THERE are some people who bring the value of volunteering into sharp focus – and Karen Harland is one of them.

Karen, 49-year-old mum-of-four and grandma-of-two, earns a living as a surgical assessment nurse at Darlington Memorial, often working night shifts.

It would be entirely understandable if she just wanted to go home and get tucked up in bed after a night on the wards, but she doesn’t. Instead, quick as a flash, she heads straight off to South Park in Darlington, to take photographs of the Park Run.

No matter what the weather might be, Karen is there, using her skills to capture the joy – and the pain – of this glorious community movement that gets people of all shapes, sizes and abilities out in the fresh air, being active.

Over the past six years, she has amassed a collection of 160,000 pictures from the Darlington Park Run alone. Add in other local athletics events, such as the Darlington 10k, and she has 400,000 photographs on her “Flickr” account.

She does it not for any financial reward but for the love of it and last week she was among the winners at the 43rd Grand Final of the Darlington Sports Winners for her dedication to grass roots sport.

“It’s nice to be recognised but, to be honest, the biggest reward I get is the appreciation shown to be by all the runners I photograph,” Karen said after receiving the Mulheim Trophy.

“The running community is so friendly, and I even have people telling me how my photographs inspire their weight loss journey. They use them to assess their progress.”

The hobby started when Karen’s son Dean Newton, now 23, did his first park run when he was 17 and she took her first photographs with a basic compact camera. Since then, with the encouragement of her professional photographer husband Ian, her equipment and skills have developed nicely.

When Dean was 21, he won the Redcar Half Marathon, and Karen almost missed the picture: “I was shouting and screaming so loud, I nearly forgot to capture the big moment,” she recalled.

When it comes to the many benefits of grass roots sport, we can all find ways to play our part. We can’t all be Usain Bolt or Mo Farah, but it’s about seeing the big picture.

CARRYING on the sporting thread, guest of honour at the Darlington Sports Winners’ Grand Final was the Mayor of Darlington, Councillor Veronica Copeland, who spoke of her delight at seeing so many female finalists.

She went on to explain that when she was at Frederick Nattrass Primary School, in Norton, the boys played football and the girls went off to sewing classes.

“I can’t kick a ball, but I can darn a sock,” she said. “I think times are changing.”

THE County Durham Business Leaders’ Forum at The Radisson Hotel in Durham City was another important event last week.

Leaders from the private and public sectors came together to promote the county’s position as a great place to do business.

At the end, I was approached by Geoff Hunton who, as director of Merchant Place Developments, was integral to Hitachi building its train assembly plant at Aycliffe from 2013.

“I just wanted to thank you for the support The Northern Echo gave us in persuading Hitachi to come here,” he said. “It made a huge difference – it was the best thing we did to have you guys on board.”

It’s a reminder of why local newspapers are so important and the powerful influence they can be. The local press must never lose that community engagement – look what a difference it can make.

THE latest campaign to promote Durham’s growing appeal to inward investors is called “Powered By People” – placing the county’s hard-working, flexible, resilient, humorous folk at the heart of economic growth.

Keynote speaker Heidi Mottram, chief executive of Northumbrian Water, cheekily told the business leaders: “As the only water company that recycles 100 per cent of its waste and I can honestly say we are powered by people’s poo…so thank you all for your contributions.”


FINALLY, shock news that I’ve finally been rumbled...

I was at Croft Primary School in my neighbouring village the other day, talking to the pupils about an exciting story-writing competition launched by Darlington Building Society.

“Has anyone got any questions for Mr Barron?” asked form teacher Tony Williams.
One little girl, who looked rather familiar, put her hand up and asked: “Were you round my mum’s friend’s house disguised as Santa on Christmas Eve?”

I made my denials and made a sharp exit.