To mark his 70th birthday, Norwich man Paul Coleman did not have a party or eat a cake – instead he ran 70km to raise £7,000 for a development project in West Africa. Peter Bending reports for Network Norwich & Norfolk.

Paul runs to keep fit and wanted to mark his 70th birthday in a significant way.

“While on one of my runs in May this year, which was a 7k run, I realised that seven was the predominant number. So, why not run 70k on my 70th birthday to raise £7,000,” said Paul. “I was well aware that I could not run 70k in my own strength, but, if I commit this challenge to God and do it for Him, then He would sustain me and He would get the glory.”

So, at 5am on his 70th birthday, Paul set out from his home in Spixworth. He headed to Wroxham where he joined the Bure Valley path onto Aylsham on Marriotts Way, and from there onto Soul Church and the finish line.

Paul said: “Believe me when I say that this challenge pushed me to my absolute limits. To overcome the physical pain, I had to overcome the negative thoughts that tried to get in my head.

All money raised will go towards a new agroecology centre initiative in Togo which will help benefit many of the students and families sponsored through Soul Church helping them learn to develop sustainable agriculture practices.

“I wanted to complete a challenge that the people of Soul Church could get behind and feel a part of. There are currently around 110 children sponsored by people who are part of Soul Church through Compassion, and the majority of those children are in Togo.”

The centre will become the heart of agroecology learning and development in the Maritime Region and will include: a solar-powered borehole, a training room/office and a dormitory with toilets, and a biodigester for turning organic waste into fertiliser.

The aim is to construct and implement an agroecological centre by June 2024 and teach a 3-year programme of agroecological techniques to 2,000 youth and 1,500 caregivers by December 2025.

“Our vision is to take a group of sponsors from Soul Church to visit the centre once it is up and running, so they can see first-hand, the effect that their contribution has made and raise awareness in our local community and beyond,” said Paul.

Paul and his wife Linda have been sponsoring children through Compassion since 2007. In 2018 they were given the opportunity to visit one of their sponsored children in Uganda. The trip was caught on camera and turned into the moving film, Meeting Violet.

“During that visit, God revealed more of His plan for the next season of our lives to get more involved with the work of Compassion which meant stepping down from our staff role at Soul Church.”

They now volunteer for Compassion at Christian events, along with travelling the country speaking to churches who partner with Compassion, inviting them to sponsor more children.

“For Linda and myself, our commitment to God has always been Isaiah 6:8, and for us to fulfil that commitment, we realise that we both need to be physically fit and spiritually ready to respond when God says ‘who will go for me?’

“When God placed this challenge on my heart, I knew that, with my grey hairs, I could not do it in my own strength, but all He required was for me to say, “here I am, use me” and I knew that He would give me the strength to complete the challenge and bring glory to His name, not mine!”

Paul reached his target of £7000, and donations continue to come in.

“Thank you to every person or persons who has donated to this fundraiser that will ultimately bring huge relief to children and families in Togo, you are incredible,” said Paul.

You can still donate at

Pictured above: Paul Coleman, and Paul being congratulated by pastor Jon Norman at Soul Church after his run. Images courtesy of Soul Church