HMP & YOI Downview Governor Natasha Wilson regular participates with her staff and residents at Downview parkrun, the first parkrun to launch in a UK women’s prison.
Here she tells us her own powerful parkrun story.
I first heard about parkrun many years ago from a colleague.
I’d been through a period in my life where I’d really lost my self-confidence. I decided I needed to make some changes, and was going to give couch to 5k a go.
I never intended to do anything other than try and get fitter and feel a bit happier about myself. However, when I’d completed the couch to 5k, I wasn’t too far off reaching that running 5k non-stop mark and I had a real determination to get there.
Thinking back to that first parkrun conversation with my colleague, who’d been really passionate about the benefits of parkrun, I signed up.
I had always run by myself but felt ready now to run with other people.
I’ve loved parkrun ever since, and have encouraged several friends to join up. I’ve even done a couple of half marathons and the Great South Run and am currently training for the London Marathon 2020, after being lucky enough to get a ballot place.
Having a parkrun at one of my prisons has always been a dream of mine. But I just assumed we didn’t have enough room for one at HMP & YOI Downview.
It was the PE staff who first approached me about having a parkrun at Downview. They’re brilliant, and are always looking for activities to engage our women.
They weren’t aware at the time that I was already a parkrunner.
Given I’ve experienced firsthand the benefits of parkrun, I was really keen to support them. I wanted our women to get that same sense of community. I wanted them to get out in the fresh air, volunteer, and do something for each other.
I am extremely proud of having a parkrun at Downview. It’s so important that the women have activities that mirror life in the real world, and become part of communities that they can take part in upon release.
This is an activity that the women can do as a community. Staff take part too, and both groups can go to other parkruns outside the prison on days off or upon release.
We’re also showing them something that they can encourage their children, friends and family to do. To help others get out in the fresh air and get fitter.
Some of my residents told me they hadn’t done any exercise at all since being sent to prison. Even if they start off and don’t do all five laps, it’s an aim for them to go a bit further next week. And it’s still going to have benefits for their mental and physical health.
The sense of community at the parkrun is fantastic. The course is quite windy, it’s not somewhere you’d go for a personal best. But the benefit of five laps, is the chance to cheer each other on all the way round as you’re regularly running towards someone going the other way!
The first parkrun at Downview was an amazing event. Many of our residents walked, jogged, ran and volunteered, alongside prison staff who came in to help on the day.
I feel very privileged to have participated alongside my residents, staff and everyone from the community who came in to support us and make sure it was a success.
Our subsequent parkruns have also been well attended, and not just by those who want to walk and run, we have many volunteers and spectators, which is brilliant to see. I know that the women are enjoying Saturday mornings and many of them have talked to me about the individual benefits they’ve felt.
I’m hoping that Downview parkrun will continue to grow, and not just for those who are comfortable to participate in sport. We have women who aren’t as fit, and don’t go to the gym due to a lack of confidence, or struggle to find something they enjoy.
The women are already encouraging each other to participate, and being cheerleaders for one another. Ideally this will give them the confidence to walk, jog, run or volunteer in their local community. I would love to see us start a couch to 5k course to support parkrun, and to enable prison staff from other sites to come in and participate along with our residents and own staff.
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