Last February, Emily Cleary took her seven year old son Henry to London for the weekend, for a short break. The little boy loved seeing the landmarks of the capital - but one image in particular had a huge impact on him.
"Henry has always been aware of rough sleepers and we’ve talked a lot about homelessness," says Emily, 43, a marketing consultant from Stoke Poges, Bucks. "But on this occasion, we’d had some afternoon tea and he had some sandwiches and cake left over.
"He asked if we could take it back for a man he’d spotted sleeping outside McDonalds.
"When lockdown started a month later, Henry’s first thoughts were for the people who had no home to be locked down in. He kept asking me what would happen if they got Covid and how would they eat if they didn’t have people like us walking past them in the streets.
"I reassured him that charities would be helping but I could tell he was genuinely upset."
Deciding that he could not leave anything to chance, big-hearted Henry researched how he could raise money for these charities.
With the support of his mum, his father Jamie, 45, who works in construction and six-year-old sister Beatrice, he decided that he would run a marathon in ten days and raise £262 – ten pounds for each of the 26.2 miles.
"He’d seen Captain Tom doing his charity walk and wanted to do a similar physical challenge," says Emily.
"His father runs marathons so Henry thought this would be a good way to fundraise. He asked his dad if he could help him train. We were a little bit worried to be honest.
"He’s only little and 26.2 miles is a long way for a child. But he was determined to do it."
On VE day last year, Henry started on his ‘coronamarathon’, filling up with a breakfast of porridge and heading out at 11am every day with one of his parents for the 2.6 miles.
"We sent the fundraising link around a few friends, thinking we’d make up the money if he didn’t raise it all himself but then I decided to put the link on Facebook and that’s when it really took off," says Emily.
"The whole community got behind him and people would come out of their houses or lean out of the windows to cheer him on, ringing bells or sounding horns as they passed by their houses.
"One friend says she used to use his runs to time her day. She’d ask her children: ‘Are we doing home-schooling ‘Before Henry’ or ‘After Henry’?"
"Another lady – who had lost her husband just before the lockdown and was grieving – told me that he was her reason for getting up in the morning and coming to her door to cheer him on. The keyworker children at the school came out of the classroom to wave as he passed by.
"Even when Henry’s legs were hurting or it was really hot, he refused to walk. I get emotional thinking about it. By the last day of the challenge - a day earlier than his target of ten days - around 1000 people were lining the streets to applaud him on his run."
Henry was not only raising spirits but money too. He smashed his original target and has now raised over £11,000 for the homeless charity CRISIS.
Friends contacted Emily to ask if they could nominate him for the BBC’s Make A Difference campaign – for those who had done something special for their community during the pandemic – and she happily agreed.
"We nominated him too but then realised that other people we’d never met had also nominated him," she says. "He was asked to go on the radio and that’s when they announced that a high-speed express train was going to be named after him in his honour.
"Henry and another little boy who raised money would be the youngest people ever to have a train named after them.
"Henry didn’t quite understand what was going on and was completely overwhelmed. But last week we went to Paddington for the unveiling of the name and Henry was thrilled, not least because he got free juice and biscuits on the train!"
The HENRY CLEARY train will now be transporting passengers for decades to come.
"We’ve told him that he’s done more in his young life than we have in our forties," she says. "But he takes it all in his stride. We are so proud of him.
"I’m going to start commuting again soon and know that if I ever see that train passing by the platform I’m going to be bursting into tears every time!"
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