Around 150,000 people walk, jog, run and volunteer at their local parkrun in more than 700 parks and open spaces around the UK every weekend. It’s parkrun with a small p, but it’s a big idea that has seen 1.5 million people across the country participate in these fun, friendly, socially-focussed events, which are organised by the community for the community.
Since its conception in 2004 the aim of parkrun has been simple: to provide opportunities for people of all ages to participate in recreational physical activity and volunteering, and to encourage it to become habitual.
Initially the idea spread organically, but word of mouth only travels so far, meaning some communities are less well-represented – often the very groups who would benefit most from being more active, with others in the open air.
Now, thanks to funding through the Department of Health’s Innovation, Excellence and Strategic Development (IESD) Fund, parkrun is halfway through a three-year project that aims to increase participation by people who have disabilities or those with long term conditions.
Volunteers with long term conditions
A key element is empowering the beneficiaries to take the lead in designing and delivering the parts of the project that relate to their particular condition. These volunteers, known as Outreach Ambassadors, are parkrunners who either live with the condition, have friends or family who do or are specialist health professionals. So far 25 Outreach Ambassadors have been recruited across a range of health conditions, including asthma, arthritis, autism, blood pressure, cerebral palsy, deafness, dementia, diabetes, endometriosis, learning disability, multiple sclerosis, obesity and heart conditions.
Outreach Ambassadors have established online support groups, as well as identifying case studies and building links with relevant national organisations who can promote parkrun to their members. More than 2,000 people have already joined these groups, with friendships formed, parkrun meet-ups arranged, good advice shared, successes celebrated, encouragement offered and setbacks soothed.
parkrun and social prescribing
The health and wellbeing benefits of parkrun stem not just from increased physical activity, but also from the development of new skills through volunteering, the opportunity to make friends and socialise, the chance to be outside in a natural environment and the mutual support and encouragement that comes from being part of the parkrun family.
parkrun is a fantastic example of lifestyle medicine and, best of all, it is absolutely free.
Health care practitioners are already realising the benefits of parkrun, both for themselves and their patients or service users. Many are already signposting people to parkrun, and even accompanying patients to their local parkrun with life-changing results.
We now want to make the social prescription of parkrun common place, and are encouraging all healthcare practitioners to take part in parkrun so that they can see for themselves what all the fuss is about, and call on them to refer their patients to our events so that they, too, can experience the huge health and wellbeing benefits of being a parkrunner.