As 2019 draws to a close, parkrun Founder Paul Sinton-Hewitt CBE reflects on what has been another huge twelve months for our movement.
It’s been a year of significant milestones. We welcomed 374 new parkrun events to the family, bringing the total number of parkrun events around the world to 2,078, and in July we saw the six millionth person register. If you discovered parkrun for the first time this year, the warmest of welcomes.
In April, Japan joined the parkrun family with the launch of Futakotamagawa parkrun in Tokyo. It’s been incredible to see how local Japanese people have embraced parkrun so quickly, and we now have 12 events across the country with several more due to launch before the first anniversary.
Recent adaptations to our operational model, such as the introduction of the Virtual Volunteer timing and scanning app, have meant much greater efficiency in bringing parkrun to new territories.
It’s an approach that is focussed on finding scalable and sustainable solutions, streamlining our operations to find significant cost savings despite accelerating growth around the world.
The weekend of the 12th and 13th January 2019 saw a new global participation record with 371,184 parkrunners walking, jogging, running and volunteering across the world.
Over the course of 2019 more people than ever before discovered the magic of their local parkrun.
Whilst these numbers sound impressive and help to articulate the scale of parkrun around the world, it’s the personal stories and specific projects that fill me with the most pride.
The interventions designed to help communities most in need of regular physical activity, and the individual lives we are helping to change, never fail to inspire me.
Last year, I wrote about my excitement at conducting our first-ever health and wellbeing survey so that we could prove, with hard evidence, that parkrun really does make people happier and healthier.
We were staggered with the response. Over 60,000 completed surveys were submitted, making it one of the biggest ever independent studies into physical activity.
On our 15th anniversary we published the findings of the survey in the UK. More than 90% of parkrunners said they felt a sense of personal achievement after participating at parkrun.
The results confirmed some long-held beliefs for us: that participating at parkrun is fundamentally good for our physical and mental health. But it also revealed that the biggest benefits were experienced by those who volunteered, as well as walked or ran.
An incredible 84% of volunteers said parkrun improved their happiness.
I am immensely proud of the work we have done to break down the barriers to all forms of participation over the years. There remains a lot of work to do. But it is heartening to know that parkrun is contributing to better health and happiness for so many of us, in so many ways.
This year the parkrun practice initiative in the UK has grown considerably. More than 1,500 GP practices are now partnered with their local parkrun, signposting patients and staff to their nearest event.
This reflects over 20% of all GP practices in the UK and I’m delighted to see so many healthcare staff and patients participating in parkrun as a way of improving their mental and physical health.
It was November 2017 when the first prison-based parkrun was established. Two years on, we now have 30 events in prisons, young offenders institutes and correctional facilities around the world.
In the UK, more than 4,000 people have completed a parkrun on the custodial estate.
This year, the first parkrun on the women’s estate was launched at the Wandoo Rehabilitation Prison in Australia. The UK soon followed, with the launch of Downview parkrun at HMP & YOI Downview on parkrun’s 15th anniversary in October.
All of this work is only possible if parkrun has a solid foundation and financial security. As a global charity, we have a requirement to raise revenue to pay for the maintenance and delivery of all existing events, and the inevitable growth of parkrun around the world.
For a number of years the level of financial security required was not guaranteed, which left our movement vulnerable and the future of parkrun uncertain.
I am thrilled to say that the UK based charity, parkrun Global, is now in the strongest financial position it has ever been in. And that is thanks to your support.
In February, we launched parkrun Forever in the UK, in response to repeated requests from the community to contribute to the financial security of parkrun.
It’s a platform that allows those who want to, to give small regular donations that help secure parkrun for future generations.
There are now more than 5,500 supporters giving regular donations, providing the organisation with a vital revenue stream.
parkrun Forever isn’t the only way we are working to ensure parkrun’s safe and sustainable future. This year we also unveiled the new Apricot range, as well as a number of new barcode products, ID bands and water bottles, with profits from all sales being used to help keep parkrun free, for everyone, forever.
In September we celebrated the first anniversary of CONTRA, the new sports clothing brand I created to address the inequality that is ingrained in the sports apparel industry.
I am so grateful for the support this project has received. It’s been an incredible first year for the brand, with sales suggesting it’s one of the fastest-growing sports brands of all time.
I wanted to do things differently. There are no gender-specific colours, and all products come in ten sizes for men and women. All our kit is made in European factories where staff are paid fair wages and are guaranteed decent working conditions.
It’s about a fair deal for everyone. We have a 90-day no questions asked returns policy for our customers, the same postage costs everywhere in the world, and crucially, all profit from CONTRA comes straight back to parkrun.
On a more personal note, I was truly humbled and honoured to be awarded the Royal Society of Arts’ Albert Medal last month.
Whilst it has my name engraved on it, I accepted the award on behalf of you, the entire parkrun community. For what you have achieved for yourselves, for others, and for what our global movement will continue to achieve in the years to come.
We look forward to 2020 with great optimism. parkrun is a force for good that unites us. And it reminds us that, given the chance, people want to help each other, and themselves, to be better.
Very early in the new year, we will launch a new information resource for parkrun volunteers, that will provide up to date information to their fingertips and will help all parkrunners to better understand our policies, guidelines and rules.
And in the first quarter of the year we will launch in the Netherlands, the 22nd country to join our family. A family that I am pleased to report is once again getting slower.
This year the average finish time at parkrun was 32:31, compared to 32:28 last year.
Slower finish times reflect success in our ambition to be inclusive and truly welcoming to all, no matter your ability, age or background. You are all welcome and it is a privilege to have you with us.
I wish you a very happy and healthy 2020.
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