For Esther Stanier, volunteering at parkrun gave her back a sense of purpose, routine and a way to feel “useful”. Here she explains why, and recommends everyone gives it a go!
I am so proud to be part of the parkrun community, both as a runner/walker and a volunteer.
My first parkrun was August 2015, I really enjoyed it! I was expecting it to be quite competitive and very much a ‘race,’ but it really wasn’t. Yes, there were speedy runners, but there were also plenty of people running at a more steady pace, jogging, walking, chatting, pushing running buggies, with their dogs and generally just having a good time.
From expecting nothing but elite athletes, it was a real eye-opener. I also remember how friendly everyone was, and loved that the volunteers cheered on and encouraged every participant.
After that, the parkrun community and the social side of the events kept me coming back for more. It’s the best start to the weekend.
In 2019, I started volunteering more regularly at my local parkrun and junior parkrun. I was off work due to my mental health, but volunteering gave me back a sense of purpose, routine and a way to feel “useful”. It also felt really rewarding to help out the community which I had gained so much from.
It’s well known that physical activity is incredibly beneficial for our mental health. When I was unwell, with my mental health, I was doing a lot of running, but mostly on my own as this was a better fit for me at the time. I had been a parkrunner for some time by then and had volunteered a few times, but the volunteering wasn’t part of my regular routine. It was when I first volunteered at junior parkrun that I realised how much I actually enjoyed this, and really benefitted from the volunteering as well.
Volunteering pushed me out of my comfort zone a bit at first. I marshalled a few times but then started taking on other roles. In turn this helped me build my confidence, not just in volunteering, but in general. It gave me the sense that others could rely on me, and I could make a difference, at a time when my self-esteem was at its lowest.
I got to know the core teams at both my home parkrun and junior parkrun, learnt new skills, and in the nicest possible way it pushed me to leave the house and commit to doing something for other people. The sense of self-worth this can give shouldn’t be underestimated.
This might sound strange, but some of my volunteering experiences in the worst possible weather, snow, hail, driving rain have been my favourites! There’s something quite satisfying about getting a job done in the worst conditions, and it makes the tea in the cafe taste all the better. I also admire how many parkrunners still turn up in awful weather, so they get even bigger cheers from me.
When the weather has been bad I’ve had friends bring me treats and takeaway brews after they’ve finished, which is always appreciated.
I can honestly say that volunteering helped me in my recovery. I have continued to volunteer since then, in a number of different roles. I love being part of the volunteer team and seeing behind the scenes of what makes parkrun happen.
I have made genuine friends through the parkrun community. Pre-COVID, whenever planning a weekend away with my husband, we would always try to find a nearby parkrun to attend, so it’s taken me to parks and cafes I would never have otherwise known about. It’s also a great conversation point that stretches beyond 9am on Saturday mornings. Discovering a colleague or neighbour who is a fellow parkrunner is always good!
For anyone reading this who is thinking about signing up for parkrun but feels nervous, there really is no need. Come along and watch first, or even better volunteer, to see what it’s all about! I would also encourage anyone to give volunteering a go, you might find you enjoy it even more than walking, jogging or running. There are so many different volunteering roles, something for everyone. parkrun volunteers are often called the hi-vis heroes and who doesn’t like to be a hero every now and again?
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