Silver Bond winner Emma reveals how one jog changed her life
Emma Manton had no idea that when she agreed to join a friend on a short jog, it would start a chain of events that would change her life – as well as the lives of thousands of others whom she will never meet.
The 38-year-old actress helped the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) win the 2016 Virgin Money London Marathon’s Silver Bond award by raising an incredible £32,043.01 at this year’s race.
In doing so, she provided the inspiration for a huge fundraising campaign for UNHCR which has caught the attention of Hollywood superstars and some of British theatre’s most famous writers.
It is all a long way from that jog two years ago which spurred Emma into action.
“It started when I was performing on stage in Stratford-upon-Avon and a colleague convinced me to join her on a two-mile run,” she said. “I did the two miles but I had to walk twice and I was so ashamed. I thought I had to do something about it.”
Emma set herself the target of running more regularly and as she became fitter, her target changed. She completed her first 10km, then her first half marathon. The next logical step was running a marathon and the marathon she dreamed of running was London.
“It is the one to do,” she said. “I live in south east London about a mile into the route so it literally goes past my house.”
But Emma’s running had become more than just about keeping fit and more than just about herself.
“I was thinking about doing the London Marathon at the same time as the tragic case of Alan Kurdi, the three-year-old Syrian refugee who drowned and whose body was pictured washed up on a Turkish beach,” she recalled.
“One of my friends decided she would march on Parliament after that and, after a Facebook message, she got 100,000 people there. It was incredible. It was then that I thought ‘what can I do?’ If I was going to run the marathon I wanted to do it for something I could really get behind. I contacted UNHCR and they had one place left.
“As part of the conditions, I had to raise £2,000 and I asked around for help, thinking I would end up organising a cabaret night in a room above a pub one night.”
Quickly it became apparent that Emma’s fundraising would be grander than that. Tapping into her stage contacts, her campaign soon got the theatre world rallying around a cause.
“It was the right issue at the right time,” said Emma. “I approached the National Theatre and instantly they were keen to help. I think it helped that Rufus Norris, the artistic director of the national theatre, had been volunteering at the refugee camp in Calais.”
The National Theatre donated the use of the Lyttleton Theatre, its biggest arena, for Emma to use which, though fantastic, did leave her panicking for a second.
“At first I did think, ‘what am I going to do?’ Emma laughed. “But it turned out alright!”
Emma asked a number of playwrights she had worked for if they had any scripts for her – and they all came up trumps.
“I asked if they had anything that might work but they all came back with something bespoke,” she said. “It was amazing. These were some of the very best British playwrights and they had written something for my campaign.”
The finished product was an afternoon of songs, sketches, short plays and poems about the refugee crisis from writers such as Richard Bean and David Edgar with actors such as Juliet Stevenson, David Morrissey and Rufus Hound performing.
“The impact of that one run I did has been life-changing,” said Emma. “These famous actors standing on the National stage giving a voice to those who are rarely heard was very special.”
The campaign has not ended there, however. One of the pieces written for the performance called 'What they took with them' has been recorded by a number of high-profile actors including Hollywood stars Cate Blanchett and Keira Knightley.
And now, thanks to winning the Silver Bond highest fundraiser award which gifts her automatic entry into the 2017 Virgin Money London Marathon, she has another marathon to fundraise around.
“Picking up the Silver Bond highest fundraiser award was a lovely moment,” said Emma who aims to improve this year’s time of 5:29:14 in 2017. “You get so bogged down with organising everything, fitting your training in, making time for your family, you almost lose the bigger picture of what you are doing so it was quite special.
“I’m already working on the fundraising plans for 2017 and working with a phenomenal group of producers who have said ‘let’s look at something else’. Hopefully we can build on what we have done in 2016.”