Prisoners now participate in weekly parkrun events for the first time, thanks to a pioneering initiative between parkrun UK and HMP (Her Majesty’s Prison) Haverigg, a Category C prison in the north of England that has 286 prisoners.
parkrun UK, a non-profit organization that supports 670 communities across the country to coordinate free volunteer-led 5k and 2k events for walkers and runners, was approached by HMP Haverigg earlier this year. Enthused by the opportunity to provide innovative physical activity and volunteering opportunities for prisoners as well as staff, the Governor of HMP Haverigg was keen to set up a weekly parkrun event on the prison site.
The event, which is known as Black Combe parkrun, is named after a prominent hill that can be seen from the prison. It will take place within the confines of the prison perimeter each Saturday morning and see inmates and staff involved as walkers, runners and volunteer organizers. If successful, the initiative could be rolled out across the country, with a further six prisons already expressing interest in starting their own parkruns.
Prisoners currently have access to sports opportunities, but in addition to providing the chance to be physically active in the open air, parkrun has the added benefit of promoting personal development through volunteering. This includes event management, interpersonal communication and team building, providing prisoners with pathways into education and training and valuable skills for when they are reintegrated into society.
The benefits of sport and physical activity in a prison environment are well documented in improving the physical and mental health of inmates. It provides a sense of belonging, increased self confidence, better moods and decreased stress.
parkrun and HMP Haverigg will also work closely to positively impact the families of prisoners, by encouraging family members to take part in their local parkrun and provide a shared and unifying experience. Additionally, there are two days a year where, instead of a regular visit, prisoners’ families can join activities. HMP Haverigg hopes to arrange for one of these to be on a Saturday, to coincide with parkrun.
parkrun’s Head of Health and Wellbeing, Chrissie Wellington, said, ahead of the inaugural event: “Every day we hear stories of how parkrun has improved people’s mental, physical and social health and transformed their lives. We aim to ensure that as many people as possible can benefit from parkrun, and this includes creating events that are accessible to people in prison.
“In taking the pioneering and bold step of developing the inaugural parkrun on a prison site, we are offering prisoners, their families and prison staff, the opportunity to reap the wide-ranging benefits of regular, enjoyable, social and safe physical activity and volunteering opportunities. The prisoners themselves will help to deliver the events every week, providing an empowering sense of responsibility and ownership. With more than 670 free, weekly parkruns across the UK, family and friends can also take part in parkrun, providing a unifying interest and shared experience.
“parkrun events also provide a welcoming, supportive and non-judgemental community for the prisoners to be part of when they reintegrate into society, and help to continue that process of personal development. The beauty is that this initiative is eminently scalable, and can be rolled out across the prison estate in the UK, and even globally should there be the demand.
“Although there is no one silver bullet that can be deployed in the battle to prevent offending and re-offending behavior, we feel that parkrun can be a unifying force for good in the desistance from crime and changing lives for the better.
“The response from prisoners at HMP Haverigg has already been extremely positive, and the first event hasn’t even launched. We have been told that some prisoners have started running on treadmills and are supporting other prisoners to make positive lifestyle choices, all because of how much they are looking forward to taking part in a weekly parkrun.”
Shane Spencer, a Physical Education Supervising Officer who has worked in the prison service for more than 20 years, came up with the initial idea and will be the Event Director of Black Combe parkrun. Shane said: “A prison survey revealed that prisoners wanted to add an open air run to their usual weights routine, so the prospect of starting a parkrun in our prison seemed like an exciting opportunity to deliver something unique to both prisoners and staff. Having volunteered at my local parkrun a few times, I knew how inclusive it really is. There were people of all ages and abilities, including two 70-year-old women who would walk around together.
“Haverigg Prison recently became a smoke free prison and I want to get more lads involved who don’t really engage with the gym at present to try to encourage a more healthy lifestyle for them. I believe a parkrun would be ideal for this as it is available to all, whatever your fitness level.”
Dr Éamonn O’Moore, National Lead for Health and Justice, Public Health England, said: “parkrun is an innovative way to help prisoners improve their mental health and wellbeing. This will bring benefits while they are in prison and will also support them to make positive changes to prepare for life outside.”
Professor Rosie Meek, best known for her work on the role and impact of sport and physical activity in prison settings and who is currently leading a UK government review into sport and physical education in Criminal Justice, said: “From my extensive studies, I recognize the immense value of sport and physical exercise in the secure estate. Sport is often the perfect vehicle for engaging the most challenging and complex individuals caught up in a cycle of offending, and providing an alternative social network and access to positive role models. I applaud parkrun UK for this initiative and look forward to hearing of its undoubted success.”
The National Alliance of Sport for the Desistance of Crime’s Co-Founder and Secretariat, Justin Coleman, has been supporting parkrun and the development of the movement, using the Alliance’s network to link up delivery partners, prisons and supporters across the United Kingdom and Ireland. Justin commented: “parkrun is a unique, cost-effective and systemic offer for the Custodial Estate. Where else do you see a relatively inexpensive program reach service users, their families and all staff involved within the establishment?
“parkrun holds a social prescription that brings about social inclusion, personal achievement and wellbeing. I sincerely hope all working in the Custodial Estate are encouraged to take part and link with their local community events up and down the country. A supportive, friendly and active community awaits them.”
Quotes from prisoners:
Allan said: “I have recently given up smoking and got into my fitness. I heard about the upcoming parkrun and thought it would be a good target for me to complete the 5k and give me something to aim for. I really enjoyed the practice event and am looking forward to them starting properly.”
Lee said: “I enjoy running and think the opportunity to run in the open air is great. I help with lads who don’t currently come to the gym and a lot have shown an interest in joining parkrun. Even lads who don’t want to run are keen to volunteer, which is great and gets them involved.”
Jack said: “I am a prisoner that is involved in producing the prison newsletter, which is very focussed on initiatives which involve outside bodies. This now gets distributed throughout Cumbria and I think it would be great to celebrate the fact that we have an official parkrun within the prison.”
John McAvoy, a convicted armed robber turned sponsored Ironman athlete and a vocal advocate for the use for sport for rehabilitation, said: “I was labeled one of the most dangerous prisoners in the country, so if I can change my life through sport, why shouldn’t every one of the other 90,000 prisoners in the country be given that chance too? I am delighted to hear of parkrun’s fantastic idea. Physical activity breeds positivity and good habits, and linking it to the community in this way can help offenders change their behavior for good.”
Dave Everett, a Physical Education Governor at HMP Haverigg who is Head of Reducing Reoffending, said: “Our core focus is to promote a culture of reducing re-offending, which involves working to improve the education of prisoners. This is achieved through improving the technical qualifications and work skills that are desired by many employers.
“Key to a prisoner’s prospects of a successful reintegration back into society is their ability to make good lifestyle choices and instil in them a willingness to take personal responsibility for their own health and wellbeing. parkrun offers a unique opportunity in this regard and is an activity that we are keen to promote.
“parkrun benefits from being accessible to a wide range of fitness levels. In addition, by doing marshalling and timing duties, it offers prisoners the opportunity to volunteer for roles of responsibilities that are of benefit to their fitness community. parkrun also contributes to the development of a personalized and structured fitness regime that can be transferred with them through the gate.”
Sally Garratt is Operations Director at Novus, who deliver education, training and employment services at HMP Haverigg and in over 60 establishments across the country. Sally said: “This is an exciting opportunity for our colleagues and learners. parkrun is an inclusive event that offers our learners physical activity, volunteering opportunities and wider benefits – helping them develop employability skills, creating an opportunity to support their families and the wider community – which all helps to support rehabilitation.”
Black Combe parkrun launched successfully on November 4th with 24 parkrunners and 11 volunteers. Results are publicly available, but participants names are altered for reasons of privacy.
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