A SCHOOL in Africa has been saved from closure thanks to a partnership between an international children's charity and relay runners from a North-East law firm.

Mshangano Secondary School, in Southern Tanzania, has been given a new lease of life thanks to the efforts of a team of 50 runners from Ward Hadaway, who ran a 135-mile non-stop relay from the company’s Manchester office, through Leeds, ending at their Newcastle headquarters.

The school was due to close by the Government had improvements not been made to the infrastructure by the end of the year. However, the "Three Points North Relay" challenge raised £7,500 for COCO (Comrades of Children Overseas), which funded the renovation of all of the classrooms, dormitory and office. 

Mshangano Secondary School had initially approached COCO, along with the Hoja Project – the charity’s implementation partner in Tanzania – in 2013 when it was forced to close in 2010 due to a lack of finance and poor academic performance. With the support of the partnership, the school reopened the same year, and since then its exam results have improved from being outside the top 100 schools in the region, to being inside the top 10.

This second threat of closure would have seen 146 pupils without a place to study in an area where the average household income is well below the absolute poverty threshold.

Lucy Kendall, CEO of COCO, said: “The fantastic efforts of our supporters at Ward Hadaway have provided a vital lifeline to the many pupils at Mshangano Secondary School and their families, in what is one of the most remote and poorest areas of East Africa. It has enabled vital renovations to be carried out that will benefit hundreds of students in the coming years, helping them find their way on a path towards a brighter future. 

The Three Points North Relay was the brainchild of Ward Hadaway's Corporate Partner, Katherine Hay-Heddle – one of COCO’s Board of Trustees – and Commercial Partner, Matthew Cormack, as a fun way of celebrating the firm's 30th anniversary.  

In completing the challenge the 50 runners clocked up a cumulative 490 miles, with many of them running further than they had ever run before.  They were joined for the final leg of the relay along Newcastle's Quayside by British middle-distance runner, Laura Weightman, who earlier this year won the 1500m title at the British Athletics Championships and then claimed a bronze medal in the same event during the European Athletics Championships.

COCO was co-founded by Steve Cram and British Army Major Jim Panton in 2000 and its headquarters are in Newcastle.  COCO’s activities have made a positive impact on the lives of more than 200,000 people in East Africa through 50 transformational projects covering 16 countries.  Last year, COCO reached a major fundraising milestone of £4 million in donations received. 

  • To find out more about the work of COCO or to donate visit www.coco.org.uk.