Access to free, inclusive, regular outdoor physical activity has never been more vital.
parkrun Global Head of Health and Wellbeing Chrissie Wellington calls for support ahead of the planned restart of 5k events across England on Saturday 5 June
As the number of daily cases, hospitalisations and deaths related to the pandemic continue to fall, attention is quite rightly turning to the wider health and wellbeing catastrophe that has been silently unfolding in the background.
As the UK Government itself has said “COVID-19 has affected all our lives and our livelihoods in profound ways over the last year. The nation has come together to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe, but there has been a cost. The virus itself, and the necessary measures to contain its spread, have triggered feelings of worry, distress or loneliness for many of us.”
It is a health and wellbeing catastrophe borne of isolation, of fear, of seclusion, of disconnection from people and nature, and of inactivity. It is compounded by a lack of access to support, formal and informal, which prevents people getting the help they might desperately need.
Our community has told us of the mental health problems and feelings of disconnect that they have experienced since parkruns were closed in the UK, which aligns with the growing evidence about the widespread impacts of the pandemic and the restrictions on people’s lives.
Swathes of our population have experienced hardships like never before, with profound and long-lasting impacts on every single aspect of their lives. And we know that it is those who can least afford to bear the additional burden that are being hit the hardest in the short term, and will continue to do so in the months and years ahead.
The fallout is being felt most acutely by older people who are more likely to live alone, young people facing disrupted education and the increased risk of unemployment, women who are more likely to take on caring responsibilities, those in Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic groups, people living with disabilities or long term health conditions, those with reduced communication abilities, those within the criminal justice system, the unemployed and those on low income.
As restrictions slowly ease in line with the government’s roadmap, being apart cannot and should not become normal. Social interaction should never be seen as a biohazard and breathing fresh air in the company of others shouldn’t be thought of as a source of contagion and something to be avoided at all cost.
We urgently need to find ways to bring people together, to be active, to leave their homes, to build or rekindle social support networks, and to interact with others in a rich and meaningful way. Doing so will help ease the toll taken on mental health, boost self-esteem and mood, increase sleep quality and energy, provide a sense of rootedness and belonging, build resilience to COVID-19 and other illnesses, reduce the risk of developing many diseases, and promote quality of life.
We welcome the return to organised sport and the priority that has been given to being active in the fresh air as a means of addressing some of the entrenched health problems facing our society.
But opportunities to be active with others need to exist that are cost effective, that can be delivered regularly, that are outside and that are open to all. Yet such opportunities have dwindled and unfortunately there is a very real risk that some may never return or be prohibitively costly for people to take part in.
As a global movement dedicated to creating a healthier and happier planet, it is a watershed moment for parkrun to drive change, to address growing inequalities and help to create more resilient, healthy people and communities.
Access to free, regular, physical activity has never been more vital.
There is light at the end of the tunnel, especially given the successful return of junior parkrun events for 4-10 year olds and their families in England.
We are incredibly grateful for the support of the event teams, parkrun ambassadors, landowners, directors of public health and other stakeholders who have enabled this to happen. After a long 13 months of waiting, tens of thousands of children now have the chance to walk, jog, run or volunteer outdoors, together with their families and local communities.
All of these events, like others that have restarted around the world, are being successfully delivered in line with parkrun’s COVID-19 Framework.
But there is a community of almost four million registered parkrunners across the UK that are also craving the opportunity to get together with friends, to be active, to volunteer and to rekindle that sense of belonging, of purpose and of connection on a Saturday morning.
And there are millions more who have not yet taken part in a parkrun event, but who would benefit so profoundly from being able to do so.
That is why we are calling on all stakeholders to unite in support of the planned reopening of 5K parkrun events across England on Saturday 5 June, and in the other home nations as soon as is feasible.
It is only by coming together that we can once again see over 200,000 people participate in a low risk activity across more than 700 locations every single weekend, and for the whole country to start to heal deep wounds that have been inflicted over the past year.
The tide is turning and the time is right for interventions, like parkrun, that can change lives in a meaningful and long lasting way, to be prioritised and supported.
It is time for us all to come together, both in support of the planned reopening of parkrun events and also as people and communities whose lives are enriched by something as simple, yet life changing, as walking, jogging, running or volunteering in their local park every Saturday.
parkrun Global Head of Health and Wellbeing
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