How you choose to participate at parkrun, and whether or not you choose to go, is entirely up to you. Getting involved as a walker, runner, volunteer or spectator, parkrun means different things to different people on different weeks. What is consistent, however, is how we get involved must always be a choice.
When it comes to helping at parkrun, we’re proud to have introduced the option of volunteering for so many people each weekend. We are always looking for ways to increase the opportunities to volunteer, which reflects how our understanding of volunteering has evolved.
There was a time when events would aim to ‘make do’ with as few volunteers as possible. As such, many fell into the trap of viewing volunteering as a sacrifice, of giving something up or doing our duty, which can eventually lead to a resentment of those who walk or run but rarely or never volunteer. This doesn’t make us healthier and happier nor does it lead to a positive volunteer experience.
Over time we’ve come to understand from extensive volunteer feedback, helping out is as beneficial to the volunteer as it is to those they are supporting. Having fun, being social, learning or applying skills, doing something meaningful and being part of a team are positive and life-affirming experiences. If we fall into the trap of guilt-tripping people into volunteering, they are more likely to have a negative experience and never try it again.
We now appreciate parkrun events can create almost endless opportunities for people to get involved in a way that is comfortable and enjoyable to them. Along with the more obvious roles, people can set up the course, deliver a first-timer welcome, sign for deaf parkrunners, marshal, cheer, take photos, guide visually impaired people, grab their phone and scan a few barcodes, put the equipment away, process results, manage event social media channels and write event reports. There really is a role for everyone and, after all, arrows and turnaround cones are no substitute for smiling marshals on course!
We regularly hear from people who were nervous about helping out in a particular role but by doing something else within their comfort zone, it gave them the confidence to try other roles.
Your fondest parkrun memories may be getting a new PB or visiting a new event but how many involve volunteering? Did you have a laugh with another parkrunner when scanning, enjoy the camaraderie amongst the volunteers on a freezing cold winter morning or the sense of achievement you felt after your first Run Directing gig?
Volunteering is an act of choice and should be its own reward. If you don’t want to volunteer, that’s absolutely fine. Volunteering must be done simply for the pleasure of doing it and not to hit an arbitrary target of volunteering a certain number of times per year.
We also know people who were nervous about being in a large group when parkrun reopened, have stayed involved with their event through volunteering in physically distanced roles such as marshalling, tail walking, taking photos and barcode scanning, or by processing results or looking after event social media channels.
All these opportunities create pathways to volunteering. They open the possibility of exploring new roles and in turn, increase the number of people who have had a positive volunteering experience. They are then more likely to help out again and tell other people how rewarding volunteering can be.
When you think about your parkrun plans this weekend, maybe you’ll volunteer and maybe you won’t. Not everyone can or will and that’s okay. Just as parkrun is always there whenever you need or want it, volunteering will always be there if and when you feel like it, too.
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