Over recent years, parkrun has evolved from a successful series of running events having a positive impact on those taking part, to an organisation with a razor sharp focus on a very clear objective.
parkrun is now a global charity operating in 20 countries around the world, with the single purpose of improving the health and wellbeing of the communities in which our events are delivered. Every aspect of our strategy, operations, communications and decision making is steered by our view of health and wellbeing and our mission to deliver positive health outcomes.
Many countries around the world are experiencing a health crisis, such as skyrocketing incidents of diabetes, increased levels of obesity, and children as young as four having teeth extracted because of decay. We also read headlines about the devastating effects isolation, loneliness, stress and depression are having on the health and wellbeing of millions of people. People are moving their bodies less, looking at artificial light more, and consuming increasing amounts of processed foods and drinks that can be toxic and addictive.
To counter this epidemic of ill health we are bombarded with messages that claim to have the solution – from lotions and potions to expensive exercise classes, precise specifications about activity levels and calorie consumption, from different diets to miracle superfoods, from solutions that use technology to those that tell us to avoid it.
Yet the situation stays the same or, in many cases, gets worse.
Why are we telling you this?
We believe it’s time to look at activity, health and wellbeing differently, and for this perspective to steer our decision making. We should value and encourage quality time spent with friends and family, skill development, a sense of community, feeling valued, personal quests, confidence boosting achievements, talking through problems, sharing of experiences, being in the open air and immersed in nature and moving our bodies in a natural and joyful way. These are the true cornerstones of health and happiness. These are the cornerstones of parkrun, and have been from the outset.
On 2 October 2004, 18 people gathered in Bushy Park, London, to run or volunteer at the very first parkrun. For Paul Sinton-Hewitt, whose idea it was to gather his friends in the park, it was never about the ‘run’. Having lost his job, endured a relationship breakdown and suffered an injury that prevented him from running with his mates, he felt socially disconnected and isolated. Paul believed that parkrun would create an environment that would make him more positive, confident, re-connected to nature and, in the simplest terms, healthier and happier. And it did. What Paul could never have imagined though was the impact that free, outdoor, socially-focussed community events would have in making millions of other people healthier and happier too.
Over the past 14 years this winning formula has been embraced by 1,700 communities around the globe, proving beyond doubt that parkrun has a significant role to play in promoting health and wellbeing and reducing health inequalities.
So what’s next?
As an international movement committed to empowering people and communities to be healthier and happier, we will champion and promote what we believe are the building blocks for a holistic healthy lifestyle. Fundamental are movement, quality social interaction and positive relationships. But there are also other contributing factors that extend far beyond a Saturday and Sunday morning. Of these, diet and sleep are perhaps two of the most important.
It’s true that nutritional choices can be complex, but at the most basic level there is no doubt that natural, fresh and unprocessed food and drink are the foundation of a healthy diet. There is also growing evidence about the impact of sleep deprivation on health and wellbeing. Whether it be through stress, the consumption of certain foods and drinks, technology or artificial light our ability to get regular, restful sleep is diminishing. The parkrun voice will be added to those who are advocating for change in these areas.
Of course, health and wellbeing are different for everyone, and we respect people’s freedom to pursue what really matters to them and what they have reason to value. Any activities seeking to improve health and address rising inequalities must be strategic and targeted, taking into account the differing and dynamic backgrounds, needs and resources of individuals and communities.
Whilst we aspire to positively influence those who run, walk and volunteer at parkrun, and the wider communities in which they operate, we do not have all the answers. We are committed to opening the parkrun door to as many people as possible, which means asking questions and listening to people from all walks of life. With targeted, incremental steps, parkrun can continue to improve the health and happiness of people, communities and entire countries.
The parkrun journey started with Paul’s own health back in 2004, and continues with the five million people registered around the world and the millions more who will print their barcode in the future. Each barcode represents a life, and if parkrun can impact each of those lives in a significant and positive way we can achieve our mission of creating a healthier and happier planet.
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