We’ve all heard someone say that the only time they run is to catch a bus – in fact many of us have said it. For Alex Akom, getting out of breath running for his bus led to the creation of a Ugandan community group that now boasts 50 members from across London who get together each week at Burgess parkrun. Samuel Olara explains:
It still seems quite unbelievable that it was the local bus that sparked the formation of the “Ugandan Burgess parkrun Group”. The group is made up of people who live in London but who originally come from Uganda, in East Africa, which borders Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan. There are just over 40 languages spoken in Uganda, the main ones being English and Swahili.
The seeds of the group was planted when Alex Akom overslept one Wednesday morning and had to run to catch his bus to work. He caught it, but he was sweating profusely, feeling dizzy and therefore realised that he needed to make some lifestyle changes. It convinced him to begin jogging, running or doing some kind of physical activity in Burgess Park.
Alex found running alone very demotivating however, so he invited his Ugandan friend by the name George Watokee to join him. George agreed and the two started their running in the park, sometimes running beyond the park into the nearby streets; however, the fumes from car exhausts discouraged them from jogging in the streets, so they concentrated their running mainly in the park and made every attempt to do an activity in the park on a daily basis.
One day as the two approached Burgess Park for their daily run, they saw a gathering of runners at the entrance of the park. They were told that a parkrun was starting in Burgess Park and that it was free for anybody, they were encouraged to join and they agreed. That was Burgess parkrun number one! So, we are very proud to say that these two Ugandans were actually pioneers of Burgess parkrun
A couple of years later, some Ugandans who were taking their children for tennis coaching at Burgess Park Tennis club realised that the tennis coaching time and the parkrun time were similar, so they decided to join in after dropping off the children for Tennis. This was the beginning of the Ugandan Burgess Parkrun group.
Announcements, photographs of the Ugandan parkrunners at Burgess Park and all the names of parkruns taking place in London are always sent out to the Ugandan community social media channels inviting members to join and explaining to them the benefits of taking part in parkrun. This initiative led to a couple more Ugandans joining the group. By the middle of 2017, the number of runners in the group had doubled.
And you cannot believe it that majority of the new Ugandans running at the Burgess Parkrun actually don’t live in the borough of Southwark. We have members coming all the way from places such as Harrow, Croydon, Mitchan, Balam, Finchley and Kent. The friendliness of both the parkrunners and volunteers at Burgess, coupled with the good company of friends running together seem to attract more Ugandans to Burgess parkrun.
Currently the majority of the group members is composed of people in the age brackets of 40 to 55 years of age. A couple of members are in their early 60s; there are also the younger ones from 11 to 17 years of age who prefer taking part in summer only. We are encouraging more 60+ year olds to join parkrun by explaining to them the benefit of regular, social, physical activity.
From that point on we started inviting friends and families to come and have fun with us at Burgess Park, we have seen the number in attendance increase and on a good day, we have more than 50 people parkrunning.
parkrun not only gives us the opportunity to come together every Saturday to participate in an activity that we enjoy, it provides us opportunity to socialise, reducing isolation in the community. parkrun is therefore not only a community of runners, to Ugandans taking part, it has become a family.
This article first appeared in the Journal of Holistic Healthcare and the British Holistic Medical Association (BHMA) has kindly allowed it to be reproduced here. My name is Dr Simon Tobin and I’ve been an NHS GP and trainer in Southport for 25 years. I am also one of parkrun’s volunteer Health and Wellbeing Ambassadors. My…
parkrun is the name, but look more closely and you’ll see that this is a whole lot more than a run in the park: walk, jog, run, volunteer, spectate – parkrun is whatever you want it to be, and everyone is invited to come along. What started out as a handful of friends jogging a…