Our world is sometimes marred by division and uncertainty. As such, it is important to find ways to encourage unity, promote wellbeing and create opportunities for individuals from diverse backgrounds to come together. Since its inception as an all-inclusive free, weekly timed 5k activity, parkrun has been doing just that and has grown strongly throughout Ireland.
While it is celebrated as a community health initiative, parkrun also serves as a strong platform for openness and inclusion for those seeking international protection – asylum seekers and refugees. In this article, we explore how parkrun transcends borders, encourages openness and offers a host of benefits to those seeking refuge and a sense of belonging.
Asylum seekers and refugees often face huge challenges when arriving in a new country. Language barriers, cultural differences, and a lack of social integration can create feelings of isolation and alienation. parkrun, with its simple and inclusive concept, breaks down these barriers with ease.
By walking, jogging, running and volunteering, asylum seekers and refugees can engage with the local community, meet new people, and bridge the gap between cultures. This integration not only benefits newcomers but also enriches the communities hosting them.
“parkrun is a fantastic initiative that welcomes everyone. It spans all abilities, ages, fitness levels and all areas of the community,” says Ciara. “I myself am involved with Sanctuary Runners, a community group that gives a warm welcome to anyone seeking international protection, and we use the parkrun platform to bring walkers, runners and volunteers from our groups together.”
parkrun events take place in 22 countries and all share a common ethos of creating an environment that is inclusive, fun and positive. At our heart is community, integration and friendship.
“We have been doing parkrun for some time and just enjoy volunteering, making new friends and socialising with people that we meet at parkrun.”
Alfred, Sanctuary Runners
This inclusive mindset is particularly beneficial for asylum seekers and refugees who may feel excluded from society. parkrun welcomes individuals regardless of their age, background or physical ability, providing a safe and non-discriminatory environment where everyone can participate. This sense of belonging is of huge benefit for those who have had to flee their homes in search of safety and a fresh start.
For asylum seekers and refugees who often carry the trauma of their experiences, the benefits of regular activity on both their physical and mental health are huge. parkrun can be a lifeline for engaging in physical activity, surrounded by a supportive community. These elements can help reduce stress, anxiety, and depression. It can also have positive implications on self-worth and confidence, empowering participants to overcome the challenges they face in their new environment.
“I am new to parkrun and when I joined I could not run very well, so I walked,” says Omar a Sanctuary Runner. “Since then I started to get better and began to run more. I also got involved with volunteering and each week now, I run with and guide Mustaffa who is visually impaired.” Mustaffa adds “I am running now for nearly seven months and it is very nice to be a part of parkrun. I feel very well when I come here and hope to continue doing so for a long time”.
One of the most significant challenges for asylum seekers and refugees is building a support network in their host country. parkrun provides a unique opportunity for individuals to make friends and establish connections with local residents. These connections can lead to practical assistance, such as language development or help with navigating procedural processes, making the transition to a new life more manageable.
Learning a new language is a critical step in the integration process for asylum seekers and refugees. parkrun events provide an informal and practical setting for language practice. Participants can converse with locals while enjoying their walk, jog, run or volunteer role, helping to improve their language skills in a natural fun environment.
parkrun also plays an important role in raising awareness about the experiences of asylum seekers and refugees. As participants share stories and experiences, they foster understanding and empathy among the wider community.
“Just coming along to walk, run or volunteer is a great way to get to know people in the community and the warm welcome that you receive at parkrun will ensure you come back time and time again.”
Ciara, Sanctuary Runners
parkrun is not just a run. For asylum seekers and refugees, it represents an opportunity to break down barriers, build a sense of belonging, and improve physical and mental wellbeing. As a global organisation, parkrun embodies the idea that, irrespective of one’s background, we all have the capacity to come together, support one another, and create a more compassionate and inclusive world.
James Dowling, parkrun Ireland
The Vhi parkrun Hero award for the month of August has been awarded to Sharon Ashmore from Royal Canal parkrun. The monthly award recognises and rewards inspirational, hardworking, and dedicated members of the parkrun community who embody the ethos of parkrun or have made an outstanding contribution – be they participants or volunteers. As…
There was more youthful energy springing in Cork on 27 August with the launch of Clashduv junior parkrun. Clashduv Park is situated in the suburb of Togher and can be found here on Google Maps. The inaugural event attracted 45 junior parkrunners who walked, jogged and ran the 2k course, with the following two events well…