In 2010, Helen Nolan was a young mum in Donegal. She was desperately in need of a social outlet and so were many of her friends.

“We’d meet up and complain about how little there was for mothers and babies to do here in Inishowen,” she says.

Five years later, thanks to the proactive spirit of these young mums and the financial help they received from different organisations including the Coca-Cola Thank You Fund, Helen no longer has cause for complaint. “Now we don’t know when things are going to stop,” she laughs. “It’s great.”

Helen and her friends used to dream of a family centre that would welcome them and their children. In November 2010, they decided to make that dream a reality. Taking over the lease of a local retail unit, they set up Spraoi agus Spórt, which now offers fully-inclusive activities, classes and summer camps for children.

“We’ve expanded as our children and user base have grown,” says Helen. “At first, it was geared to babies, then toddlers and then older children. After a while, we realised there was a demand for activities for adults too.”

This is where the Coca-Cola Thank You Fund came in. Helen and her team of mums recognized that people their age were becoming more interested in fitness.

“We were hearing a lot about couch to 5K running programmes and we thought we’d love to do that here,” she says.

Proactive as always, that’s exactly what they did. “The funding we received from Coca-Cola Ireland made a world of difference,” says Helen. “It meant we were able to get more than 300 people from all over the Inishowen Peninsula to take part in a 5K run. We couldn’t have imagined a greater success.”

Spraoi agus Spórt were one of five Irish community groups to receive €25,000, which they used to run a 10-week training programme in the Inishowen towns of Carndonagh, Buncrana, Clonmany, Malin and Moville. “290 people signed up and they could attend as many training sessions as they wanted,” says Helen. “We held workshops in nutrition and injury prevention too. We wanted people to have all the information and motivation they needed to get fit.”

That training began in April and on the 29th of June, a 5K run was held in Carndonagh. “There was a great atmosphere on the starting line with more than 300 people involved,” says Helen. “There were even different generations of the same family. My 68-year-old mother ran and so did my daughter.”

Helen will never forget how it felt when everyone gathered in the community school afterwards. “Everyone got a t-shirt and a medal and the sense of achievement was something special,” she says. “We’d done it.”

But it didn’t end on that day. Those who took part in the training sessions realised that exercise could be part of their lives long-term, and many have continued to run together in small running clubs.

“People got to know people they didn’t know before and made great friends,” says Helen. “They got more from the experience than they ever thought they would.”

She still sees people out and about wearing the t-shirts from the day of the run. They remind her of just how much Spraoi agus Spórt have achieved.

“We started with 13 families and 20 children,” she says. “Now we have 890 families with 1,870 service users.”

Plans are in place to expand even more. Helen and her fellow mums intend to introduce activities for teenagers and offer adult education classes in the months to come. They’re even thinking of running the couch to 5K programme again

 “It was really amazing,” says Helen. “With the help of the Coca-Cola Thank You Fund, we were able to do something truly wonderful.”