As 2022, parkrun’s 18th year, draws to a close, parkrun Founder Paul Sinton-Hewitt CBE reflects on a record breaking year.
We say it every year – it’s been another year like no other for parkrun.
2022 arrived, still shrouded in uncertainty and new variants of the Coronavirus were continuing to emerge.
But we were buoyant.
A new year, a new Chief Executive Officer, a reinvigorated sense of direction; same mission, same principles.
A healthier and happier planet. Free, for everyone, forever.
As the world began to recover from a monumentally challenging few years, we still firmly believe that community events like parkrun have a vital part to play.
The opportunity for people to take part in free, inclusive, regular physical activity has never been more important.
Now more than ever we must sing from the rooftops that at parkrun you don’t need any fancy kit, you don’t need to pay to take part, there’s no sign up fee, you just register online, get your barcode, turn up and take part at any one of more than 2,200 locations across more than 20 countries around the world.
Whenever you like, however you like, as many times as you like.
It doesn’t matter who you are, what your ability level is, how old you are, where you came from, what your background is; and all participation at parkrun is equal – walk, jog, run, volunteer.
The power of community
It is this coming together of people from all walks of life, on such a large scale, that never fails to truly humble me.
This year we have witnessed it in ways we have never seen before.
parkrun communities across the world throwing open their arms to refugees fleeing war in Ukraine, standing shoulder to shoulder with those in need.
Local communities, given autonomy, approaching sombre and difficult situations with respect and kindness.
Every year my belief that people are good, and people are kind, is reaffirmed.
2022 saw us reach 100,000 events worldwide, and 50,000 events in the UK for the first time ever in a calendar year.
We’re a long way from 13 runners and five volunteers, in one park that first event in 2004.
This year the eight millionth person registered for parkrun.
Our commitment to reaching those most in need
Each year we aim to become more and more interventionist in our methods, more and more committed to putting parkruns in places they are needed most, and removing the barriers that many people face when thinking about taking part for the first time.
We continue to nurture our hugely valuable relationships – like the parkrun practice initiative, which sees GP surgeries partner with their local parkrun events and signpost to events for both physical and mental health, for both patients and staff.
This year parkrun practices launched in Australia, and we celebrated four successful years of the initiative in the UK and three in Ireland.
Across the UK, Australia and Ireland, we continue to see the success of our junior parkrun series, which too saw record numbers this year; with 400 junior events taking place, and a record of almost 8,000 people volunteering, across one weekend.
November marked five years since parkruns began in prisons. Saturday morning events take place around the world, every weekend, on custodial estates ranging from youth offending institutions, to correctional facilities, and women’s prisons.
Doing things differently
This October, as parkrun turned 18, we changed our name to parkwalk in a month-long celebration of walking at parkrun; giving visible and vocal permission to anyone who felt like they needed it.
Walking is, and always will be, welcome at parkrun.
During the campaign more than 100,000 walks were recorded, and over 10,000 people walked with us for the very first time.
The new volunteer ‘parkwalker’ role was introduced, an optional additional volunteer presence for those that want to, to mingle through the field of walkers, in addition to the tail walker who is there to make sure nobody ever finishes last.
The month also saw parkrun participation figures return to something closer to pre-pandemic levels. And I’m so pleased to tell you that the surge has remained, and as we head into the new year, participation numbers are holding steady.
We’re proud to share the stories of those who are different, those who might feel marginalised, or consider physical activity something that isn’t for them – at parkrun it is for you. It is for everyone.
The new year gives us an opportunity to reflect and celebrate but it can also be a difficult time of year.
We believe that physical activity should be enjoyed, that time spent outside, in the company of others, should be prioritised and celebrated, not considered essential in order to burn calories.
We’ll also never stop trying to get that message to the people who might need to hear it the most. This year in the UK, we started a print magazine. Every issue has a pull out section which is designed to be passed on to anyone thinking about doing their first parkrun.
We wanted to offer people time away from screens and for those who don’t own a computer, or aren’t as familiar with technology, to have the opportunity to discover parkrun in a different way.
Demand has so far outstripped supply and so far we’ve distributed almost 200,000 copies of the first two issues, and are looking forward to publishing our third magazine in the spring of 2023.
parkrun operates within a vital ecosystem, a support network united in a common goal.
This year we’ve seen a further commitment from our partners in the UK, including Sport England, plus we welcomed five new commercial partners, Blue Frog, Polar, WithU, Lidl and De’Longhi, across the world. Medibank became presenting partner in Australia, and our official footwear partner in the UK and Ireland Brooks saw successful event visits in more of our European countries.
Our charity partner in the UK, Alzhimer’s Research UK, has celebrated raising nearly £2m from the generosity of parkrunners over eight years. We also collaborated with BBC Children in Need for the first time, to welcome The Body Coach, Joe Wicks, and saw more than 4,000 people ‘Walk With Joe’ at four special events.
We’re looking forward to working more with our partners as we continue to learn, develop and grow.
Without doubt our biggest supporters and champions are our network of more than 600 ambassadors around the world.
Providing us valuable expertise in everything from social media, to event day support and photography – a special thank you to all of you, for everything you do for parkrun.
The success of parkrun is, in no small part, down to the contribution of many.
I’d like to pause here to thank you all. The volunteers, the walkers, joggers and runners, our small staff team around the world, and all of our partners and supporters.
Without the huge team effort from everyone, there would be no parkrun.
Growing and learning for the future
This year we’ve surveyed more people, in more languages than ever before, and have dedicated time to develop even more insights into barriers to participation – whether that be walking, jogging, running or volunteering.
We will continue working with our communities, partners and parkrunners to deliver more campaigns like parkwalk, reach more people, and make more people healthier and happier as a result.
Since it began eighteen years ago, five million different people around the world have done a parkrun, and this year alone more than a quarter of a million different people volunteered.
Wishing everyone a wonderful festive period and all the very best for 2023.
Paul Sinton-Hewitt CBE
Jeannette Liebig was a keen parkrunner, going every Saturday morning until she was diagnosed with breast cancer last summer. It was only in the following weeks and months that she recognised the significance the parkrun community had on her life. Exercise has always been important to me. My husband, Alex, quit smoking years ago…
All around the world, we’ve seen more than 28,000 different people volunteer in the parkwalker role and together, they’ve parkwalked more than 52,000 times! We speak to one of the parkwalkers, Cathy Hannon, about why she chooses to volunteer in her favourite role every Saturday morning. Cathy’s chronic condition means that parkwalking is the…