Prof Julia Downing runs the Belgrade half marathon for BELhospice

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You ran the Belgrade half marathon this year to raise money for BELhospice. Can you tell me why this charity is particularly important to you?

BELhospice is the first specialised charity organisation in Serbia that provides palliative care. They have a multidisciplinary team which consists of doctors, nurses, social workers, a psychologist, religious leaders and a group of volunteers trained to provide support to patients and their families. All services are provided free of charge for patients and their families and this is made possible by the support of many different individuals and organisations. Annually BELhospice provides care for approximately 300 to 400 patients in Belgrade, which is only 10% of the total number that need help.

Having been working in Serbia for the past 3 years to support the development of palliative care on the EU funded project: ‘Development of Palliative Care in Serbia’ run by a consortium led by Oxford Policy Management, I have seen the immense need for palliative care in the country, and experienced the pioneering work of BELhospice. I have been inspired by the work that they are doing and the plans for the future, and I hope that by running the half marathon, I can raise some funds to help them to continue to lead palliative care development in Serbia.

Who else ran for BELhospice?

In 2012 BELhospice had their first team for the Belgrade marathon with 30 runners. Last year there were 300 people running for BELhospice and this year they aimed for a team of up to 800 people running a mixture of the 5km fun run, the half marathon and the full marathon. Two of us from the project ran the half marathon – myself and Jo Baskott from Oxford Policy Management.

How have you gone about fundraising for the event?

We have set up a fundraising page on Virgin Money and have been encouraging our friends and colleagues to support us – we have also put out the links on facebook and twitter to encourage people to donate. 

What will the hospice do with the money you raise?

The money that we raise will help BELhospice to continue to provide their services free of charge to those who need them, and to expand and train their staff and others to provide quality palliative care services.

What motivates you to keep going through such a physically demanding event?

I have not been running for very long – in fact I took up running just last year in order to run the 5km in Belgrade last April. Following our 5km run we committed to running the half marathon this year (and maybe the marathon next year!!) – since then I have been following a training programme to enable me to run 10km initially and now 21.1 km. The training has been hard, but I have enjoyed the challenge, and when things have been tough I have focused on the reason that I am doing it – to raise money for BELhospice, and having committed myself to doing this I didn’t want to let them down.

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