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Birch Tree Cafe volunteer to run London Marathon and Berlin Marathon to support people with Down’s Syndrome

A volunteer who supports people with Down’s Syndrome is taking on two marathons to help expand the opportunities available to them.

Lulu Whalley will run marathons in London and Berlin this year to raise money for the Birch Tree Cafe at Easton-on-the-Hill.

The cafe is partly staffed by young adults with the condition, providing them with meaningful employment opportunities and the chance to learn vital life skills.

Lulu Whalley, second from left, with the Birch Tree Cafe team
Lulu Whalley, second from left, with the Birch Tree Cafe team

Lulu, from Duddington, said: “I loved the idea of it from the start and have been volunteering there since January last year, usually every other week.

“I love that young people with Down’s Syndrome get the opportunity to learn so many new skills and I see the confidence it gives them, be it in the workshop, cooking or out in the garden.

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“Working with them is a highlight of my week and it’s wonderful to have the café in our community.”

Workshop manager Lee O'Connor with some of the young people who work at Birch Tree Cafe
Workshop manager Lee O'Connor with some of the young people who work at Birch Tree Cafe

Lulu, 46, is no stranger to running, having completed her first London Marathon in 2001 for the MS Society followed by the Edinburgh Marathon in 2017 for the neonatal intensive care unit at Peterborough City Hospital.

She said: “I’ve always liked running and keeping fit but it’s always been a bit sporadic. I've been entering the London Marathon ballot for about 15 years and was lucky enough to get a place this year which is when I decided to raise money for Birch Tree Café.”

Lulu started her training plan in September including half marathons in Corby and Cambridge. She will also complete the Rutland half marathon on April 7.

She said: “Training has been going well and I’m now in the midst of the long runs, building up the miles. It’s tough but we are lucky around here to have places like Rutland Water and I’ve enjoyed finding new routes through local villages. Podcasts and my son’s Spotify playlists have been getting me round.”

When Lulu ran the London Marathon in 2001, aged 23, she finished in 4hrs 46mins. Her aim this year is to beat that time. She will be cheered on by her husband Nick, son Harry and daughter Izzy.

“They have been a brilliant support to me throughout my training and I can’t wait to give them a huge hug at the finish line,” she said.

Crossing the finish line won’t be the end of Lulu’s mission though, as in September she will run the Berlin Marathon to further her fundraising. Not only does she want to raise as much money as possible for Birch Tree's activity programme, she also has her eye on achieving the Abbott World Marathon Majors. It challenges runners to complete six marathons in Tokyo, Boston, London, Berlin, Chicago and New York.

She said: “Hopefully by the end of this year I will be a third of the way there.”

Supporters can sponsor Lulu online at www.justgiving.com/page/luluwhalleymarathons

She added: “I would love to raise as much money as possible for them to continue their activities programme and help fund new projects in the years to come.”

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