2017 has been the most wonderful and transformational year in the history of parkrun as our growth has continued unabated. I’m delighted that this year saw us start more events around the world in a single year than ever before.
Total global registrations passed four million, we recorded one million performances in a single calendar month for the first time, and Namibia, Swaziland, Norway, Finland and Germany joined the parkrun family. There are now over 1,300 parkruns across 19 countries, including more than 200 junior parkruns.
Behind the scenes, we developed new technology to make it even easier for volunteers to scan barcodes and time parkrunners, which importantly drives down the cost of starting new parkrun events in financially constrained parkrun territories. This has been a real focus and is a major achievement, as we look forward to the thousands of new events we will be starting in the next 10 years or so. Finding a way to be able to reduce the costs associated with starting an event is key to ensuring we can manage the ever increasing costs of maintaining such a huge global movement.
We also unveiled our new brand colours. It’s really important that our branding retains a modern contemporary feel and I’m really pleased that the changes represent just a subtle refresh of the brand which had largely remained the same for the past 10 years. We’ll all get to see more of this being rolled out in 2018.
Furthermore, we took great strides towards obtaining global charity status and developing a completely new website that will enable us to process in excess of one million results every weekend at 12,000 events across 25 countries by the early 2020s.
The greatest achievements however were behind these big numbers. More than ever before, 2017 was about the impact that parkrun is making around the world. Personally, I’ve really enjoyed visiting so many different new events in 2017 and hearing so many stories about how parkrun is having positive health and social benefits for real people. Of course we can now all see that this is not just on Saturday and Sunday mornings, but throughout the week as well.
Every week on social media, in our newsletters and in the press I am overwhelmed to see how parkrun has played its part in helping people to improve their lives. We have welcomed more people to parkrun for whom physical activity was not the norm, and in doing so we are redefining what it means, and looks like, to be physically active.
We have always worked hard to break down the barriers to physical activity and volunteering for those who traditionally have been the least likely to be involved, but we are now in a position to proactively engage with sections of society that potentially have the most to gain from parkrun. Our PROVE (parkrun: Running or Volunteering for Everyone) project – which encourages people with disabilities and long term health conditions to participate at parkrun – now covers nine different conditions and has support groups with thousands of members.
Our Corporate Social Responsibility partnership with Warburtons has helped us to launch 36 junior parkruns in areas of deprivation in 2017, and we have fostered closer links with the NHS as more and more health professionals ‘prescribe’ parkrun to their patients.
And most recently, the launch of Black Combe parkrun – the first event inside a prison – was a watershed moment in showing that the parkrun model can be effective at reaching some of the most vulnerable people in our society. As a result of the success of this first event, a second prison parkrun will launch early in the New Year and we are confident that many more will follow.
Against the backdrop of these significant achievements is the reality that one thing hasn’t changed: in 2017 we have continued to operate on extremely limited resources. parkrun makes up two thirds of the UK’s running market and continues to grow faster than anyone else, but we are constantly working to secure long-term financial sustainability. Guaranteeing that parkrun is free, for everyone, forever, will always be our number one priority and as we grow at a faster and faster rate this challenge will always exist.
One of my biggest frustrations is the failure of the wider physical activity sector to give credit to the impact we are making and to listen to our learnings and insight around supporting people becoming more active.
Over the last 13 years, parkrun has developed a scalable model of operating and we have used the power of positive celebration of everyone’s achievements and the focus on fun, social, free, local, egalitarian physical activity to encourage people to take part. I strongly feel that the patronising blame culture being adopted by a number of physical activity providers in an attempt to shame more people into activity has failed for a generation and it is frustrating to see it being blindly repeated.
Whilst we continue to voice our opinion that these outdated practices can’t and won’t work, hundreds of millions of pounds are being spent annually to try and increase activity levels, and yet our voice is still not being heard or taken seriously.
We have grown to become the world’s largest running event, the largest provider of free physical activity and quite possibly the largest provider of volunteering opportunities on the planet. We are a leading light in breaking down the barriers to participation, combatting inactivity, fostering diversity and inclusion and promoting social justice. We aredriving the agenda in these areas and are the real benchmark in our industry.
When the government unveiled its Strategy for Sport in 2015 we were encouraged to see volunteers and young children at the heart of this new policy. We will continue to argue for a fair and reasonable funding contribution that recognises the impact parkrun is and will continue to make in these areas, and that appropriate investment would go a long way in securing the financial sustainability that constantly challenges us. I am really confident that we will be able to agree that funding in 2018 after a lengthy period of discussions and negotiations.
As parkrun continues to grow, as we embrace new technology and as we engage with more communities, the challenges we face also continue to grow. To this end, we must all sincerely thank our commercial partners and sponsors, whose contribution helps ensure that parkrun remains free for all.
This year we announced a landmark partnership with Health and Life insurer, Vitality, who became the first presenting partner of parkrun UK. We also welcomed Leeds Building Society and Exodus Travels, and continue to be supported by Intersport and Alzheimer’s Research UK, our official charity partner. It’s crucial for us to partner with organisations that share our values, and these partnerships support the continued growth of new parkrun events and the expansion of junior parkrun.
We must also pay tribute to Tribe Sports. As well as fulfilling their commitment to provide, for free, 100,000 milestone shirts, they also worked with us to expand the parkrun Apricot range in 2017. The sale of Apricot plays a significant role in ensuring the future of parkrun, and I would like to personally thank everyone who has purchased one of these items. No matter which parkrun I visit each week I am greeted with a sea of Apricot clothing.
Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to express my personal gratitude to more than 180,000 people who volunteered for parkrun this year. From the network of hundreds of ambassadors, to the people who set each course up on a Saturday or Sunday morning, to those who process the results and post the photos and run reports online afterwards. Every one of you plays an integral role and I am immensely proud of everyone who has pulled on the hi-vis this year.
parkrun wouldn’t happen each week without everybody who walks, jogs and runs. Nor would it be possible without the volunteers, our commercial partners and sponsors, the councils and landowners who provide permission every weekend for our events to take place, and our small but dedicated team of paid staff.
For parkrun to be successful it is critical that we remember that we are a community of equals where every single person shares the same value and where every single one of you plays a part. The continued commitment and support from each of you means that we move into 2018 in a stronger position than ever before. We are all parkrunners and we all make parkrun what it is.
No matter how much we evolve and how much more efficient we become as an organisation, what drives us more than anything is to keep the parkrun experience the same as it has been since those early events in 2004. As we enter our teenage years we are in a fantastic position to continue with our mission to help make the world a healthier and happier place.
Wishing you a happy and prosperous 2018,
Paul Sinton-Hewitt, CBE
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