In June 2018, a partnership between parkrun UK and the Royal College of General Practitioners saw the launch of the parkrun practice initiative.
As we continue to prepare for the return of parkruns, the parkrun practice initiative has a really important role to play in helping promote the health and happiness of people and communities in the months and years ahead.
To mark the three year anniversary of the initiative, our Global Head of Health and Wellbeing Chrissie Wellington talks us through its conception, the impact it has had and our hopes for the future.
The concept of social prescribing has been growing in prominence and popularity over the past few years, but what exactly is it? Social prescribing helps patients and carers to improve their health, wellbeing and social welfare by connecting them to community services and activities. It adopts a personalised approach centred around what matters to the individual.
At parkrun the concept of social prescribing is not new.
We know that health care professionals across a range of specialisms have been telling patients about parkrun and extolling all the benefits of taking part for some time. For GPs such as Dr Abbie Brooks, a GP Partner in the Priory Medical Group in York, suggesting that her patients do parkrun has been a game changer for those individuals and their families. She describes how she first became involved in parkrun and why she thought it would be perfect for many of her patients.
“My first parkrun was in May 2017. I had started Couch to 5k as a “New Years resolution” to get fit after having my second child, I did not think of myself as a runner and I found it a real challenge to get through each week. My Dad unexpectedly died in March that year and so parkrun ended up being part of the healing process of bereavement and grief for me. The routine of getting up and out every Saturday morning, whatever the weather, coupled with the social aspect; seeing friends and familiar parkrun faces really helped me get through that first difficult year.
It didn’t take me long to start using parkrun in my consultations; I myself had experienced the social, mental and physical benefits, so why not my patients? There is no better feeling than the glow of recognising one of my patients at the start line or seeing them marshalling the route; witnessing them soak up the health rewards of parkrun is special. I was so pleased to see this link of parkrun with health realised a couple of years later in the shape of the fantastic parkrun practice initiative”.
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.
Not content with mentioning parkrun to patients, and staff, some GP practices went one step further and actually instigated the setting up of an event in their local area. 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.
It was the localised connections between primary health care and parkrun events – a form of social prescribing - which provided the foundation for the launch of the parkrun practice initiative in 2018. Put simply, we wanted a way of scaling up these efforts and the process of social prescribing across the UK and so saw the birth of the successful collaboration between parkrun UK and the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP).
A parkrun practice is a GP practice of any size that links, with the approval of the event team, with one or more local parkrun events and encourages staff and patients to participate in parkrun. All members of staff are encouraged to get involved, not just GPs and the initiative is deliberately light touch and should not be time intensive for practices or event teams to implement.
Around 1500 practices have signed up to the initiative, which represents around 17% of all GP practices across the UK
With the work of GP practices focused on dealing with COVID-19 pandemic and parkrun events paused, efforts to promote and grow the parkrun practice initiative have been on hold since March last year.
However, as the country starts the process of reopening and recovery, attention is quite rightly being paid to improving overall health and wellbeing. We believe that social prescribing, and the parkrun practice initiative, can be front and centre of efforts to find community based, non medicalised and people centred solutions to ill health by
We are incredibly grateful to all of the 1500 or more practices and the parkrun event teams who have supported the initiative, and come up with some fantastically creative and impactful ideas for making it work.
Many of these activities were captured in the research that was undertaken by a team from Warwick Medical School, led by Dr Jo Fleming. The results of this study have been published in the British Journal of General Practice and in Health and Social Care in the Community.
We were really encouraged to know that the initiative was perceived positively, with practices being motivated to improve patient and staff health and wellbeing, to become more engaged with the community and enhance practice image. The researchers found that practices most commonly encouraged patients, carers, and staff to take part in parkrun and displayed parkrun flyers and posters. Suggested improvements have helped inform the development of the initiative, and will continue to do so going forwards.
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.
This whole practice approach, was clear when more than 182,000 people took part in #GPparkrunpledge day to celebrate the initiative’s first birthday back in 2019. A range of practice staff and patients pledged to take part together and, on the day, almost 10,000 additional walkers, joggers and runners participated 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.
It’s not just one practice partnering with a parkrun event. Dr Rachel Lee, of Woodlands Medical Centre in Ely, Cardiff, was instrumental in getting Trelai Park parkrun off the ground and encouraging a cluster of 10 GP practices to link to the event. Having a shared interest in parkrun helps to strengthen the relationships between these practices, as well as with parkrun, for the benefit of all staff and patients from across the city. First Minister of Wales Mark Drakeford came along to the test event for Trelai park parkrun in March last year, saying “parkruns are an easy, gentle and very friendly way for people to get together and have some exercise.”
Rachel is really positive about the impacts the event has had and can have on the health and wellbeing of all involved;
“The SW Cardiff Cluster”s motto is ‘health and wellbeing for all who live and work in our community’. The Trelai parkrun fits perfectly into our cluster ethos. It has been fantastic to have all 10 GP practices within the cluster sign up to be parkrun practices and promote our local parkrun. We are also fortunate to be working closely with our local charity ACE (Action in Caerau and Ely). Many members of staff, their families and patients from the GP practices and from ACE have been actively involved with the events as runners, walkers and volunteers. It has been a great opportunity to bring the community together, the parkrun helps encourage physical activity, helps general wellbeing and also provides a great community spirit for those volunteering. With the legacy of the COVID-19 pandemic, parkrun is needed even more. The population has generally been less active over lockdown and mental health problems are increasing. Restarting our parkrun will be a vital part of supporting our community with the post COVID-19 recovery, we are all looking forward to restarting and growing stronger.”
Other practices in the UK have also set up their own parkruns, in the absence of having an event close enough to signpost patients and staff to. For example, staff at Alton Street Surgery in Ross-on-Wye, led by Dr Simon Lennane, helped launch Ross-on-Wye parkrun as a way of addressing climbing rates of diabetes, obesity and inactivity. For Simon and his public health colleagues it also provides an opportunity to get together and socialise, with the event being something that will benefit the whole community for years to come. You can read all about the launch of Ross on Wye parkrun here.
We also want to inspire the next generation of healthcare staff and have been encouraged by the enthusiasm shown by medical schools around the country about parkrun and the parkrun practice initiative. Princes parkrun in Liverpool played host to an event, organised by the student-led University of Liverpool GP Society and, in February this year, RCGP and parkrun UK joined forces with the NHS Student Social Prescribing Champion Scheme to organise a seminar to raise awareness amongst medical students of parkrun, its impact on health and wellbeing and the parkrun practice initiative. You can see the recording of the seminar here. We have also spoken at other events, for example seminars organised by the Advanced Wellbeing Research Centre at Sheffield Hallam University and by several medical schools across the country.
We also love that the initiative has inspired other sectors of public health to get involved in parkrun. For example, in February last year, the team at Brierley Forest welcomed staff from Sherwood Forest Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust for a parkrun takeover. Consultant Rebecca Barker came up with the idea as a way to support the health and wellbeing of both staff and patients at the Trust. You can read more about this fantastic event here.
We also know that, during the COVID-19 pandemic, practices have been encouraging staff and patients to take part in (not) parkrun and have been promoting the Strive for Five walking plan, which helps anyone thinking about building up to walking 5k. It’s a really simple programme that anyone can take up, anywhere, any time, and all at their own pace.
As restrictions are slowly lifted, countries around the world can start the important process of social revival and reconnection. We know that Link Workers will have an important role to play, and we will work closely with NHSE and other bodies to raise awareness of parkrun amongst this growing community of healthcare professionals.
And as we await the time when we can all be together again at a parkrun event here in the UK, we want to thank those working in public health for their incredible work at such a challenging time.
We would also like to thank our event teams who have so generously supported the parkrun practice initiative since its inception. The energy and enthusiasm has been palpable, including at Conkers parkrun which, as you can read about here, is linked to 10 GP practices in the surrounding area. Like the Conkers event team we can’t wait to breathe life back into the parkrun practice initiative.
Whilst acknowledging the huge challenges of the past year, Dr Ollie Hart, GP and volunteer parkrun Health and Wellbeing Ambassador, believes that parkrun and the parkrun practice initiative can play a vital role in helping to heal the wounds, and put health and wellbeing front and centre of the nation’s recovery.
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”.
This is a sentiment felt by many working in primary care, and we look forward to working together to re-energise the parkrun practice initiative and step up all our efforts to bring parkrun into the lives of those who would benefit most.
parkrun Global Head of Health and Wellbeing
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