Edinburgh Local Hero Awards 2021: ‘It was a real honour on such a lovely night’ beams Olivia Strong after winning top accolade

Olivia Strong was in celebratory mood after winning the top accolade at the Edinburgh Local Hero Awards – and she’s got the hangover to prove it.

Left, Fundraiser of the Year Olivia Strong, with her mum, Laura.
Left, Fundraiser of the Year Olivia Strong, with her mum, Laura.

“I was honestly so surprised to win the award,” she says the morning after the night before. “It was a real honour to receive the award on such a lovely night – although I may have been suffering a bit this morning!”

As the Evening News once again championed our great city’s community heroes during a glitzy ceremony at the Sheraton Grand Hotel & Spa on Thursday night, Olivia scooped both the Fundraiser of the Year Award and Edinburgh’s Local Hero Award for her initiative that raised over £7 million for the NHS Charities Covid-19 appeal.

Olivia’s campaign, Run For Heroes, was a virtual fundraising challenge that took place on social media during the first lockdown.

It asked people to run 5 kilometres, donate £5, and nominate five others to do the same.

She encouraged over 1.5 million people across the UK to get active in a time of global inactivity – and she continues to do so even a year later, turning Run For Heroes into a charity body in Scotland, with the main goal in getting people more active.

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In total, over 7,000,000 kilometers were run – enough to run to the moon and back, and then some.

Olivia made an emotional speech at the awards show, thanking her family and everyone at the event for their work in the community.

Speaking about winning the award for Edinburgh’s Local Hero 2021, Olivia says: “I got to meet some amazing people doing inspiring work at the awards show last night, which really motivated me to do more in my own work.

“I’m still so shocked that we raised that much money for charity – and now that we’re set up as a charity body I hope to continue fundraising alongside encouraging people to get into health and fitness.”

The 28-year-old says she was inspired to start the fundraising campaign while she was running around Arthur’s Seat during lockdown.

She initially dreamed of her fundraiser reaching £5000, but after the campaign went viral on Instagram the amount raised continued to escalate.

The £7 million Olivia raised helped the NHS to offer mental health support for staff, pay for 1.3 million meals and snacks, acquire over one million overnight washbags, cover volunteer expenses, offer grants for isolation key workers, and cover travel costs for front-line workers.

Participants from over 20 countries took part, including the Olympian Mo Farah, pop star Ellie Goulding, and football coach John Terry.

Even the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, said he had been “inspired by the ingenuity” of the challenge that “roused a global movement that has collectively run the entire distance to the moon and back” in a personal letter to Olivia.

This wasn’t the first award Olivia has seen for her campaign: she received the Prime Minister’s daily ‘Point of Light’ award which was launched in April 2014 to recognise outstanding individuals making a difference where they live.

Run for Heroes was also honoured in The Queen’s Birthday List in 2020, and were awarded an MBE for their services to fundraising during the pandemic.

She is often compared to the late Captain Tom Moore, who raised over £32 million by walking more than 100 laps of his garden, and who also received the Point of Light award on his 100th birthday.

Speaking of how her campaign has changed her life and what her plans for the future are, Olivia says: “The initial Run For Heroes campaign really spun my life into a 180 – a year ago I was a documentary maker, and now I’m running a charity.

“We have a board of trustees now and we’re currently in the process of deciding which projects to fund and which charities to donate to. It’s all very exciting.

“I’d really like to work towards helping disadvantaged children get into exercise and fitness in schools, although there’s still a lot of planning to do!”

Now, Olivia’s time is mostly spent running the charity, but she manages to find the time to do freelance video production and documentary making.

Run For Heroes has expanded beyond the initial fundraiser. The charity body’s most recent project was ‘5k May’ this year which asked people to run 5k, nominate five people, and donate £5 to a charity of their choice.

Run For Heroes supported Alzheimers Research UK, Macmillan Cancer Support, Mental Health UK, Save the Children, and other UK-based charities in 5k May, raising a further £116,000 for charity.

Olivia stood up in a time of panic and uncertainty, inspiring over a million people to do the same.

She demonstrated the power of community and the ability for individuals to come together and create change – which is why she is Edinburgh’s Local Hero.

Olivia went on to give thanks for her award, saying: “It takes so much work to manage Run For Heroes, but the recognition of all our efforts from the Evening News and my local community really makes it all worth it.

“There’s so much joy in running a charity, there’s a lot of work don’t get me wrong but it really doesn’t feel like a job.

“I’d like to thank my mum for nominating me, my brother and sister for their support, India and Alice for their help on the campaign, our board of trustees who set up 5k May, and the Evening News for putting on the local heroes event, and for supporting my campaign from day one.”

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