Our work is guided by the philosophy, increasingly supported by research, that participation in parkrun contributes to improved health and wellbeing. This is now reflected in our mission statement “a healthier and happier planet”, as parkrun’s Health and Wellbeing Lead Chrissie Wellington explains.
The benefits of physical activity are only the tip of the iceberg in terms of parkrun being a health-enabler. Friendship, community cohesion, mutual support, access to open space and fresh air, skill development and personal and professional empowerment are just some of the reasons why participation in parkrun can lead to improved mental and physical health and happiness.
However, organic growth can only take us so far and targeted, tailored support is required if we are to meaningfully impact health inequalities. In 2017 we took great strides in the pursuit of our mission to make the world healthier and happier.
We continue to work closely with the Advanced Wellbeing Research Centre (AWRC) in Sheffield, who chair the parkrun Research Board, to undertake the research and build insight in line with our priorities. We also undertake internal research which can inform the development of interventions and enable us to evaluate our impact.
For example, in August 2017 we conducted a UK-wide survey to find out whether healthcare practitioners are signposting people to parkrun (also known as social prescribing), the methods for doing so and the barriers that might exist. The 1,800 plus survey responses are being used to guide our work on social prescribing. We are forging and nurturing strong relationships with the health sector in order to make advances in this area, including the recruitment of two GPs as Health and Wellbeing Ambassadors who are passionate about using parkrun to improve the health and wellbeing of individuals and the communities in which they live.
Furthermore, our research into those who register but don’t take part also continued. Through this we have developed important insights on which to base the development of revised email communications to new registrants to overcome some of the barriers to participation that have been identified.
In line with our UK Participation Strategy, we have continued to promote participation by those who are least active and/or have lower levels of health. This included the significant step of establishing parkruns in prisons in order to facilitate rehabilitation, improve health and wellbeing of staff, prisoners and their families, and reduce reoffending. The first HMP-based event, Black Combe parkrun, was launched in November 2017 at HMP Haverigg in Cumbria and has catalysed significant interest from other prisons in the UK and overseas. Our initiative has been extremely well received from within and beyond the parkrun community, including the UK Government, and we intend to grow the number of HMP events in 2018 and beyond.
We are also expanding our activities under our PROVE (parkrun Running Or Volunteering for Everyone) and Visual Impairment (VI) projects, to increase engagement by those with long term health conditions. These projects are based on a peer support approach, led by volunteer Outreach Ambassadors with specialist expertise. By December 2017, 10 different, condition-specific groups had been set up covering asthma, blood pressure conditions, deaf and hard of hearing, dementia, diabetes, endometriosis, heart conditions, learning disabilities/autism spectrum disorder, obesity and visual impairment.
In 2017, UK parkrun events saw a 30% increase in the number of walks, jogs and runs by participants living in the most deprived quartile of the UK.*
In February, junior parkrun in the UK welcomed its 100,000th different participant as more than 11,000 4-14 year-olds took part across 147 events that weekend. By the end of the year the number of junior events had soared to 199. Encouragingly, more than 40% of participants were accompanied by adults, showing that junior parkrun really is a family affair and can have significant health benefits for adults as well as juniors.
In 2017 we made the subtle but significant change to the title of Tail Runner to Tail Walker, as a reflection of our commitment to supporting participation by those who want to walk. In addition, we actively encourage all 5k events to have welcome briefings for first timers, and have supported the introduction of volunteers trained in British Sign Language (BSL) and the growth of a guide-runner network. Throughout 2017, we expanded our network of Outreach Ambassadors who have the specialist knowledge to work with specific communities to drive participation.
We continued to nuance our messaging to ensure it resonates with our target audiences. We have also developed resources, such as the 5k and junior parkrun health and wellbeing flyers. The flyers have been disseminated to a range of stakeholders as a means of encouraging people to take part in parkrun, especially those who are inactive.
*Deprivation figures calculated using Government Index of Multiple Deprivation (IMD) data based on home postcode of participant.
Chrissie’s article is taken from parkrun UK’s 2017 Annual ‘Run Report’. You can access the full online report using this link. It looks best when viewed in full-screen.
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