Volunteering is good for you and so is a walk or run in the park. Combine the two and you’re really onto something. Parkrun does just this.
At a time when we’re concerned with creating more cohesive and resilient communities, and tackling a national obesity crisis, it would seem counterintuitive to put barriers in the way of people getting involved in volunteering or staying active. However, that’s exactly what happened when Stoke Gifford Parish Council made the decision to start charging people to participate in the local Parkrun.
With the support of the Sport and Recreation Alliance and Join In, NCVO has written to the council asking them to reconsider their decision.
How it works
The model is simple. Whether you can manage a walk, a jog or run you can get involved in Parkrun. It has been particularly successful at encouraging a broad range of people to come together for a short timed run or walk, usually on weekends in a park or public space. People often make the transition from runner to volunteer, helping out so others can get involved. It’s just people getting together, making it happen.
The current cross-government strategy for an active nation, ‘Sporting Future’, praises Parkrun as a new model for community sport volunteering, and celebrates the fact that local events are volunteer-run and free for all. It’s an example of the kind of flexible and informal volunteering that we need to be embracing if we are to enable people to fit volunteering into a busy lifestyle.
Recognising the value
Regular exercise brings a variety of long-term physical and mental health benefits and Parkrun stands out in its approach. As a runner myself I know that starting out is hard and even harder on your own.
With Parkrun you’re not alone, so it has the power to encourage and inspire those who wouldn’t usually participate in sport to get involved. Even the Olympic athletes who have come out in support of the Little Stoke Parkrun must remember that first time they nervously pulled on their trainers.
Encouraging this kind of activity is also a good investment. There is compelling evidence for the wide-ranging health benefits and cost savings that accrue from a more active local population. Increased levels of physical activity can be an effective means of preventing, delaying and managing a wide range of mental and physical health conditions.
The act of volunteering itself has huge value. Research from Join In shows that one volunteer in sport creates a wellbeing worth £16,032, for themselves and for those they help play sport – Join In provide an explanation of the methodology behind this. This figure does not even take account of the wider benefits to the community that are generated by volunteering.
Reading the press coverage I was struck by the personal stories about the impact of the disappearance of the local run. People were devastated that the network of friends they had developed would be lost.
Community events bring people together, helping to develop new friendships and preventing isolation. As one Parkrun volunteer writes, the fact that these events are volunteer-led is ‘part of its very appeal – you feel part of a group; the camaraderie is great; and you’re all there because you want to be, not because you have paid to go.’
I recognise that local councils are faced with increasingly difficult choices to make in the current financial climate but we can’t afford to make decisions that may create barriers to participation in this way.
At NCVO we hope that this decision does not set a precedent for other councils who may be faced with a similar decision, and that they instead seek to recognise and invest in unlocking the potential of people and communities.