Finding Purpose with Chester Robinson

Finding Purpose with Chester Robinson

Chester Robinson is a London-based runner and founder of RAISE Snacks, delicious, all-natural packets of nutty goodness that combine a mission to fuel energetic lifestyles with a wider ethical concern to better the planet and the people on it.

We spoke over Zoom about why running is not just a sport but a necessity.

“Anyway, that’s enough of me banging on about how much I love running!”

Chester Robinson does indeed love running, but he has certainly not been ‘banging on’ about it. Instead, Chester is someone who is mindful about the weight of words, turning each one over and considering its purpose. That is not to say that his approach is clinical, rather that he has the manner of a person who thinks deeply about the ripples that his words and actions will create in the world around him.

Chester was born and raised in London, growing up in Kensal Rise, the eldest of four siblings. Being active and engaged in a wide range of sports is something that he takes pride in having passed on to his brothers and sisters, who he identifies as being “incredibly sporty” too.

“I think that sort of passion for movement and sport definitely stems from our parents. My mum and dad have always encouraged us to kind of get out there; be active, and take on as many sports and activities as possible. From playing football to rugby and tennis ... all sorts of things. I even did ballet at one point, and I remember feeling incredibly awkward about it because I was the only boy in the class, but my dad convinced me that it’d be really good for me, and I kind of embraced it. So, movement has always been a part of my life.”

It hasn’t always been the case; Chester acknowledges that he fell into the less healthy patterns of student life at university in Edinburgh.

“It manifested in a negative way; I felt a bit groggy and down at the end of my first year of university.”

Love for moving and using his body again came in the unexpected form of entering a charity boxing match. As part of getting fit, he started going on runs and it was then that he realised how important running was to his life.

From there, it really was a case of never looking back since, four weeks later, he had signed up to run the Paris Marathon with, he admits, very little training. What might, to an outsider, appear foolhardy is really symptomatic of the wider role that running plays in Chester’s life.

“A few things all came to a head at once. Unfortunately, my dad became ill with cancer, so part of the reason I ran the Paris Marathon was to raise money for Macmillan. So that was purpose number one, but purpose number two was just to get myself into a better place. Using running as meditation helped me both deal with the troubles that I was going through with my dad’s illness and made sure I was in a good space for university.”

I reflect on how difficult his father being sick must have been, particularly at a time when he himself was going through the university years of finding himself, as well as the emotional responsibility that he might have felt for his younger siblings.

“Yeah, it was tough, it was tough. Not an easy thing to go through at that age, but it brings you closer as a family and I suppose good can come from things like that too.”

Indeed, the power that running would have for him is something that he could not have predicted, and we consider the links between a movement practice and its formative impact on identity. What has Chester discovered about himself through running?

“I mean, I’ve discovered that I need running in my life: it relaxes me, and it also energises my day. I like going on a run before sunrise and it’s amazing; it just feels like you’re ahead of the world and running as the sun’s incredible. Without it, I just don’t feel one hundred percent.

My current run is around Clissold Park, or I run around the Emirates stadium. I’m a huge Arsenal fan and it feels quite rewarding seeing the giants of the club on the outside of the stadium as you’re going for a run. It’s a very motivating experience.”

We agree that running is also one of the best ways of getting to know a place and forming a relationship with it.

“The speed at which you take in the world when you go for a run is really special and you can explore a new place at the perfect pace, I think, to take in the world. Walking can be a bit slow; running allows you to go further ... maybe get a bit lost and really explore.”

It’s also, he reflects, a way of connecting with others in a way that isn’t necessarily restricted by the financial barriers of many sports.

“It’s so accessible; anyone can go for a run. You don’t need lots of equipment or a certain space for it; you literally just need the outdoors. You can even run in circles around a table if you really want to! That’s what’s amazing about it: unlike other sports where certain demographics, pay and place might impact who participates in them, there aren’t those social barriers to entry with running because anyone can do it.”

The drive to do better and to focus on quality is something that drives the ethos of Chester’s company, RAISE, a superfood snack producer where honest ingredients, sustainability and community building are the beating heart of the brand. RAISE also speaks to Chester’s strong family values, the original recipe being inspired by the roasted nuts and seeds that his mother would pack for her energetic offspring as an alternative to the expensive granolas at Whole Foods, which would be in the house for “about four minutes” before being guzzled by ravenous teenagers.

Having grown up in a household where eating healthily and being mindful of what we put into our bodies was a priority, Chester quickly realised that there was nothing on the supermarket shelves that packed a protein and fibre punch that wasn’t full of artificial ingredients and added sugar. Likewise, resorting to eating hundred-gram bags of popcorn really wasn’t an energy efficient way to fuel his running and active lifestyle. From a combination of his mother’s kitchen table experiments and an astute recognition of the gap in the market, RAISE was born.

Movement is not only the fire that RAISE is designed to fuel but is part of the fabric of the company.

“I think a lot of snack brands evoke a sense of passive snacking and just grazing on food  (pun unintended) and it’s not that motivating. I’ve always wanted RAISE to be a snack that people associate with being active, using your body, feeling energised, feeling like you can go and achieve all the amazing things that you want to in in your day.”

RAISE is certainly not passive in its mission for meaningful community impact. It’s a mission that, you guessed it, has running in its veins.

“On the 10th of February, we’re running a half-marathon to celebrate our launch in Sainsbury’s and to also support Magic Breakfast, a charity working to tackle child morning hunger in schools across the UK. I was thinking about what we could do – what brings people together? The first thing that sprung to mind was running and community is synonymous with running.”

The potential for having a positive influence is something that Chester is acutely aware of in terms of sustainability in his industry, and we talk about what running might learn from food with regards to mindful consumption.

“What a question! It’s something that needs to happen in sport and hylo are certainly pushing for that a lot. There’s a real drive in the food industry at the moment to use sustainable packaging and reduce the amount of plastic used when we consume food products. In contrast, I received a box of trainers the other day – I’m not going to name the brand – and it just came in so much packaging: a box, in a box, in another box, in a bag, or something ridiculous like that. I suppose the challenge is that brands are very concerned with the first impression of a product and packaging can help with that and make it seem more premium, but I think we need to kind of reevaluate what we consider to be premium and see less as more.”

As we turn our thoughts to the year ahead, Chester shares that, although the competitive itch is very much there, he is, on the whole, simply enjoying finding flow in his daily running ritual. I finish by asking how he would summarise what running means to him in three words.

“Oof...peacefulness, energy and....hmmm...purpose, probably. It helps me relax and gives me energy but also it gives me the purpose of doing something and taking control of the day.”

At this point, I feel comfortable enough in Chester’s company to tell a story about a duck and a loaf of bread, but I’ll save that for another day because the point is that we’ve ‘banged on enough about how much we love running’ and that, as it turns out, is ok.