parkrun - bringing entire communities together through physical activity

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We caught up with parkrun to find out about their success in getting the nation active since they started out in 2004.

parkrun organises free, timed 5k events which take place every Saturday morning in over 20 countries around the world. It also organises the junior parkrun series, which are 2k events for children aged 4–14 held weekly on a Sunday morning. Paul Sinton Hewitt CBE founded the first parkrun in 2004. All events are held in areas of open space and are all organised and delivered by local teams of volunteers. 

Open to all

Accessibility and simplicity are the key reasons for parkrun's growth; participants register online once, turn up at any event, and take part. Contrary to the name, participants walk, jog, volunteer or run. The key is taking part in a manner which suits the individual. The events are open to all, including those with disabilities and long-term conditions. 

There are now close to 4.6 million registered participants and since 2004, 1.8 million people have taken part in the UK. Over 140,000 participants take part every weekend in the UK, which is supporting parkrun's goal of getting the nation active. 

Getting the inactive active

117,000 different people volunteered at parkrun and junior parkrun events in the UK in 2017. The average finish times for 5k parkruns in the UK is getting slower, and over 50,000 people that took part in 2017 identified themselves at registration as being inactive. 

With over 14,000 volunteers helping at events across the country every weekend, parkrun values volunteering as participation and as an important route to improve health and wellbeing. None of their volunteering roles require previous experience and training and support is provided. 

Getting children and young people active

As the success of parkrun has risen, the number of junior parkrun events has grown in areas of social deprivation. By the end of 2017, 80 new events were launched in more deprived areas of the UK and over 40% of participants were accompanied by adults, showing that junior parkrun is a family affair and can have significant health benefits for adults and children. 

Case study - Graves parkrun

A great example of where parkrun has helped a local community is the Graves parkrun, set up by Sloan Medical Centre six years ago. The staff and patients raised the initial event start-up costs with a sponsored run in the park and it was matched by the local council. The original volunteers were from the practice. Dr Ollie Hart was Event Director but stepped down after a couple of years. One of the Centre’s receptionists took over and has blossomed in the role. She was nervous about getting involved, but has grown in confidence and now holds court over 300 people each week. She took a promotion at a neighbouring practice as her career developed.   

Through the association many of the Centre’s staff and patients are regular runners/ walkers or volunteers at Graves parkrun. Dr Hart knows people with multiple sclerosis, diabetes, airway diseases, mental health issues, to name but a few conditions, who have all enjoyed a ‘life changing’ association with parkrun. Dr Hart says that, “as an intervention, helping to start Graves parkrun and having a close association with the event has had the biggest health impact of anything I've done in my career." 

Read the second annual parkrun report here. 

If you have a case study which highlights how you've positively engaged with your local area, please get in touch with aburgess@sportandrecreation.org.uk.

Case studies like this would be great entries for our Community Sport and Recreation Awards which launch this September #GrassrootsAwards.