In June 2018, a partnership between parkrun UK and the Royal College of General Practitioners saw the launch of the parkrun practice initiative.
To mark the two year anniversary, parkrun Global Head of Health and Wellbeing Chrissie Wellington talks us through its conception, some life changing moments, and our hopes for the future.
The parkrun practice initiative was launched by parkrun UK and the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) as a way of improving the health and wellbeing of patients and practice staff.
More than 1500 practices are currently signed up to the initiative, which represents around 17% of all GP practices across the UK
To celebrate the two year milestone we had planned some fantastic activities. We wanted to focus on encouraging those who are currently less active to participate in parkrun, and really highlight the opportunity to walk some or all of the course, and to volunteer in a range of roles.
You don’t have to run 5k to come to parkrun.
And then the COVID-19 pandemic struck, and all of the preparations were understandably and quite rightly put on hold.
Although we can’t be together to celebrate in person, we still wanted to mark the important occasion and shine a spotlight on some of the really inspirational stories that have emerged since that landmark day in 2018 when the parkrun practice ball officially started rolling…
The birth of the parkrun practice initiative
I say ‘officially’ as the process of parkrun events linking with GP practices had started long before. In 2012, Dr Ollie Hart helped to start Graves parkrun in Sheffield, as a means of improving the health of his colleagues and their patients at Sloan Medical Centre.
Ollie was the first co-event director at that event, succeeded by the practice receptionist and one of Vitality’s parkrun heroes, Jo Eccles.
And then there is Dr Simon Tobin who, for years, had been suggesting parkrun to hundreds of his patients as a way of addressing some of the underlying causes of their ill health, even accompanying them at his local event in Southport.
So valuable was both Ollie and Simon’s experience that we knew they would be the perfect people to support us as parkrun’s Health and Wellbeing Ambassadors. They have both been instrumental in laying the foundations for formalising, and scaling up, the linking of parkrun events with general practice.
Before the initiative was born, we’d also heard from parkrunners themselves, who had already had parkrun recommended to them by a healthcare professional.
Brian Cook started parkrunning in 2017 following a suggestion from his GP that he become a little bit more active as a way of managing his mental health. He has now completed 153 parkruns and has credited parkrun with giving him the confidence to do things he never thought possible, including being the Tail Walker volunteer on 20 occasions.
“Throughout my life I’ve never had any friends and I find socialising really difficult. parkrun has helped me lead a fitter and healthier life and has given me the courage to try volunteering – something I’ve never done in my life before.”
So, the parkrun practice seed was really sown by local public health professionals and parkrunners themselves. It simply needed the parkrun UK team to join forces with the RCGP to nurture that seed, and help it grow.
The parkrun practice initiative is a great example of successful collaboration between community organisations and public health services, with the aim of improving the health and wellbeing of as many people as possible.
In a nutshell, the aims of the parkrun practice initiative are to:
Implementing the initiative requires the support and engagement of local general practices and the parkrun event teams, and this wave of support comes from all corners of the UK, by the bucketload.
With parkrun events currently paused and the work of GP practices focused on combating this public health crisis, efforts to promote and grow the parkrun practice initiative have been put on hold. However, before the COVID-19 pandemic started, more than 1500 practices across the UK had signed up to the initiative. This represents around 17% of all GP practices around the UK.
We have worked with Warwick Medical School to evaluate the project, and understand how we can maximise its success going forwards. You can read about this research and its findings in the British Journal of General Practice article, published online on 2 June 2020.
We know from this research how enthused practices are about linking with their local parkrun events, and implementing some of the activities suggested in the parkrun practice toolkit on the RCGP website. This includes encouraging staff and patients to participate as walkers, runners or volunteers, displaying publicity material in the waiting room and organising volunteer takeovers at their local events.
We know that it’s not just GPs who are taking part, but many other practice staff including nurses, receptionists, link workers, practice managers and health care assistants plus, of course, patients.
Reflecting on the initiative Simon says, “It’s been thrilling to see the enormous health gains made by my patients each Saturday morning. The parkrun practice initiative has been the perfect vehicle for improving both the physical and the mental wellbeing of so many of my patients and lots of our practice staff too”. You can read Simon’s stories from a parkrunning GP here.
Neelima Chatterjee was first introduced to parkrun during a presentation at her practice. The surgery helped her register and printed off her barcode. She is nearly 70 and suffered a fractured knee in 2012, and didn’t know if she would be able to complete one lap. But with the encouragement from everyone around her she was able to walk and jog the whole course. She was so happy and she has shared her experience with her family all over the world.
Sam Smith is asthmatic and has joint hypermobility. She saw a poster for parkrun in the waiting room of her local medical practice, here she tells us why she now feels like a different person and has even completed her first 10k.
Last year, on the initiative’s first birthday, more than 182,000 people took part in #GPparkrunpledge day with GPs, staff and patients pledging to take part together. The day saw almost 10,000 additional walkers, joggers and runners participating across the UK, with 2,000 of them completing their very first parkrun. Over 600 of these parkrunners told us that, at the time of registering for parkrun, they were previously inactive. You can read more about GP pledge day here.
The parkrun practice initiative has also led to practices setting up their own parkruns, in the absence of having an event close enough to signpost patients and staff to. The Alverton Practice, and its local Primary Care Network, started Land’s End parkrun and the team there are now championing the event in their own backyard, as well as encouraging other practices around them to sign up. You can read the full story from Alverton Practice GP Sandra Treleven here.
Tower Hamlets Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) in London already has 10 practices signed up across the Borough, with practice staff setting up a WhatsApp group to share ideas and keep motivation high.
Likewise, Ipswich and East Suffolk CCG and parkrun Ambassador, Graham Rodgers, have been instrumental in growing the initiative in East Suffolk where they have set a target of 20 parkrun practices, with Suffolk County Council even subsidising the development of some parkrun practice banners to be displayed in practice waiting rooms. The current total is 17 so they are tantalisingly close to achieving their goal.
One of the 17 parkrun practices there is Barrack Lane Medical Centre.
“Barrack Lane is proud to be a parkrun practice encouraging both patients and staff to have an active lifestyle to help improve their health and wellbeing. Physical activity is good for both your cardiovascular system, your joints, your weight and your mental health. We are all looking forward to when Ipswich parkrun returns and hope to be joined by some of our patients”.
In Wales, Ambassador for parkrun Chris Davies convened a special event to bring together MPs, Welsh Assembly Members, health sector leads, parkrun Outreach Ambassadors and the media to help grow the initiative across the country. Out of that came a shared commitment to promoting and building the initiative, which the MPs then declared in Westminster.
There are university medical centres linking up with their local events and health centres within prisons are also agreeing to signpost those in custody to parkrun events on their grounds.
This is just the tip of the iceberg.
We know of parkrun events that have actually been launched as a result of the initiative, with GP practices being the driving force behind getting them off the ground. Ross on Wye parkrun and Land’s End parkrun, at the southernmost tip of the UK, are two great examples of how public health can be the instigator for providing volunteer-led physical activity opportunities for the benefit of the whole community.
In January this year the parkrun practice initiative launched in Ireland, with the support of the Irish College of General Practitioners, and discussions are continuing about rolling out the initiative in other parkrun countries, such as Australia, too.
As restrictions are slowly lifted, countries around the world can start the important process of social revival and reconnection. And as we await the time when we can all be together again at a parkrun event, we want to thank those working in public health and our event teams for their incredible support of the parkrun practice initiative over the past two years.
Whilst he admits that the past few months have tested public health in an unprecedented way, Dr Ollie Hart, GP and volunteer parkrun Health and Wellbeing Ambassador, is optimistic about the more positive legacy it could potentially leave – with parkrun remaining a key point of reference for many local communities and patients in his home city of Sheffield.
He says “Our COVID-19 experience has reminded us of the importance of community collaboration in responding to short term and long-term health challenges, even if it has to be in different ways to normal. We recognise the importance of keeping fit to stand up to the effects of coronavirus. We appreciate the benefits of people supporting each other physically and emotionally, to prevent and stand up to diseases. We look forward to parkrun helping us re-energising our community connections and activity, when it is able to start again”.
We will warmly welcome staff and patients alike back to parkrun when events resume, and continue to nurture that very special and successful relationship between parkrun events and GP practices right across the UK, and in other countries around the world.
parkrun Global Head of Health and Wellbeing
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