parkrun’s PROVE project (parkrun; Running or Volunteering for Everyone) has been set up to make parkrun more welcoming and accessible for people with disabilities or long term health conditions.
As part of the project, volunteers have been appointed as parkrun Champions to help inform the work that is being done. One such Champion is Philippa Merricks, who shares her story of being a parkrunner who is Deaf, and updates us on what is being done to make parkrun more accessible for the hundreds of thousands of other people in the UK who are Deaf and hard of hearing.
I started running in 2011 which led me to my first parkrun in 2012. Since then I’ve been bitten by the parkrun bug and I like to get to different events whenever I can. I’ve criss-crossed the country on my parkrun adventures, from Dartmoor to Edinburgh plus lots of places in between. I’ve just clocked up my 20th different parkrun venue, the beautiful Rutland Water parkrun in the East Midlands, which was a very special day for reasons I’ll explain later.
I often ask myself what it is I love about parkrun and I always come back to just two words; ‘fun’ and ‘inclusive’. We all know parkrun is fun and for me that comes from the fact that it gives me an incentive to meet new people and visit new places, gets me out into the open air, and allows me to scratch a competitive itch by striving to improve my times week after week. We all know parkrun is inclusive, it doesn’t matter if you walk or run, if you’re slow or fast, if you’re a volunteer or a runner, everyone is made to feel welcome and no one should be treated differently. I’m sure all parkrunners will agree with that sentiment and for me it has a particularly special meaning because I’m Deaf.
More than half a million people in the UK aged under 45 are living with some form of hearing loss and the figures get progressively bigger for older age groups. Deafness, and hearing loss, can be a cause of isolation and loneliness. parkrun does better than a lot of organisations about addressing this but, as with my 5k PB(!), there’s always room to do better. I was excited therefore to learn a few months ago that parkrun was on the hunt for specialist volunteers to become parkrun’s Champions for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing as part of their PROVE project. I applied and I was delighted when I heard that I’d been selected to take on this role along with two others, who’ve now become my good friends, Nic Corrigan and Victoria Knight-Phillips.
Nic, Victoria and I have a mission. We want to make parkrun more accessible for Deaf and hard of hearing parkrunners and we want to reach out to non-parkrunning Deaf and hard of hearing people to bring them into the parkrun world that the three of us know and love. We had lots of ideas about how we could do this and one that we were particularly keen to see through was to make some British Sign Language (BSL) films that could be used to promote parkrun to Deaf and hard of hearing people who might not know what parkrun is, or who might be nervous about not knowing what to expect at their first parkrun.
“BSL is used by 125,000 adults in the UK and an estimated 20,000 children. Many have BSL as their main language.”
We started planning and were lucky to find the wonderful Manjinder Jagdev, Event Director of Rutland Water parkrun, who has done so much to promote inclusiveness and accessibility at her event. Manjinder had already arranged for a signer, the lovely Amy Casselden, to be available at her run briefings for any Deaf or hard of hearing runners who might find that useful. So, it seemed a perfect opportunity for me to meet Amy at Rutland Water and have her join me in making parkrun’s first BSL films.
Filming is always a little bit nerve-inducing and I was glad to have Nic and Victoria to support me when we arrived early on parkrunday morning at Rutland Water to make our film. Victoria even helped me solve a costume crisis by lending me her Apricot parkrun jacket at the last minute for the filming! I shouldn’t have been nervous though, as I immediately hit it off with Amy and we had so much fun together both on and off camera. It turns out that Amy and I have something in common – we’re both soon to be married. My partner, Steven, actually proposed to me at mile 10 of the Uganda Half Marathon in June of last year and Amy would be rushing off after our filming to have a fitting for her wedding dress.
I was keen to hear Amy’s story and how she came to be signing at Rutland Water. She told me that she only started parkrunning seven weeks earlier when she was contacted by Manjinder who knew Amy was the Chairperson at Peterborough and District Deaf Children’s Society and wanted to know if she could put her in touch with anyone able to come along and sign the run briefings at Rutland Water. Amy went one better and offered to do this herself!
I wanted to know where Amy’s passion for deaf access came from. She told me she grew up with a Deaf brother and now has a Deaf son, so Deaf access is very important to her. Volunteering at parkrun would also give her an incentive to get out running so that was an added bonus for Amy. She told me she really enjoys volunteering and running at Rutland Water as everyone has a great attitude and is so welcoming and encouraging. Amy’s favourite parkrun so far was on Valentine’s Day when she was dressed up as a Fairy of Love and she thinks the wings on her outfit helped her achieve a new parkrun PB that week! My favourite quote from my time with Amy was when she was talking about how inclusive she’s found parkrun to be “This is how everything in life should be and I really love being part of it!”
“More than half a million people in the UK aged under 45 live with hearing loss. The figures get progressively bigger for older age groups.”
It was a long day at Rutland Water but Nic, Victoria and I had a lovely time thanks to the hospitality of Manjinder, Amy and all the runners and volunteers. The filming was fun and we’re very proud of the results, but it will all be in vain if we don’t use the films to reach out to non-parkrunning Deaf and hard of hearing people to let them know what they’ve been missing!
Nic, Victoria and I have our own plans about how we’re going to spread the message and we would love it if you could help too. If you know any Deaf or hard of hearing people, please share our films with them and tell them about parkrun’s Champions for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. We’ve set up a special Facebook group, ‘parkrun for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing’, which they’d be welcome to join. If you work for (or know of anyone who works for) any charities, advocacy or support groups, for the Deaf and hard of hearing, please ask them to share a link to the films on their social media pages. If you do so, it’d be great if you could let Nic, Victoria or me know too.
parkrun’s Champions for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing are:
Nic Corrigan (home parkrun Burnley) email@example.com
Victoria Knight-Phillips (home parkrun Huddersfield) firstname.lastname@example.org
Philippa Merricks (home parkrun Bromley) email@example.com
Each of us are happy to be contacted about parkrunning for the Deaf and hard of hearing.
And who knows, maybe you’ll see us on our future parkrun adventures one day. If you do, be sure to say ‘hello’, in BSL of course!
parkrun’s PROVE project (parkrun; Running or Volunteering for Everyone) has been set up to make parkrun more welcoming and accessible for people with disabilities or long term health conditions. More details about the project can be found here, and please email the PROVE project manager, Frank Jones, with any questions about the project.
parkrun is completely free, forever, for everyone, whether you walk, jog, run or volunteer! You can register here.
You can also volunteer as Sign Language Support at your local event. Find yours here.
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