There are currently more than 1,800 parkruns and junior parkruns around the world, and in 2019 we expect to launch more than 300 new events worldwide.
Whilst it may seem like parkruns quietly pop up at random in new locations and are instantly successful, this does not tell the full story of how parkruns begin, and all the unsung heroes behind the scenes who are helping us create a healthier, happier planet.
So we thought we’d answer the question: How do you start a parkrun or junior parkrun?
In the early days, parkruns were created wherever someone wanted to start one. They simply got in touch and we would help make it happen, and this method proved incredibly successful. Many parkruns still start this way, and if you’re interested in finding out more about bringing parkrun to your community we would love to hear from you using this form. We support each application through our Event Support team, and a network of hundreds of volunteer Ambassadors across the country.
More recently we have also come to realise that in order to truly work towards our aim of creating a healthier and happier planet, we need to engage with those people who potentially have the most to gain from walking, jogging, running or volunteering, but who may have never heard of or experienced parkrun before.
We now work much more proactively to identify areas and communities where we believe parkrun can have a profound impact. For example, in 2018 alone 26 new junior parkrun events in the UK were launched in disadvantaged communities.
To build on this further, a project funded by Sport England is specifically focusing on the creation of new events in communities that have the most to benefit – encouraging people from low socioeconomic communities to take part through the development of these new events, supporting parkrun Ambassadors, and identifying locations which we think parkrun will be most impactful to the local community.
Helen Hood is parkrun UK’s Head of Event Delivery, and an Event Director herself.
“Every day we receive numerous enquiries for parkruns to be launched in villages, towns and cities all over the world. The first step is for these enquiries to be filtered, which is the role of our Event Support team, and usually involves finding out more information about the request, the location, how much interest there is locally, and so on.
Given that unlike traditional running events, parkruns take place every single week, making the decision to start an event is obviously a commitment, and we understand that Event Directors and core teams are all volunteers with families, jobs and other commitments.
We are committed to supporting the start-up process whilst ensuring that the necessary requirements and procedures are in place so that everyone who takes part does so in a safe environment, and the parkrun experience remains essentially the same wherever, whenever and however you choose to join us.”
In the UK, the serious prospects are passed on to the local volunteer Ambassador who covers that particular region. The three key elements for a parkrun are: permission to use the course, the funding, and a team of core volunteers.
The Ambassador will use their experience, knowledge and relationships with local stakeholders to work with the prospective volunteers to identify a safe 5k course (or 2k for junior parkrun) in an open space and help them build their core team.
Ian Sullivan is an Event Support Ambassador who covers the north Nottingham region, “What I love is finding, and getting a team of complete strangers together (this can often be the hardest bit!), who sometimes know little about parkrun, and training them, and helping them to grow into a successful team who are going to take their event forward.
These people then introduce their friends and family to their parkrun world and thus continues the organic growth of parkrun.”
A one-off start-up fee is required to establish a new parkrun event, provide the initial training of volunteers and provide indefinite ongoing support. The sourcing of the funding, and ensuring that there is access to a defibrillator during the event is left to the proposed team, and is usually obtained in the form of local grants.
The core volunteer team is usually a group of between 8-10 people who are committed to volunteer in the early days, and often take turns acting as Run Director on parkrunday until they build their community and get others involved.
Louise Smith is an Event Support Ambassador for the Hertfordshire area who believes that spreading the word of the benefits of parkrun to council and landowners is key to getting approval for the use of the course.
“Frequently they are runners too and very supportive. Funding can be agreed in a phone call or can take weeks of grant applications, and understanding how the local area is organised is vital to finding out where the best funding sources are located.
Tracking down a suitable course through Google maps, talking to runners, and jogging around with the measuring wheel is a really challenging and fun part of the role as an Ambassador. It is enormously satisfying to find a suitable course and know that people’s Saturday or Sunday mornings will never be the same again!”
A parkrun can only launch once verbal and written land use permission has been granted, and we are eternally grateful for the support of landowners who allow us to use their parks and open spaces free of charge.
Once the course has been confirmed and permission to use it, the core team is in place, and all the necessary paperwork has been completed the local Ambassador will assist with the training of the core team. This will involve shadowing or ‘taking over’ a nearby parkrun event and /or putting on a trial event to test the proposed course and signage to give the volunteers a chance to practice the various roles.
Once everything is in order, a start date can be confirmed, and the event’s website is created prior to the launch. Then, when the big day rolls around, the inaugural event takes place and the venue officially becomes part of the parkrun family!
Michelle Ashwell is Co-Event Director at South Oxhey parkrun, and she explains why she decided to bring a parkrun to her community. “As a health care professional working and living in my local community, I understood first hand that we needed a parkrun to promote physical and mental wellbeing.
It can take perseverance and faith to get to the end point, but seeing the fruit of your labour come to fruition is indescribable. At the inaugural I felt emotional and overwhelmed when I looked out into the swelling crowd of excited parkrunners.
I loved being an Event Director so much that I went on to become an Ambassador, and now I support new teams activate their events.”
Kresh Veerasamy is Event Director at Barking and Dagenham junior parkrun in East London: “I decided to launch a junior parkrun in our local community after reading about the first event in the parkrun newsletter and having had a chat with some of the core volunteers at Valentines parkrun in Ilford. Our parkrun has now been running for five years and has held nearly 250 events.
Our event is small, but to be honest, the size of the event doesn’t matter to us. We really love our parkrun family and our event has a great community spirit. We’ve made new friends of all ages thanks to parkrun and it’s like having a big extended family. It has added something very special to our weekends.”
With this process of launching new parkrun events taking place simultaneously all around the UK, and similarly across the world, you can see how parkrun has grown at such an incredible rate. Long may it continue!
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