As we move into the new year, parkrun Founder Paul Sinton-Hewitt CBE reflects on another extraordinary 12 months for parkrun.
Looking at the number of live events, it’s clear how far we have come in the past year. At the end of 2020, and what was an incredibly difficult year, there were just 300 parkrun events taking place in six countries around the world.
As this year draws to a close, it does so with a familiar feeling of uncertainty. Sadly, some of us face new or continued restrictions that will close our events. It is deeply frustrating that, nearly two years on, we are still living with the consequences of the pandemic. But as I look back on this year and think about the year to come, I do so with cautious optimism.
But it has been quite the 12 months to get here. I’d even suggest it has been the most challenging year in parkrun’s history.
Despite the widespread restrictions resulting in continued cancellations, the year started much like any other in the parkrun world. We launched a new global initiative, The parkrun Resolution, to keep our communities engaged, to foster togetherness, and keep us united, promoting the benefits of movement in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic.
The rollout of vaccines gave us hope, but we still faced many months of lockdowns and restrictions which prevented events from restarting, and in some places still does.
Perhaps the greatest challenge was here in the birthplace of parkrun, in the UK, as we tried and failed, and tried again, to bring back 1,000 events in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales .
I’d like to thank every single person who had a hand in ensuring the return of our local community events. Seeing others take on our cause so vehemently, including the likes of Lord Seb Coe, London Mayor Sadiq Khan, and political figures from all sides of Parliament, including the UK Prime Minister, was humbling to see.
It also gives me great hope for the future. To know our movement is cherished, to know it is recognised and celebrated now as a public health initiative that benefits the physical and mental health of so many, and that it should be protected at all costs. It’s clear that parkrun really is no longer just a run in the park.
All around the world, as high profile figures were taking on our cause, pushing for the return of our free, weekly, community events; for people to be together again, in the great outdoors, the whole parkrun family was rallying together too.
Ambassadors, volunteers, supporters, partners, all joined the chorus. The immense work of parkrun ambassadors must be recognised and celebrated. Their dedication and support throughout the pandemic was invaluable. To all of you, I thank you, for being the guardians and champions of parkrun in the most challenging of times.
I continue to be truly humbled by the efforts that parkrunners go to in order to look after each other. It reinforces what I already know – people are good, and people are kind.
We promised we’d never give up, and the swell of support for our rallying cry has eventually brought about the return of events in most of our territories.
In the absence of normal events, it has been a joy to see the parkrun community engage with the (not)parkrun initiative. I’m pleased to say that (not)parkrun will be staying – so anyone, anywhere, any time, can walk, jog or run their own 5k and still feel a part of the family.
It was amazing to see over 10,000 (not)parkrunners who hadn’t ever joined us at a physical parkrun event logging their 5k walks, jogs and runs. More than 2,300 of them have now been to an event, and we welcome them, as we welcome everyone who joined us for the first time this year.
In the darkest of moments there is always opportunity and this year, despite everything, I think we’ve managed to do some of our best work.
The rest of the world has now joined Germany, Japan, and the Netherlands in fully adopting the Virtual Volunteer app for timing and scanning. I want to thank you all for embracing those changes with the ever-present enthusiasm and gusto we are so accustomed to seeing from the parkrun family.
We’ve also introduced the new milestone clubs. For many years we have believed that participation at parkrun is equal. And that whether someone chooses to walk, jog, run or volunteer, all are welcome and we value them the same. So it’s long been a frustration that there has been only one milestone t-shirt for volunteers. More than 19,000 people have claimed a milestone t-shirt since the changes came in.
It’s important to also remember that none of the above would be possible without the support and dedication of our partners, and I’d like to personally thank them, and to welcome our new partners too. In the midst of all the chaos, our partners demonstrated their understanding of what parkrun is all about. Their unwavering support, over the last two years in particular, has meant we approach 2022 stronger than before.
Next year parkrun will move into a new era as we bid farewell to our CEO of nearly seven years, Nick Pearson.
Nick has transformed the organisation in a number of significant ways including the transition to becoming a UK-based global charity, a new governance structure, finding ways to provide long-term financial security and overseeing dramatic growth in the number of regular participants and events.
I want to express my heartfelt thanks to Nick – for being a tremendous leader, a wonderful custodian of parkrun, and a brilliant colleague.
Nick, you will be greatly missed, but, on behalf of the whole parkrun family, I wish you the best in whatever challenge you choose to tackle next.
I am delighted that Russ Jefferys has agreed to take over as CEO in February 2022.
Russ has been involved with parkrun for nearly a decade, and for the past almost seven years he has worked, alongside Nick, as Global Head of Communications.
As parkrun moves towards its adulthood, I am excited that Russ has accepted the challenge of leading us in this next phase of growth. Both I and the other trustees are looking forward to working with Russ to grow our impact on the world; helping people be the best version of themselves and improving health and wellbeing.
So as this year draws to a close, I am reflecting on a difficult yet rewarding 12 months.
But I’m also looking ahead. Together we have achieved so much. In the most challenging times we have pulled together and we are stronger for it.
I am immensely proud of you all, and I can’t wait to see what’s next.
Wishing you all every health and happiness for the new year.
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