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Light the Night

Light the Night was an idea born over coffee, a conversation between Rebecca Taylor of SOAR Women, and Flo Papougnot, a seasoned marathoner and member of Your Friendly Runners / Hot Boys Athletics. Here, the pair discuss how the idea came about and how this unusual form of late-night spectacle unfolded.

Words: Rebecca Taylor/Flo Papougnot

Photos: Morgane Bigault

The Spark

It was early October. The nights had started drawing in and we were discussing how we lose access to most of our favourite running routes as darkness falls - Rebecca’s favourite being Hampstead Heath. The reality is that the way we, as women, navigate the city rapidly changes in the diminishing light of autumn and winter. Canals, parks, and public spaces suddenly become no go areas through fear of safety.

Stirred to act, we wanted to create an opportunity for women to feel free, and importantly safe, to run in the dark. The result was ‘Light the Night’ - a collective act aimed at challenging these constraints and reclaiming routes, together.

We invited local women, running groups and SOAR Women’s community to come together on December 5th for a festive 7km trail run over Hampstead Heath. The goal was to fill this dark and intimidating space with light and noise. We encouraged a ‘Festive Lights’ dress code and asked runners to submit their favourite songs, which would form the basis of our playlist for the evening. Prizes for the brightest outfits from our friends at Knog added an extra incentive.

The Run

At 6:30pm, we set off from 3 Locks Brewery on the Regent’s Canal in Camden. The spectacle of over 60 women snaking their way to the Heath adorned in lights and music stopped cars and raised cheers. Pausing at Gospel Oak, we gathered for a few inspiring words from Sarah Ackland, Runner, Architect, and PhD researcher. Sarah’s work explores how people pass through public space, particularly through the lens of women and running. Her empowering speech was the rallying cry of women coming together, reminding us that running is a privilege and a political act. As Sarah explained:

'We have all been scared on a run, we have all felt we need to cover up, go a different route, run at a different time. We are reminded of this additional labour women take on, just to move in the same way as men, every day and especially when darkness falls. Women’s bodies have always been kept small, so this event was really about challenging this, lighting up the night and pushing back on these restrictions.' 

As we headed deeper into the night along the Hampstead trails, we were met with mud, the puzzled gaze of late-night dog walkers and an obligatory ascent of Parliament Hill. At the top, London’s dramatic skyline sprawled beneath us. Its symphony of shimmering lights serving as the perfect backdrop for a group photo by photographer Morgane Bigault.

At this point, the collective giddiness of the group was palpable; it was party pace all the way home.

Runner Grace Cook captures the spirit of the night:

"It was honestly so moving and so empowering. I’ve never run in the dark before, let alone in a park at night, so thank you so much for making that happen”.

Whilst Light the Night runner Tina Sharkey concurred:

"I love, love, loved SOAR’s Light the Night. It was so liberating to be able to run in a place that most, if not all women feel they have to avoid in the winter months. To have so many women run together was the epitome of sisterhood. I would jump at the chance of doing it again and again".

Back at the brewery, refreshments, mince pies and live music were waiting. Most stayed for a chat before heading home with a pair of SOAR socks to keep them cosy on winter runs.

Whilst the run was free to join, we’d like to thank all those who donated to Refuge. Although fear is traditionally felt in public space, a woman is more likely to be abused or attacked at home. The money raised will help create safe spaces for women under threat of violence.

You can donate here.

We’d also like to thank all the women that took part and helped make it an evening filled with light, music, and laughter - an impactful acknowledgment of women’s experience and a wonderful opportunity for women to Light the Night.