It’s that time of year again. Twitter feeds and Facebook pages are a sea of “justgiving” requests. Families from Greenwich to Tower Hamlets are busy painting “good luck” signs and stocking up on jelly babies. And come Sunday morning, over 650,000 people will head down to watch the biggest mass participation race in the world – the London Marathon. Like many Londoners, it’s one of my favourite days of the year. But this year things are a little different for me. I’m running!
The London Marathon epitomises everything that is great about the city that has been the backdrop of my life, and, like millions of Londoners, has made me the person I am today. Along the 26.2 mile route I’ll be passing through six different London boroughs. From the high streets of Deptford and Woolwich, to weaving my way between Canary Wharf skyscrapers and then on to the Embankment, Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, my route on Sunday will most definitely be one of contrasts.
The same of course, can be said for our city. Growing up on the Henry Prince estate in Tooting, times could be tough in the Khan household. Having come to London in the 1960s, my bus driver Dad never dreamed I would grow up to run my own law firm, let alone be elected as an MP for the community I grew up in. But my family story sums up what London is all about; countless opportunities to make a better life for you and your family provided you work hard and get on. In the London Marathon’s 33rd year, I wonder if that is still the same today.
Today’s London is a city facing big challenges. Rising numbers of Londoners are being left behind by our city’s success as inequality widens and poverty grows. The story of our city is in real danger of becoming “a tale of two cities”. And those Londoners who are being denied the chance to share in our city’s successes? That’s who I am running for this Sunday.
When I was asked to join the Evening Standard’s Dispossessed Fund team by my friend David Cohen, I tried to come up with an alibi, any alibi to get me off the hook. The furthest I’d ever run was an out-of-breath 10 kilometres around Tooting Common and my Mars bar addiction didn’t make me the best candidate! But once David told me about the work the charity does to tackle poverty and inequality across London, I couldn’t say no.
Through its funding of over 700 organisations across London, the Dispossessed Fund has now touched the lives of more than 100,000 Londoners. And in the last two months I’ve had the privilege to meet many of them. As I make my way through south London on Sunday I’ll be thinking of young brothers Zack and Kamil, whose parents fled war-torn Somalia and are now being given every opportunity through the brilliant Klevis Kola Foundation. As I running through Greenwich, I’ll be thinking of Lorraine, Lana and Debbie, just some of the “MP’s team” ensuring the views of those with learning disabilities are heard through their work with Advocacy in Greenwich. And as I make my way through Poplar, the smart, switched on kids like Muhin and Mizanur being supported by Streets of Growth to live normal teenage lives, free of gang violence and intimidation.
So come Sunday, that’s what I’ll be running for – London. Knowing the money I have raised so far means the Dispossessed Fund can help even more people like Zack, Lana and Muhin will be a real boost to keep going. But the 35,000 runners and I, the majority of whom are running for fantastic charities and causes, need your support to cheer us around the course. Let’s get out there and do what we do best London. Because despite the challenges we face, London isn’t broken. Far from it. The marathon is our annual opportunity to celebrate that community spirit we showed during the Olympics – and that Londoners are capable of wonderful achievements when united by common ambitions.