We all know that parkrun events are free, friendly, forever thanks to the volunteers who make every parkrun happen. Less widely known is that the local teams are supported by the parkrun ambassadors, volunteers who support new and existing events and much more besides.
This past weekend the parkrun USA ambassadors team held their second annual meeting in College Park, MD. They reviewed lessons learned from the past year and made plans to support the rapid future growth of parkrun to new communities across the US. Find out who the ambassadors are and what is in store.
When the parkrun USA ambassadors group first met up in August 2018 there were 23 US parkrun events and participation was regularly over 1,000 per week for the first time. 14 months later parkrun USA is about to start its 42nd event, and summer participation was over 2,000 per week.
With more and more communities across the US showing interest in having a parkrun event of their own, it is important to be ready for continued rapid growth, and to ensure that all events are safe, sustainable, and inclusive. It might not be too much longer before there are 100 or more US parkrun events, and in a country with the scale of the US, the sky is the limit.
The parkrun USA ambassadors are an all-volunteer group of experienced volunteers, often current or former local event directors. They came together in College Park, MD for a busy weekend of discussions about how parkrun USA can support many more parkrunners and many more healthy communities.
But the weekend would not be complete without a parkrun, of course. So on Saturday morning the team fanned out to visit different parkruns. With 6 different events to choose from in the DC-Baltimore region, they were spoiled for choice.
Imagine if every metro area in the US had 6, 10, or even 20 parkrun events to choose from! The Washington DC area has more events than any other in the US, and there are now 15,000 registered parkrunners in the area, but the area does not feel remotely crowded with parkrun events.
Renton parkrun co-event Director Cathryn Burby was especially happy to meet Peter Wachira at Anacostia parkrun. Cathryn recently worked with Peter on a story about how parkrun has helped Peter to overcome alcoholism and high blood pressure.
Afterwards the team joined up for a big post-parkrun brunch at The Board and Brew, the regular hangout spot for College Park parkrun.
When they got down to business the ambassadors looked into lessons learned over the past year. What do teams need in order to develop thriving parkrun communities? What are effective strategies for ensuring that people of all ages, abilities, and backgrounds feel that they belong at an event, right from the start? How to ensure strong positive relationships with landowners?
One thing that is clear from parkrun and from other community-based programs is that people are more likely to feel that they belong if they can identify with the people who are leading the activity. For parkrun this means that it’s valuable for events to build a diverse team as early as possible, and to have volunteer participation from a diverse cross-section of the community.
A key theme of the meeting was ensuring scalability of parkrun in the US, and globally. Some things that are possible when there are just a handful of events are less straightforward when there are potentially hundreds of parkrun events held every weekend in the US, and thousands worldwide. How to ensure that events are as safe and robust as possible, owned by the local community, and providing a consistently supportive experience to all?
The parkrun USA Comms Team (Communications and Community Development) shared how they use many different approaches to help spread the values and culture of parkrun, so that all communities are able to be as supportive and inclusive as possible. Electronic communications play an important role, but there is no substitute for the human experience of fitting in and connecting with others every time that you show up at the park on a Saturday morning.
James Kemp, global operations manager for parkrun, shared insights on how parkrun global is working to contain operating costs even as parkrun continues to rapidly grow, now recording over 10,000,000 finishes in a year. parkrun recently celebrated its 15th anniversary, but four-fifths of all parkrun finishes have been recorded in just the past 4 years.
It is hard to know what the future will bring, but it is beyond a doubt that one year from now or three years from now parkrun in the US will be larger than it is today, likely a lot larger. Participation in the US has been roughly doubling every year for the past few years. If you keep doubling, at some point things start to get quite big. The ambassadors team is currently working with local teams in at least 30 locations around the country on developing new events, and the US is so large that this barely scratches the surface of the communities that can be served.
The parkrun USA ambassadors team:
The parkrun USA ambassadors are all volunteers, and the team welcomes suggestions for new volunteers who would like to contribute to the team. All are experienced parkrun volunteers, though not all are event directors. Some focus on supporting specific new and existing events. Others focus on communications and community development, or on using evidence to inform best practices. Some provide expertise in specific topics or outreach to specific communities of interest.
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