“Parkrun is all about inclusiveness and wellbeing. We want as many people as possible to feel part of a real local community brought together by our events, as well as our global parkrun family.”
Did you know, you don’t have to run at parkrun? You can walk, you can use a manual or power chair, you can volunteer or you can spectate. Truth be told parkrun really isn’t about running at all! It’s all about community – that strength of human connection and feeling of belonging. This spring the Coalition will be focussing on parkrun and its many benefits and we will be sharing our exciting plans with you very soon!
I wanted to use this opportunity to first give you a bit of a background into parkrun and how it has grown into the global phenomenon it is today.
In 2004, Paul Sinton-Hewitt was an experienced club runner, when he picked up an injury which meant he could not run. At the same time, he was fired from his job and his mental health began to deteriorate. He wanted to find a way to stay connected with his running friends and so one Saturday morning in October he organised a timed 5km run for his friends. This is the event that became parkrun – free, weekly community events at 9am on a Saturday. Paul says that from the beginning his aim was for the runs to be community events, available for all to join in with whenever they wanted to. The events are free in every sense of the word – it’s not just that you don’t have to pay, but you are free to join in whenever and however you want, there are no time limits and nobody finishes last.
From 2004 to 2007 the Bushy Park event grew in size with more and more people from the local community turning up to join in and asking about having an event near them. By the end of 2007 there were 5 events – today there are parkruns in 20 countries worldwide and 1097 locations in the UK. All events are run entirely by volunteers and are free to attend.
As parkrun grew so did the realisation that these weekly events were making a real difference to many people in many communities. Parkrun began actively working to encourage participation in disadvantaged or minoritized communities – as its website says
“parkrun is all about inclusiveness and wellbeing. We want as many people as possible to feel part of a real local community brought together by our events, as well as our global parkrun family.”
What does this mean for disabled people and those with long term health conditions? In April 2016, parkrun UK was awarded a grant from the Department of Health and Social Care to undertake a three-year project to increase physical activity and social engagement at parkrun amongst people living with disabilities and long-term health conditions. This led to the PROVE project (parkrun, Running or Volunteering for Everyone). Research in 2013 had shown that 4.3% of UK parkrunners who were surveyed reported having a limiting disability or illness. People with disabilities and long-term health conditions were clearly underrepresented at parkrun.
This provided the motivation for the PROVE project, to make the parkrun population more representative of the whole population. The project was spearheaded by a team of volunteer Outreach Ambassadors for Disabilities and Long-Term Health Conditions. They were all seasoned parkrunners with real-world experience of disabilities or long-term health conditions in the disabilities and health conditions covered by the project. These were Anxiety, Arthritis, Asthma, Autism, Blood Pressure, Cerebral Palsy, Deaf / Hard of Hearing, Dementia, Depression, Diabetes, Eating Disorders, Endometriosis, Heart Conditions, Learning Disabilities, MSK Conditions, Multiple Sclerosis, Obesity, Perinatal Depression, Psychosis and PTSD. (There was already an existing project funded by the National Lottery to encourage participation of people with visual impairment).
Although the project has now finished many of the initiatives created remain to support and encourage participation.
- BSL information videos and recognition of the volunteer role ‘sign support’. You can watch the videos here BSL Guides to parkrun – YouTube
- Producing accessible language parkrun leaflets with symbols as well as words.
- Providing online training on accessibility for all event teams.
- Creating virtual meeting places for parkrunners using closed Facebook groups.
- Publishing blog stories from parkrunners with disabilities or long term health conditions. You can read some here PROVE project | parkrun UK Blog
Over the next few weeks we will be looking at the different ways you can get involved with parkrun but in the meantime if you are keen to get started please contact Katy:
phone or SMS text: 07434 865062