Late last month our founder, Paul Sinton-Hewitt CBE, wrote to every single parkrunner around the world offering his reflections on 2016 and a few thoughts for 2017. In particular, he said “our vision is to create a healthier and happier planet by continually breaking down barriers to participation and bringing people together from all walks of life whenever they want to come along”, so I thought I’d take this opportunity to consider what that means for parkrun UK.
As recently as a year-or-two ago we realised we had an opportunity to positively impact the world to a level that far exceeded what you’d ever expect from a free, weekly, timed run. And once we’d changed our mission statement from the original “a parkrun everywhere someone wants one” to “a healthier and happier planet” we set about considering every single thing we do, in the context of that ambitious dream, and it rapidly dawned on us that we were falling short in our desire to remove as many barriers as possible.
In the early days of parkrun we felt, understandably at the time, that by simply making our events free, welcoming, and ‘only’ 5k, that that would be enough for anyone and everyone to come along and get involved. What we’ve learned over the last 12 years, nearly 80,000 events, and 13 million run performances though, is that breaking down barriers to participation is about so much more than sticking a free, friendly, event in a park. For many of those most in need of support, simply finding out about parkrun is really unlikely right now, then if we break down that barrier we need to consider conveying the right message, once over that getting to the event itself can be a huge challenge for many people. With each challenge comes a certain drop-out rate and although many people might even get as far as the park itself, they can easily be put-off by the sight of so many happy-looking seemingly-confident people. You and I know we’re just the same as them, we really are, but getting that message across isn’t as simple as you might think.
So in 2016 we really started focusing on outreach work. We developed specific projects aimed to increase participation amongst, for example, people with visual impairments, people who have diabetes, those who are deaf and hard of hearing, and children (and their families) from deprived communities. We’ve worked tirelessly to showcase stories of all kinds of people from all walks of life taking those first brave steps and ending up as passionate parkrunners. We’ve worked hard to market our events to those most in need, and in turn worked hard to increase the welcome first-timers receive and the support for those where simply participating is a life-changing moment. Going forwards we will intensify our efforts to engage those most in need and will do everything we possibly can to reach out across the length and breadth of the United Kingdom, but it will take time and, as always, our focus will be on long-term success over short-term impact.
Now, I’m more aware than most that writing in the parkrun UK newsletter I’m largely preaching to the converted. So I’d like you to take a moment to consider your home parkrun through the eyes of someone who many not be as healthy, happy, able, confident, or fortunate as yourself. And then consider what you might be able to do to support your friends, family and neighbours in taking what is for many a challenging step, and coming along on a Saturday or Sunday morning. Every single one of us can do something, and often it’s the smallest seemingly-insignificant interaction that snowballs into a total transformation in someone’s life. Just ask PSH himself – all he did was invite a few mates to his local park.
Here’s to an amazing 2017. And, by the way, we’ve only just begun.
Photos courtesy of Bruce Li
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