Recently, the Government announced their aim to prevent local Councils from charging the public to participate in weekend fun runs, in an attempt to continue, and ultimately expand on, the trend of people improving their fitness. These events, smattered across Britain and other European countries, attract thousands of runners, with recent statistics suggesting over 2.1 million athletes partake each week; this may be the primary contributor in a Bristol parish council proposing an entry fee of £1, citing the cost of upkeeping paths, yet this may emphasise the event’s popularity further. With the Government ultimately quashing this request, aiming to enforce a legislation ensuring the scheme remains free, this may suggest they have similar goals to Parkrun, underpinning the desire for increased levels of fitness for the population whilst ensuring these runs remain accessible to all.
ParkRun was formed in 2004, where 13 runners, including the scheme’s founder Paul Sinton-Hewit, ran the inaugural 5km course. Three years later, the scheme had been extended to various locations across Britain, along with the first international event in Zimbabwe, and by 2011 there were 55 new events, including introductions in Australia and South Africa. As such, it seems the volunteers may be aiming to provide free and accessible opportunities for people from a smorgasbord of backgrounds, and it may be this ethos as to why the event seems to have achieved popularity; Parkrun seems to pride itself on its encouragement for people of all abilities to take part, with the volunteers continuously motivating the runners on the course. This seems to have been achieved, with multiple competitors recognising this on the Parkrun website with the scheme therefore reaping the dividends.
The Government’s announcement shows they may be supportive of the work which Parkrun does, and seemed to highlight this in their declaration, specifically focusing on Parkrun being, “excellent examples of communities organising events […] to enjoy healthy exercise.” Outlining these aims may permit a high level of public support to be attained, and, in doing so, may increase the demand for said scheme; this demand may lead to more parks becoming available, allowing a wider array of people to become involved. This seems to have already been set in motion, with multiple high-profile influencers vocalising their support, including Dame Kelly Holmes, double-Olympic gold medallist and competitor at the Royal Tunbridge Wells Parkrun. Her contribution may be pivotal in ensuring the continuation of the event, as her wide support network may enable her appearance to be noticed by the vast majority of the public.
Whilst the increasing popularity may result in Sinton-Hewit achieving his objectives, the plaudits may be earned from the impact on the entirety of Britain, with his events perhaps signalling a snowball effect when coupled with other policies, such as free school meals and the increase in sporting funding. Yet, the organisers may have showcased their intelligence most notably via the organising of the events themselves, and the structure they utilise. Each event aims to be based at a location such as a park, beach or promenade, highlighting the significance of nature and the desire to run in scenic areas. Participants also obtain a barcode, scanned at the race, giving conformation of completion as well as tracking individual times. These barcodes provide the incentive to continue aiming to improve on these records, perhaps leading to a new breadth of athletes striving to compete at the top level.
The Government’s backing of the scheme may ensure Parkrun remains a complimentary event which enables people of all backgrounds to run weekly, and provide them with a frequently available alternative to the gym, perhaps increasing motivation. In addition, by publicly doing so, it may result in further productive outcomes, including recognising and rewarding the volunteers for their work, and how they seem to unite people under the common quest for a healthier lifestyle. Additionally, with the option of extending the plans to other organisers of fun runs, and including professional dog walkers and personal trainers, it seems they both may be laying the foundations in ensuring Britain becomes a healthier, fitter nation, especially when coupled with other aims, such as Corbyn’s school meals plan.
How may Parkrun continue to expand in order to influence and impact internationally?