In April 2016, parkrun UK was awarded a grant from the Department of Health and Social Care to undertake a three-year project to increase physical activity and social engagement at parkrun amongst people living with disabilities and long-term health conditions. We met this challenge through our PROVE project (parkrun, Running or Volunteer for Everyone).
In the UK roughly 20% of the population are living with a disability or long-term health condition but research undertaken in 2013 told us that just 4.3% of UK parkrunners who were surveyed reported having a limiting disability or illness. People with disabilities and long-term health conditions were clearly underrepresented at parkrun.
This provided the motivation for the PROVE project, to make the parkrun population more representative of the population as a whole, and thereby helping to deliver our mission of creating a healthier and happier planet.
The PROVE project was spearheaded by a team of volunteer Outreach Ambassadors for Disabilities and Long-Term Health Conditions. They were all seasoned parkrunners with real-world experience of disabilities or long-term health conditions. Guided by parkrun staff, they provided the expertise, credibility and passion to make parkrun more accessible and welcoming for the communities they knew best.
These Outreach Ambassadors were able to draw on help from medical specialists and a group of parkrun mental health supporters, together, they formed a team of 77 volunteers with the joint aim of removing barriers to parkrun for people living with our 20 chosen disabilities and health conditions.
The disabilities and health conditions covered by the project were Anxiety, Arthritis, Asthma, Autism, Blood Pressure, Cerebral Palsy, Deaf / Hard of Hearing, Dementia, Depression, Diabetes, Eating Disorders, Endometriosis, Heart Conditions, Learning Disabilities, MSK Conditions, Multiple Sclerosis, Obesity, Perinatal Depression, Psychosis and PTSD.
The specific ideas implemented by the Outreach Ambassadors included:
Our Outreach Ambassadors have also acted as advocates for parkrun, seeking out and re-telling inspirational stories about parkrunners with health conditions. Nearly 50 blog stories have been published as part of the project which have been used to encourage more participation by parkrunners living with health conditions and to entice new people into the parkrun world.
The Outreach Ambassadors have secured an audience outside of parkrun for these stories through speaking at conferences, appearances on radio, TV and podcasts, and by building up links with many of the country’s major charities that support people with disabilities or health conditions.
The PROVE project has been regularly evaluated by independent experts from the Advanced Wellbeing Research Centre at Sheffield Hallam University. Their detailed evaluation report concluded that PROVE, via the implementation of targeted activities, was successful in supporting the positive experience of parkrun by people with health conditions.
79% of the people they surveyed felt that PROVE encouraged more people living with long-term health conditions or disabilities to participate in parkrun, and 80% felt the PROVE project made the experience of parkrun better for existing parkrunners who have long-term health conditions or disabilities.
Over the last year the number of parkrunners with a disability or illness has averaged 9.2%. This is a marked increase from 4.3% in 2013. Our research indicates that the number of people with a limiting disability or long-term health condition has grown from 1,500 per week in 2013 to about 13,000 today.
The PROVE project was always intended to be a time-bound, three-year initiative, and the project is now being brought to a conclusion. It leaves a rich legacy in terms of tangible assets, like the training materials for our event teams, BSL videos, Easy Read leaflets for parkrunners with autism or learning disabilities, and an extensive library of case studies and stories which can be used to promote participation at parkrun to people with health conditions for years to come.
There are also intangible assets, like relationships with advocacy and support groups for people with health conditions, and the increased awareness of disabilities and long-term health conditions amongst our event teams and parkrunners in general.
We are fully committed to supporting activities which increase participation by people with health conditions, including many of those developed under the PROVE project. We’d like to thank the PROVE Project Outreach Ambassadors, the extended PROVE project team and all of the external organisations that have supported the project.
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