In January, the prison-based parkrun at HMP Leyhill in South Gloucestershire got underway.
parkrun Ambassador Peter Hayes attended the inaugural Cromhall event and shared this run report…
It was pitch black and drizzling outside PEI Cross’s office as we checked our equipment and prepared for the prison’s inaugural parkrun. The sign in the gym entrance read “one day to go” and the anticipation had been building. More than 50 prisoners had signed up.
The core team consisted of 3 prison officers and 8 orderlies. We’d walked through a parkrun a few weeks before; setting up all the kit, borrowed from another event, and then all moving through the funnel as we charted the runner’s parkrun journey. I realised at that point that this was going to be doable, impactful, and a whole lot of fun.
A prison-based parkrun differs in a few aspects to one in the community, but essentially it is exactly the same event. Nobody could learn the ropes the usual way, by running a parkrun and then gradually working their way through all the volunteer roles. We had to do all our training hands-on from the word go. To Mr Cross’s credit, he’d been down to his local event to run and volunteer and in a relatively short period of time he had got a true grasp of what parkrun is all about.
So, with two practice events under our belts, we opened up the pavilion and the lads started to turn up and file in. Despite the weather, there was a genuine buzz in the air. The anticipation of a new event, how many would turn up? Would all the volunteers show? One prisoner from the core team said; “In prison, loads of people will sign up for stuff, but you never exactly know who will actually make it on the day.” We needn’t have worried as we soon had the full contingent. “Nuno’s here but he won’t be awake until later!” somebody quipped.
Malcolm gave me a nod and a smile, he’d told me the week before how much he’d enjoyed marshalling the first corner. “It reminds me of when I was a football manager, cheering them all on” he said with just a little longing in his eye, “but I can’t run now, I did my cruciate ligament” – then John told me how his son-in-law, daughter and granddaughter were all parkrunning their local event in the community, and so with him able to run Cromhall parkrun now, it really felt like they were doing something together.
He was looking forward to parkrunning with them on his release. The lead PEI told me how important it was that prisoners kept in contact with those they’d left behind outside. A relationship maintained meant that they integrated better on their return home and had a welcoming place to go back to. All of which tended to help prevent re-offending. If parkrun could play one little part in this, then job done.
With the parkrun feather flag flapping in a gentle breeze, by 8:55am PEI Cross was ready to deliver his first briefing as the Run Director for the day. With no prams, dogs, visitors (except me) or under 11s to think about, we were soon walking down to the start. PEI Lewis took a couple photos, volunteers first and then the runners, only 2 or 3 decided not to be included, and so soon with his timekeepers at his side Mr Cross started the event.
The encouragement was great from the volunteers and a few spectators who’d wandered out to see what was going on. And then I bumped into Claire. We’d met at parkrun and local running events, but I didn’t recognise her in her prison officer’s uniform. Claire was as excited as me as we cheered the parkrunners through the first lap. We agreed that as the 3 lap route wound its way around the prison grounds, HMP Leyhill is an open prison and so lends itself beautifully to a parkrun, it would advertise itself to those prisoners who happened to see the 24 parkrunners pass them by.
By the time the first parkrunner crossed the line in 19 minutes 30 seconds, the banter was so mighty that I was reminded just what parkrun does best. It brings people together. It becomes an organic and growing community in its own right. For an hour every Saturday morning, we forget the rest of the week.
Malcolm summed it up as we drank our tea in the pavilion afterwards; “Do you know Pete, for a while then time stood still and I’d forgotten where I was.”
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