News, Press - 14th March 2016

Government funding to help parkrun boost health of people with disabilities and long-term health conditions


parkrun UK has been awarded government funding to embark on a three-year project, which aims to improve the health and wellbeing of disabled and excluded groups by increasing physical activity and social engagement.


The project will be funded through the Department of Health’s Innovation, Excellence and Strategic Development (IESD) Fund. It will initially focus on people from one or two impairment groups, then expanded to cover all regions and a wide range of disabilities.


Other excluded groups will be added in response to local need and in partnership with public health leaders. Such groups have greater health needs than the rest of the population and would benefit more from increased physical activity, yet they are unlikely to see themselves as ill or in need of health interventions.


The project aims to:

  • Support habitual physical activity and social engagement across all ages from four upwards;
  • Provide opportunities for all, to participate in recreational running as a runner or volunteer;
  • Break down barriers to participation for those in the greatest need.


The parkrun vision has always been for an event ‘in every community that wants one,’ which has meant waiting for groups to come forward requesting support in establishing a parkrun. As a result, some communities are less well-represented – often the very groups who would most benefit – including disabled people such as those with mobility impairment, learning disability, sensory disability or enduring mental health problems.


Head of Event Delivery for parkrun UK Helen Hood said: “parkrun is in a position to genuinely improve the nation’s health and in doing this we can support the statutory health services to deliver better value for money. We can provide the help people need to make physical activity a regular habit.


“Our appeal as a highly social organisation at the margins of both sport and health makes us attractive to many people who would reject more mainstream activities. Almost one-third of our participants take more than 30 minutes to complete 5k, so we know we are seen as welcoming and supportive to all.


“We offer a full and valued role in sport for everyone, irrespective of economic or educational background, disability, race, gender or age.”


Sports and recreation providers are strong at creating opportunities for those who are already motivated to engage, but are often much weaker at creating the interest and motivation in the first place. Memories of school PE lessons and anxieties about cost can prevent many people from even considering taking up a sport. The latest figures from the Active People Survey show a significant drop-off in participation by disabled people in particular.


Chief Medical Officer for England Dame Sally Davies said: “Physical activity has extensive benefits for physical and mental health and wellbeing. parkrun delivers a space for people of all abilities, and all ages, to get our running shoes on and raise our heart rates with a supportive community that can help us to achieve our physical activity goals.


“parkrun and junior parkrun is community led, and community facing, allowing local authorities to benefit the health of their population by simply supporting parkrun with a location and helping it to be visible.”


parkruns do no have cut-off times and the final finisher is cheered as enthusiastically as the first. Volunteer ambassadors are chosen for their inclusive and supportive attitudes and instill this into event directors and other volunteers.


Aaron Hill, whose 18-year-old son Andrew suffers from dyslexia, dyspraxia, autism and mild learning difficulties, believes parkrun has transformed Andrew from an inactive boy with low self-esteem to a physically active young man with a feeling of self-worth.


“Andrew’s conditions have always affected his confidence and his ability to interact socially and he shied away from sports and was excused from PE classes. But since he started running in 2013, the transformation that parkrun has had on his development has been astonishing. His running and general health and fitness continues to improve, and through volunteering he is making friends and learning leadership and social skills that will prove invaluable when he moves into the world of work.”


31-year-old Christina Ransom, who was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis 12 years ago, discovered parkrun in January 2015 and has been a regular participant ever since, as well as becoming a volunteer run director.


“My first parkrun took me an hour and 20 minutes to complete, and since then my fitness and confidence has improved so much that I can now complete the course in half that time. Everyone is supportive and upbeat and I got completely wrapped up in the atmosphere from my first experience – there’s no reason that anyone can’t do it.


“The feel-good factor I get from volunteering is a real added bonus, whether it be coordinating the 5k parkrun on Saturday or helping out at junior parkrun when my two children are taking part on Sunday.”

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