An open letter from parkrun Founder Paul Sinton-Hewitt CBE.
Ever since the first lockdown began I have been worried about whether or not parkrun would survive.
I may have started the very first event back in 2004, but parkrun is something that belongs to all of us. Every volunteer; everyone who crosses that finish line; every seasoned participant and every first timer; all those who have yet to take part: we are all custodians of parkrun, of our own local community asset.
I am writing to you as we take an important step forward with our plans to reopen our 5k events across England. Whether or not your home event is in England, it is no exaggeration to say that the next few days and weeks will be critical for the entire parkrun movement.
With over 3 million folk registered to almost 1,000 junior and 5k events, in normal times parkrun in England represents close to 50% of our total global participation, making it a significant part of our operations, and critical to our overall return.
At the time of writing, despite signs of positive progress in the other home nations, we only have the opportunity to return in England, with clarity provided by the Government’s published Roadmap out of lockdown.
We will support the return of parkrun events in Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales (along with events in every other territory) as soon as the situation changes and we have confirmation of when we can restart.
As things continue to improve, and we gain clarity on the appropriateness of a return in England we must act now and embrace getting back together again, or risk losing it forever.
That’s why I wanted to take this opportunity to let you know just what is happening this week, and what it could mean for the future of parkrun.
Earlier today we wrote to the landowners of all 589 5k events in England, requesting their permission to once again hold parkrun events on their land. You can (and I would urge you to) read that letter here, where we present a detailed evidence-based rationale for why, when, and how our events should return.
Over the course of the pandemic we have sought to be as transparent as possible, to keep the community informed of exactly what is going on. We are committed to maintaining that openness, and will be providing regular updates on the status of these permission requests over the coming days and weeks.
The past year has been difficult for everyone and, clearly, some things have changed. In a few instances, the spaces we previously used for events have altered (some have become a temporary COVID-19 vaccine centre for example), and it would no longer be possible to hold our events in the same location.
Where this is the case, we are working with local authorities to understand alternative options, or to continue to wait patiently for the situation to change such that we can return.
In the large majority of parkrun locations however, we are confident that parkrun events will be able to return, and we look forward to working with landowners to get those events back on Saturday 5 June.
It is essential that the vast majority of 5k events in England return at the same time because, if only some of them did, those events that did open would become overwhelmed with participants. This would, of course, create an unsafe environment which we must do everything we can to avoid.
It has been humbling to hear parkrun referred to as ‘one of the greatest public health initiatives in the history of the United Kingdom’ in the corridors of Public Health and elsewhere. But now isn’t the time for platitudes or empty gestures. We must all do everything we can to ensure that parkrun is here to be enjoyed for generations to come.
That’s why I am calling on the entire parkrun community to help support our efforts to return on Saturday 5 June. If you can influence and encourage your local landowner to confirm permission quickly, please do so. If you’d like to volunteer, let your local event know. If there is anything at all that you think that you can do to help your local team return, please get in touch with them.
I have always thought that parkrun represents the best of humanity. The positivity and togetherness, the support, the warm encouragement. The opportunity to escape, to connect with nature, to find health and happiness through regular community physical activity.
We need all of that right now. More than ever.
Paul Sinton-Hewitt CBE
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