LANDMARK YEAR FOR parkrun AROUND THE WORLD
by Paul Sinton-Hewitt (parkrun founder)
29 December 2018
2018 has been a landmark year for parkrun around the world. I am proud that our movement is now widely viewed as an innovative health intervention with an impact that reaches far beyond our parks and open spaces on Saturday mornings. Yet importantly, the parkrun experience remains the same as it’s always been.
Firstly, I must thank each and every parkrunner around the world for your support this year. In our anniversary week in October we welcomed the five millionth person to the parkrun family and saw the 420,000th person volunteer.
This year we started 323 new events globally including 50 in a calendar month for the very first time.
We welcomed Malaysia as our 20th parkrun country, piloted junior parkrun in Australia, and started our first event in a Young Offenders Institute. I must also personally thank our valued sponsors and partners for their support.
This year we delivered weekly parkruns in close to 180 venues around Southern Africa, and we welcomed 50 new events. This has resulted in the staggering figure of 2,150,000 walks, jogs and runs by South African parkrunners in one year. More significantly, there were 105,000 volunteer instances in 2018 - a 45% increase from 2017.
You have all contributed to the health and happiness of thousands of South Africans, and have helped to bring people from all backgrounds together to run and walk and enjoy each other’s company. In addition, you have proved that by volunteering people can raise their self-esteem simply by helping other human beings.
Away from the big numbers, more than ever before our growth has been driven firmly by our desire to impact the health and happiness of communities, and this has meant proactively reaching beyond our traditional audiences. In particular, our collaborations with the health sector and healthcare professionals is playing a major part in taking our message to some of the most vulnerable people in society.
As we continue to grow at an unprecedented rate it is vital that we understand exactly how we are making people and communities healthier and happier and what more we can do in the future. To help us further understand our impact, we conducted our first ever Health and Wellbeing Survey of parkrunners in the UK and Ireland. Thank you to everyone who took the time to fill in the survey, we were overwhelmed to receive 108,000 responses that will be used to further shape our direction of travel.
We also saw the lighter side of parkrun this year with the launch of the irreverent and wacky How To parkrun and parkrun VIP videos, which were inspired by extensive insight we undertook into the misconceptions people commonly have about parkrun that prevent them taking part. Whether you like the videos or loathe them, they were certainly a conversation starter, and with an incredible 706,229 parkrunners around the world getting their barcode scanned for the first time this year we are definitely going from strength to strength.
In June we joined forces with the National Health Service in the UK to celebrate its 70th anniversary, with 360 events hosting fancy dress birthday parties to recognise the enormous contribution of NHS staff and boost the profile of parkrun in the health sector.
The enormous success of this event - which saw an incredible 14% uplift in our attendance and national media coverage - provided the springboard for us to launch the groundbreaking parkrun Practices initiative two weeks later. This enables GP surgeries to formally link with their local parkrun and give patients the option of physical activity rather than traditional medication. Six months on and there are 550 certified ‘parkrun Practices’ in addition to healthcare professionals from across the sector introducing patients to parkrun and sharing the transformational impact it is having.
Of the thousands of inspiring and heartwarming stories that were shared by parkrunners around the world this year, the one that stands out for me is that Alfy Kirkley who was released from prison having been introduced to parkrun while serving his sentence.
In 17 weeks he went from being a self-confessed ‘jail junkie’ to the course record holder at Black Combe parkrun, and after his release became a regular parkrunner with his daughter at his local parkrun.
Alfy is one of several prisoners who have spoken publicly about how parkrun provided a lifeline in prison and is helping their reintegration into society. One of my favourite photos from this year is of four prisoners and their PE supervisor wearing their Volunteer 25 shirts.
They weren’t the only parkrunners proudly displaying their milestone shirts this year, with 2,000 people a week earning these coveted items. After bringing the production and delivery of milestone shirts in-house and working closely with Pro:Direct, we took delivery of well over 100,000 shirts and introduced a pre-order system to help us eliminate the backlog for the first time. A mammoth achievement and one that shores up the future of milestone shirts. I am also really excited that the new Apricot range has been designed and tested and will be available to order early in the new year.
When it comes to clothing however, for me personally the proudest moment this year was the launch of the CONTRA brand. This was inspired by thousands of conversations with parkrunners around the world over many years who were disillusioned and demotivated by the unwillingness of sports brands to design kit for every body shape.
As hard as we’ve worked over 14 years to make parkrun as accessible and inclusive as possible, it had become clear to me that clothing was a hurdle that we needed to overcome.
CONTRA complements parkrun by further redefining what it looks like to be physically active. Many people (including the traditional sportswear brands) said it couldn’t be done. It is certainly a huge challenge but early signs with the pilot kit are incredibly encouraging. The final piece of the jigsaw is that all of the profits from CONTRA go to parkrun. It’s another way of ensuring that parkrun can stay free, forever, for everyone.
As we continue to expand at an unprecedented rate, so too do the costs involved. In my message last year I spoke about the constant challenge we have always faced to ensure that parkrun has the financial security to maintain our commitment to delivering free, weekly events for anyone who wants to take part - forever.
This is the one thing that has caused me the most sleepless nights since 2004, and to help us find more ways to meet this ever-increasing challenge we have been working hard over several years to diversify the way that parkrun can raise the income we require.
It's an ongoing challenge, but I’m pleased to let you know that we now have a greater level of financial control over parkrun than ever before, which puts us in an incredibly strong position to bring parkrun to more people in more communities.
Thank you for your continued support of parkrun and let me take this opportunity to wish you a joyful and parkrun filled 2019!
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