this. Its first outing was in 2013 with One Run For Boston, a non-stop relay across the US on behalf of the victims of the Boston marathon bombings. Since then, it’s organised multiple relays all over the world.

Jamie Hay, co-founder of the World Relay, believes there’s a real power to the format.

“We realised that relays have such a unique way of unifying people,” he says. “Bringing people together for a common mission and cause. You’ve got a great sense of jeopardy in that every single person matters. That runner at 6am, that cyclist at 2am – they’re all so important for moving that baton forwards 24 hours a day.”

For this project, World Relay has been working with the Foundation for Environmental Education alongside the children at Sunnyside Primary School for the past few months. While Sunnyside is a “School of Conservation” that centres the environment, the children were aware that many pupils their age don’t receive any climate education. Where they did, the quality could vary and teachers might not have the resources they needed to deliver it.

“I can’t imagine what it must be like being a young person with that level of anxiety about their future and feeling like they have so little control,” Key says. “Hopefully this gives them a sense of control in some way or a sense that they’re being heard.”

As well as amplifying the voices of children (the baton will visit hundreds of schools along the way to Egypt), the relay team will be making time to chat to those involved in their own climate action projects.

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In the North, the crew have already been to talk to the team at the University of Manchester’s National Graphene Institute and Farm Urban, a vertical farm in Liverpool. And, as the baton was passed on and the next group of three runners began the steep climb out of Hathersage, we hopped into an electric van to meet a father and son who are hoping to do their bit to reduce carbon emissions.

Julian and James Field have spent the past eight years working on a solar-powered car named INTI, after the Inca sun god, and are based near York. The idea started as James’s school project. With a bit of help from his dad, he built a large tricycle with solar panels. It worked and from there, they began to think about how it could be turned into a roadworthy car.

Weighing around 400 kilos, able to travel 50 miles when fully charged and with a top speed of 30mph, it might not be designed for zipping up and down the motorway – but Julian sees it as a car for city living.

“The big ambition is to put these vehicles in the houses of as many people around the world as possible,” Julian says, telling me they hope to sell a million of them. “Every mile that’s driven in one of these cars is a win for the environment.”

He hopes that the car, which is currently just a chassis, will have bodywork within the next six months and that they’ll be taking orders towards the second half of next year. He’s keen to make the vehicle as affordable as possible, with an estimated UK ticket price of £15,000.

Leaving the solar car, we hop back on the road to meet our stage 64 finishers at Forge Dam. Led by Sheffield-based GP Rachel Steen, a competitive runner who’d been out on the Lake District fells just the day before, the trio arrive just a few minutes after us.

Andy Cameron is one of those. He admits at the finish line that he didn’t take too close a look at the route before signing up.

“I’m not really a runner,” he says. “I didn’t really look at how hilly it was actually so it was probably a bit harder for me than the other two. But it was really nice – just my calves were feeling it early on!”

A father of three from Sheffield, Cameron tries to align his professional life with his care for the environment, supporting local charities through his business and encouraging other businesses to litter pick around their patches. Part of his motivation for taking part in the run was looking at his kids and “thinking about what kind of world they’re going to inherit”, he says.

“And actually when they’re older remembering that their dad did stuff, that he was one of those people that could be bothered.”

He doesn’t want his kids to feel anxious about the climate and instead tries to lead a good example and instil a love of nature in them.

“You have to keep them engaged but let them be kids,” he says. “Get them outside and loving nature and doing those little things where they’ll think: ‘Dad cared about it, so maybe I should.’”

But there is, of course, a huge amount of worry when it comes climate. Research from Bath University last year showed that 59 per cent of the 10,000 young people surveyed said they felt very worried or extremely worried about climate change – and 56 per cent thought humanity was doomed.

Key believes that part of Running Out Of Time’s remit is to tackle that feeling of helplessness.

“I think climate change is incredibly daunting,” she tells me. “It can feel like this huge problem that as an individual is incredibly scary. You think: ‘What can I do? I’m just one person.’

“But in the same way that no one person could run day and night from Glasgow to Egypt without stopping, that’s the same with climate change. It’s the same analogy. When everyone chips in and does their bit, whatever level that is, whether you’re a child or a student, a runner, a cyclist, a climate activist, whether you’re at governmental level – this is something that everyone can get involved with. When all of that effort comes together, that massive insurmountable task becomes doable.”

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